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Online Newsletter Nr. 195
"Bayernallee": A Place in the Sun for Pinoys in Berlin
by Vincent Valiente
"Other Filipino communities in other parts of Germany have no center." - Fr. Jun del Ocampo, SVD
“Let's go to Bayernallee!”
When I first came to meet Filipinos in a Filipino restaurant near Mendelssohn-Bartholdy-Platz, they said, "Come join us in Bayernallee!" They kept using the name of that street as if it was a venue. It is one of those interesting linguistic phenomena only Filipinos would come up with. But what intrigued me the most was the question: how the Filipinos in Berlin discover this German church in Bayernallee, the Heilig-Geist-Kirche, now the center of their community which they refer to as "Bayernallee”.
There are issues surrounding the founding of the community.
Meanwhile, back at the present, when there is a discussion about the community's 30th anniversary, there are mixed feelings among some members of community. There are some who claim that the number of years is not correct, since, according to them, the community already existed way earlier than the date of foundation it has been celebrating. While some would like to point out that the coming of the first Filipino chaplain in Bayernallee was because of the request of the Filipinos in Berlin during the early 80s themselves, and not because of the Pink Sisters', since there is no logical reason at all for the nuns who were mainly Germans or German-speaking to request for a Filipino priest. These people believe the official story of how the community started left out major details and major actors. These disagreements inspired the Migrant to investigate and interview some of these key personalities to shed light to this important part of the community's existence: the discovery of "Bayernallee”. I was given the task of interviewing Irene (Lanuevo) Hasselwander and Eva (Pickert) Wegener; and the task of finding out how it all started.
Interview #1: Irene Lanuevo Hasselwander and the introduction to "Bayernallee”.
In 1983, Irene Lanuevo joined the Deutscher Akademischer Austausch-dienst (DAAD) cultural exchange program with ten other Filipinos, after which she enrolled at the Technische Universität Berlin to pursue her Master's degree in Communications. During this time, she met the chaplain Bernhard van Nahmen from St. Joseph Kirche in Wedding.
"He was a good friend of my brother, Fr. Victor Lanuevo. The two priests first met each other in a conference in Vatican, Rome. Fr. van Nahmen told me about a Filipina nun from the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters in Bayernallee. He didn't know her (personally), and there was no Google at that time, but he tried to find a way to help me meet somebody who is also from the Philippines and who belongs to a religious order,” Irene told the story. Irene looked for the place (Bayernallee), again without the convenience of Google Maps. She finally met the Filipina Pink Sister known as Sr. Felicissima. Irene continued, "I was introduced to the other sisters. Then I visited them a couple of times and joined them in praying and singing. I also played piano for them. After one of my visits and on my way home, I met Eva (Pickert) in the subway. I told her about Sr. Felicissima and the rest is history.” She told Eva of her desire to gather the Filipinos in Berlin into one place, and that this place could be the Heilig-Geist-Kirche.
Irene did not plan to talk about who discovered the place, "but there has since been many incorrect and distorted info or claims, Eva and I have to come out with the facts once and for all.” An example Irene gave is the info in the "About us” page of the filipinos-in-berlin.de website: "that the moving force which convinced the top SVD directors in Rome to put a Filipino chaplain in the community was the spiritual answer to the Pink Sisters' perpetual prayers!”
Irene said, "There was no mention of lay people like us who initially felt the need to put up a center for the Filipinos in Berlin considering the fact that there was not a single organization, private or governmental, in Berlin. Truth to be told, we were and are forever grateful to the religious orders SVD and the Pink Sisters, particularly Sr. Felicissima who supported this need. But they have never gone out of the convent to meet Filipinos on the streets or the subway, if we had not visited them.
Sr. Felicissima could have not expressed the need for a Filipino Chaplain since she could barely speak German. So the bottom line is that we searched and found the way to them...and that made a big difference!”
When I settled down in 1985, Eva continued what I have started.” She elaborated more about this in an article she wrote for the Batch 80s in the December 2015 issue of the Migrant.
Interview #2: Eva Pickert Wegener and the petition for a Filipino chaplain.
From 1980 to 1982, along with other Filipinas whom she had met in the subway and in garden parties, she organised their own block rosary crusade (there seems to be other groups doing the block rosary at that time). They would pray the rosary in each member's apartment once every week, which eventually came to a halt.
In 1982, Eva moved into a new apartment with her daughter, where they had a house warming or "padasal”. "My friends and I discussed about continuing the block rosary crusade, but we needed a statue of Mary. The next year, I met Irene Lanuevo in the U-Bahn, and I told her about our wish of having a "santo” for our block rosary crusade. Irene's brother, a priest, knew a German priest, who in turn knew a Filipina Pink Sister in Berlin. This is Sr. Felicissima. We asked Sr. Felicissima whether she knows where to find a statue of Mary. Sr. Felicissima contacted Fr. Lammerding, who was the chaplain of the Heilig-Geist-Kirche at that time,” Eva told the story. They went to visit Sr. Felicissima, who arranged their meeting with the chaplain. He showed them a room full of statues, from which they chose a wooden statue of Mary. "This was later re-painted by Raquel Janke's husband, Helmut, who is a Malermeister,” added Eva.
