At the beginning of May, the SBW Berlin team was given an opportunity to gain an insight into the work of the Franciscans, who help people in need on a daily basis. In the Soup kitchen of the Franciscan monastery in Pankow they look at “survival as art” and then supports the artists, so to speak.* The SBW Berlin also wants to contribute to a socially better world. The SBW Berlin Scholarship Program therefore helps young talents to strengthen their social commitment – also by developing their own social projects. In addition, SBW Berlin demonstrates its own social commitment through social team events and other activities in the local neighborhood to encourage its scholarship recipients and those interested in scholarships to help fellow human beings, vulnerable groups and marginalized groups. As a result, the “Waffle baking” campaign was created in collaboration with the soup kitchen.

Arrival at the soup kitchen and first impressions
We arrived at the Franciscan monastery in Pankow in a good spirits on a sunny Thursday morning. The front building, a red brick building, and – as we were to learn later – the dining hall with its many windows, which not only offers space for hundreds of people, but also provides them with a safe place, appeared almost devoutly in the morning sun. A few guests had already gathered in front of the staircase to the soup kitchen and were talking quietly amongst themselves. Brother Johannes gave us a very friendly welcome and first helped us to store the waffle batter prepared by our team in the soup kitchen’s cold room. He then took us on a short tour of the soup kitchen premises before we gathered in the small but welcoming garden of the Franciscan monastery. It was very quiet here. Because the street noise was barely audible. It seemed as if we had left the hustle and bustle of Berlin and were in a small oasis of calm. We sat under the green canopy of trees and listened to nature. After a short round of introductions, Brother Johannes showed us a picture of a saint and told us about the origins of the Franciscans.

The history of the Franciscans
According to Brother Johannes, St. Francis of Assisi came from a wealthy merchant family who lived in the 13th century. Because of his desire to become a knight, he took part in a hopeless war campaign against the city of Perugia. He was captured and spent some time in prison. After his release, he is said to have embraced a plague victim on his way home. This was to determine his life from then on, according to Brother Johannes. Not only did St. Francis of Assisi live a life without possessions among the poor, but also turned completely to God and his faith. Today, St. Francis is considered the patron saint of hikers, animals and the environment.

The Franciscan monastery in Pankow
Founded in 1921, the monastery was bequeathed behind the current soup kitchen building. However, the four resident Franciscan brothers now live in the front building. Brother Johannes told us that the monastery has also been a Franciscan house of apprentices since 2001, but that the number of postulants – young men preparing to become Franciscans – is dwindling throughout Germany. In addition to the soup kitchen, the work of the Franciscans in Pankow focuses on the welfare of marginalized groups. Among those groups are not only the homeless, but also the elderly with minimal pension entitlements, mentally disturbed and conspicuous people, Eastern European job seekers, the long-term unemployed and single men.* But everyone who needs and seeks help is welcome here, regardless of their faith or where they come from.

The Soup Kitchen Franciscan Monastery Pankow
Brother Johannes explained to us that it was Sister Monika who cooked the first 5 soups in 1991 and asked the Franciscan Brothers for help in finding ways to always offer guests a warm meal from then on. Since then, the soup kitchen at the Franciscan monastery in Pankow has grown steadily with the help of donations and its many volunteers. Nowadays, the soup kitchen can not only provide its guests – according to Johannes, there can be up to 450 by the end of the month – with a free, tasty and healthy lunch six times a week (Tue-Sun), but can also other services offer. Not only can guests of the soup kitchen find clean clothes in the clothing store, but fellow citizens can also drop off and donate old clothes in good condition four times a week. The hygiene station is available to the soup kitchen guests twice a week. Here they can shower and take care of their basic hygiene. In addition, they can also change their clothes and wash their laundry there. Apart from physical care, psychological care is also important. For this reason, social counseling is also available to those visiting the soup kitchen if their problems become too much and they wish to seek help. Above all, however, the soup kitchen is also a meeting place where visitors can learn from and with each other or pause for a moment in the meditation room, as they are in a safe place.

Baking waffles: a small gesture
Speaking with Brother Johannes, we learned how he values interacting with people in his work. During the baking session, the SBW Berlin team was open to the idea of meeting a wide variety of guests at the soup kitchen. But first it was time to choose work clothes, set up the tables and benches and preheat the waffle irons. At 12 noon, lunch was served for the volunteers, including the SBW Berlin team on this day, before the bell rang at 12:45 p.m. to open the soup kitchen for its guests. Supported by the SBW Berlin scholarship recipient, Vasylysa F. (Ukraine), the team got started. Some of us were ready to serve the freshly baked waffles with apple sauce and powdered sugar, others were busy filling the waffle irons with the waffle batter we had brought with us or cleaning the workstations. It goes without saying that the entire SBW Berlin team wore disposable gloves out of respect for the guests and to comply with hygiene regulations. After all the team handling food here. Teamwork and good communication were also required to hand out around 200 fresh waffles. Only then could the guests, other volunteers, and the Franciscan brothers enjoy a delicious waffle.

On this sunny afternoon, even the SBW Berlin Team was very grateful for the friendliness, openness and helpfulness of all those present and hoped that this small gesture had brought some joy to everyone. In the end, everyone agreed that social commitment makes people happy on so many levels.

*Source: Website of the Franziskanerkloster Pankow soup kitchen