Grab a Coffee With…Sou-Yen Kim

Sou-Yen Kim is a communication expert based in Schöneberg, Berlin. She is the host of the Schöneberger*innen podcast, focusing on the stories of people from her kiez. Sou-Yen believes that open communication can be the first step to creating change in society, and communication is at the core of her profession. From working as a journalist for radio, TV and print, as a documentary filmmaker and producing the podcast, to working as a crisis manager and trainer for interculturalism and diversity at social institutions in Berlin.

Hello! Would you like to introduce yourself for our readers?

Hello, my name is Sou-Yen Kim. I am 51 years old and I live in Berlin, Schöneberg. I have two kids and I call myself a communications expert. 

And where are we grabbing coffee today? 

We are here at MANA Restaurant in Schöneberg. It’s a 100% vegan restaurant, which is good because I am vegan! What I like so much about this restaurant, is not only the food, it’s also the atmosphere. I think it was the first vegan restaurant in Schöneberg. I also love that there are all kinds of generations coming here together.

You are invited here today to talk about your podcast: Schöneberger*innen. How would you describe the show?

Well, mainly it’s about my hood here. I have lived in Schöneberg since I moved to Berlin 20 years ago. I love it. I love the people here, it’s really home. And I developed this podcast because, well, I’m a freelancer and I also offer myself as a podcaster, but I didn’t have any examples of my work on my website. So I was thinking, how could I prove myself? And so that’s the reason why I developed this podcast because it has something to do with me. And I know the people here, so it was a good place to start. 

That’s so exciting, because I came across it and I have the same feeling with my neighborhood, Friedrichshain. It’s really home for me. I’ve tried to move away from it for a few months at a time and I always came back. My whole life is there: my doctor’s there, my favorite cafe is there, my first job was there. So it just feels really cozy, which is why I can relate to you. And I was very curious to know, how did you feel about approaching people and how did you choose your first guests? 

I actually started during the pandemic – within the second lockdown – which was quite hard for everyone, I think. But nevertheless, people were very open and they were very keen to meet me because everyone was forced to stay at home or at the office. Nobody was allowed to meet anyone. So I always asked: ‘If it is okay for you, I would like to do the interview in person.’ And everyone agreed. Some people asked if we could wear a mask, but every time I approached people, they were really grateful and excited and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. So I was lucky. 

Did you ever think about interviewing random people on the street as well? Because before listening to your first episode I read the title and the description and I thought you would just go up to people who live in the neighborhood and just have chats with them. Right now you’re focused on people who are opening up businesses in the neighborhood, have you ever thought about combining the two aspects?

Well when I started the interviews it was very hard to meet people on the street because it was during the second lockdown. And I thought, well, there’s so many locations here in Schöneberg that I don’t even know about. I always pass them, but I never get into locations like offices or galleries or new restaurants. And I thought maybe I should just try to introduce the owners, the people that are behind the restaurant because, well, I can only speak for myself, but I think most of the people don’t ask themselves: okay, who is the owner of this restaurant, for instance, why does she offer only vegan food? What is the ideology behind it? So I thought maybe I’d just try to support people here.

Which is so important, especially after Covid.

Absolutely. I’m a very curious person and I got that from journalism. So for me, it’s not so hard to approach people, but I think people on the street, might feel too shy to ask the owner , ‘What is the idea behind your gallery or your restaurant?’ And most of the people don’t know the owners, so I thought maybe they would be curious to know more about the locations that they’re going to.

I feel like it also motivates people to choose local. And it gives them that sense of closeness, just meeting the person behind a business,  connecting the face to the place. But another big thing for me in Berlin nowadays is also gentrification. We are from different generations. I’ve grown up in the gentrification process in Berlin, but I’ve noticed it even more in my neighborhood, especially in the years after Corona. How do you think your neighborhood has changed over the decades?

Yeah, definitely. I’ve been living in Schöneberg since 1999. I could really observe how the hood has changed. Back in the days when I moved here, it wasn’t like a hood, you know? I always said the people that are living here, they used to go out somewhere else. They partied all night long, and then they moved to Schöneberg to raise a family. And now you find all generations here. And even my son, he turned 18 this year. He said, well, I don’t have to go to Friedrichshain or Kreuzberg because Schöneberg is so cool now.

It’s really trendy and I love it so much. And of course I also see the negative side of gentrification. Rents have risen so high and it’s absolutely not affordable to rent an apartment or even buy an apartment here. This is pretty negative for the old Schönebergers, I think. But on the other hand, people always have problems with change. But this is how life is, life has to develop even if it means gentrification. But I think gentrification has always been there somehow, you know, after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

And that was also the goal of bringing Berlin back to its popularity, bringing people to Berlin.

Yes. I don’t know what to say. I just love it here. And I love meeting new people here. I think it’s very exciting. It’s very vivid. 

There is also often this label of West Berlin being more ‘German’ while the East is more diverse, more international and English speaking, do you agree?