The block rosary continued, with some original members still in the community, such as Sylvia Loof, Rita Schnick, Salvie Vietz, Myrna Mildner, Norma Schimek and Irene Lanuevo. Meanwhile, the Filipinos started to go to Fr. Lammerding's Sunday Mass, at 3pm, after which they would gather in the Gemeindesaal (church hall) and eat their "baon” or packed food.
"Fr. Lammerding would also join us.” Eva continued. At that time, the above-mentioned group got inspired to gather other Filipinos to join together in one place of Christian worship. She organized the biggest gathering of Filipinos at that time, calling her group "Bayanihan”, and the venue was the Gemeindesaal of the Heilig-Geist-Kirche. Eva said, "Around 70 Filipinos came that night.”
By that time, Eva, Irene and the group noticed that most Filipinos did not understand the German Eucharist. A desire for a Filipino celebrant started to grow in their hearts. She and the group started to discuss this with Sr. Felicissima and Fr. Lammerding. Meanwhile, during the Christmas season, Eva arranged for a Filipino priest from Italy to celebrate "Simbang Gabi” in Heilig-Geist-Kirche. She also organized the first Christmas Party for Filipinos in the Gemeindesaal with Myrna Mildner among others. Rodney Geitel-Bautista and Irene, who was still a student at the Technische Universität, were the party moderators. In 1984, Eva had a signature campaign requesting for a Filipino chaplain in Heilig-Geist-Kirche. Irene wrote the letter of request to Cardinal Sin in English, and Eva had everyone she knew sign the request. Sr. Felicissima then forwarded the letter to Cardinal Sin.
In the same year, she organized a fashion show with Filipiniana attires. The attires were supposed to be used for a joint project with the German community's “Fronleichnam“ procession and the Filipino community's "Santacruzan”, for which she flew to the Philippines and bought dresses, but when she returned to Berlin, she was told that she will no longer be in-charge of the event.
Finally in 1985, the request for a priest was answered when the Societas Verbi Divini order, abbreviated SVD, agreed to send one of their missionaries to Berlin. Sr. Felissisima then asked Eva to organize a welcome party for the long-awaited first Filipino Chaplain, Fr. Pater Gene Bacareza. Eva said, "I was so happy, that I sent Fr. Bacareza a greeting card welcoming him already, even before he arrived in Berlin. A dream for the Filipino Christians was fulfilled, a prayer was answered. I was the happiest Filipina in Germany during that time!”
However, being not an officer of an organized Filipino group, the task of preparing the welcome party was passed on to Lourdes "Lulu” Müller, who was the founder of the Filipino Association, which would later become the first registered Filipino group as Filipino Association of Berlin e.V. in 1987. Though not relevant to this article about the discovery of the Heilig-Geist-Kirche or "Bayernallee” as the community center, Lulu also has significant contributions during the early beginning of the community, such as using Bayernallee as a venue to meet visiting Filipino politicians and international artists. This gathering of Pinoys led to the recognition of "Bayernallee”, not only as a place of worship for them, but also as a center for cultural activities. We will be writing more about these vital contributions in the coming issue.
So Eva did not organize the welcome party. "During the welcome party, Fr. Bacareza was very busy talking to the guests. Because I was not introduced properly, I took the chance and approached the priest when he was left alone. After introducing myself, Fr. Bacareza replied, ‘Ah! You're the one! I've been looking for you!‘ I was very happy that he didn't forget about me,” Eva finished her story.
Irene would later get married in 1985 to Michael Hasselwander, have children and became too busy as mom to four growing kids as well as part time teacher in a private language school to visit the community. Meanwhile, Eva would become the first appointed coordinator of the Filipino group in Heilig-Geist-Kirche. Countless photos and documents from during these early times were submitted by Eva Pickert to the late Fr. Adonis Narcelles, Jr. for reviewing as additional materials to be used during the 20th anniversary of the community. Unfortunately, she was not able to retrieve them even after the priest's death in 2011.
Lay people were also instrumental to discovering the place for the community.
The story of discovering the Heilig-Geist-Kirche, or "Bayernallee”, is a very important part of the history of the Philippine community in Berlin. We see that not only people of religious orders, such as Fr. Van Nahmen, Fr. Lanuevo, Sr. Felissisima, Fr. Lammerding, Fr. Bacareza, and the SVD order; but also lay people like Irene Lanuevo and Eva Pickert played important roles in finding a place in the sun for the Pinoys in Berlin.