Yeah, It’s definitely more international. You know, Schöneberg is quite big as a neighborhood and you have the northern part, where there were a lot of Arabic or Turkish people but nowadays when you walk through the streets you hear English all the time. There’s so many Asians that are here too. I don’t know if they live in Schöneberg, but it has become very international. 

Have you ever thought about moving away?

No, this is my home. 

Everybody in my generation wishes they would’ve been young back then in the 90’s to experience the rawness of the city, the atmosphere which Berlin is so famous for. How was living in Berlin for you in the late nineties, early two thousands?

It was very exciting at that time because I moved here in November, 1999. I mean Mitte was so cool. You had so many forbidden clubs and forbidden bars. It was really, really good. And you only knew about parties when you were in a newsletter somehow. And it was great. It wasn’t so commercial. There were so many independent little shops. Very interesting, very unique, very individual. This has changed and I feel sad about it in some way. But on the other hand, this is just  how things change. And what I realized is that, back then the eastern part of Berlin was very sexy. All the expats wanted to go to Mitte and so on. And then everything was full. There was nowhere left to develop. And somehow the western part of Berlin became more and more interesting and this is why Schöneberg developed. It’s very interesting to see how Berlin is still developing compared to other cities. It’s still in development. 

I would like to bring the focus back to you. Looking at your website, I’ve noticed that you actually are quite the brand yourself: You’re a dramaturgist, a PR specialist, a filmmaker, and a communication trainer, among other things! What was your first passion, what did you want to pursue when you were growing up? And how do you think all of your passions are related? 

Staatsministerin für Kultur und Medien Claudia Roth beim Tag der offenen Tür im Garten des Bundeskanzleramts, Berlin, Deutschland, 21. August 2022 Credit: BKM / bundesfoto / Christina Czybik

Well, another part was becoming a journalist but it somehow happened by chance. I wanted to become a psychotherapist, but my graduation marks weren’t so good, so I went another way and I studied pedagogy and education in Cologne. In Cologne, every student works for the public broadcast, WDR. So I also ended up having a job there and they brought me into journalism. I stayed there because I realized I love telling stories. And I love to approach people. These were my first steps into journalism, which I did for quite a long time. 

I was an editor for TV formats for children’s programs, for public broadcasts, then I made radio shows. I was the host of a radio show with the public broadcast RBB here in Berlin. But they shut it down because it had been too expensive. I loved working there and afterwards I did it online, and that was the time where I really worked as an online journalist. Later on, I asked myself how I could connect my skills with my studies. And somehow I used what I learned in my pedagogy studies for a career in PR. I had the opportunity to be the head of communication for a social institution here in Schöneberg with about 500 employees. And I realized I really do feel comfortable doing this because these are real topics. Topics that matter. PR is also about storytelling. It doesn’t matter who you are working for. You always have to tell the story. 

Actually what I realized is, I love to empower people.

You have kids, you have this great career going on and developing in different areas. How do you manage everything?

Well, luckily my children are teenagers. They are not so dependent on me anymore so this gives me quite a lot of freedom. This is the one thing. And the other thing is, from the outside, I always appear very busy but as I am a freelancer, I can decide for myself when to work and how to work and how to network and when to network. I love it very much and it’s pretty easy to handle actually. I would love to have more clients because I’m one to think that if the engine starts it has to roll. Because otherwise, I really get..iI don’t know, nauseous! If 10 is the peak, I need 20. 

And what about future plans?

Podcast wise, I’d love to continue. I had a little break because I was so occupied with other projects. But career wise, I would like to be a consultant for diversity because this is also something that I do. I do workshops for interculturality and diversity, and I think there’s still a huge need within the society and also in administration and in companies. Everyone loves to say diversity is very important but I think that this is not enough. I think that if you are open to diversity, you also have to be aware of the discrimination that comes along with it. You have to be aware of that, because as soon as you have diverse employees, you also have to face the discrimination that they are facing, and then you have to be aware of how to deal with the problems that they are having, maybe also within the company. And this is something that I would like to do more. 

Do you have a favorite episode of Schöneberger*innen that you’ve produced?

Well, actually all my episodes are my favorite. But there’s one little anecdote that I would like to share because I had an interview twice with a person but I couldn’t broadcast it. So there’s a lady, she has a funeral institution and her company is called Funeral Ladies.

The business was very eye-catching to me so I approached her and asked for an interview. I walked through her funeral house and I conducted my interview. Before that, I checked the sound, everything seemed to be fine, and when I went to edit it, it was gone. I was so embarrassed but I asked her if we could do the interview again?  And she said, okay, no problem. So we did the interview again, and I doubled checked the sound. And then I went back home and the sound was awful. I don’t know what happened. And I thought… maybe this place is cursed. 

 My last question for you is: What is your favorite sound?

Oh, my favorite sound is nature. The ocean. And I love it when in the morning at four or five o’clock the birds are starting to sing.

Interview by Denisa Harbuz for Bear Radio

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