Sharehaus Refugio

I read about Sven Lager and his wife Elke’s Sharehaus concept (now Refugio) on and I was instantly so blown away because it felt like someone was talking to my head and heart – that was Sven actually. I believe he and I have many things in common. Primarily, we’re hopeless romantics and idealists, extroverted dreamers and we believe simply in the power of love and good in the world.


AYD – the concept I came up with of opening a Scandinavian themed creative hub for globetrotting travelers, open-minded creative thinkers and movers & shakers originally in LA to begin with – has now moved to different geographical locations but is exactly conceived of and built on the same foundations as Sharehaus. It was built from my dream of running my own non–profit and having a physical space for a movement of change to make our world a better place.


What I realized is that if a concept is good, it needs at least 3–4 years of pure intense work to able to pull it off. You also have to do it with the right people, whose heart is in it for the right reasons, otherwise you will eventually fail. “Fake it ’til you make it” is not a viable strategy in the long run. Meeting Sven and Elke is some sort of fate, or law of attraction perhaps?


Here is Sven’s lovely story in his own words:


“It always fascinated me how much good is said and how little good is done. This comes from a writer who believes in the power of the word.


I grew up the child of an immigrant. My mother was a young woman in Sweden and wanted more from life, so she went to Munich in the 50s. It was the place to be back then, wild and eccentric and where she met my father. Both were married at the time, but not to each other, so I became a secret love child and grew up never feeling as if I was from here, place of my birth, Germany. Yet, German is my father tongue and Swedish a language taught to me only by my play friends in the summer holidays. English is the language my kids grew up with in Thailand and South Africa, where we lived over a decade.


So where do I belong?


Nobody is a refugee but most of us are migrants. We are searching for a place where we belong, which is a physical home but also an area of friendships, stories, landscapes, encounters, smells and memoires.


I always felt that somehow it is a good thing to be displaced. As strangers we have to rethink our cultural default and who we really are. People who do not migrate soon become comfortable, established, and arrogant, which is the way some people behave towards migrants these days. Migrants, on the contrary, are quite the opposite. We are seeking a better life, always, somewhere like the Sharehaus Refugio in Berlin.

The Refugio is the third Sharehaus we started. It is where we live and work as a family of 40 people, becoming quite an international, multicultural community of different hopes, experiences and faiths, all united by something big and beautiful. It’s not easy to define what unites us, yet it’s something as simple as sunshine and fresh water. Our unity is an echo of the divine, which connects us, way beyond cultures, opinions and religions.


Back then Elke and I met when we felt life had not much to offer anymore. Berlin felt grim just before the Wall came down. It was a rough place we chose because we wanted to feel the rawness of life. Suburbs and cities of West Germany had felt numbing but Berlin, we felt, was the canvas we could still paint our life stories on.

Years went by, we tried many routes, lives, loves, professions, ecstasies and depressions and yet at the time we met we felt lost. And still so so hungry. We are quite opposite characters, me the extrovert, big dreamer and Elke, truthful and funny. We fell in love, at second sight, and started to write, to publish, to have kids and to travel the world. From that point on we had a family, stories to tell, but we still asked us: Where do we belong?


We are all heavenly migrants on earth. I am thankful for the riches in the Sharehaus – the cultures, stories, experiences, misunderstandings, surprises and the beautiful encounters one can only have with people who are different to you, where there is Eros, attraction to the unknown. That is why we traveled and lived abroad so much, to learn, to be inspired, to wonder, to thirst, all in a good way. But still, where do we belong?


We always dreamt of a place where we could share these riches, a salon, a shop, a community, and a co-working and spiritual place. And with all our failings and hopes we knew we needed to define a place such as this, to shape it with a deep respect for every person. We called it Sharehaus. And we dreamt big. We had no money, no fame, but we wanted that beautiful old building in the center of Cape Town. Somebody rich just left it empty for years. It even had letters above the entrance that said: Creative House. We never got it. Instead we renovated a run-down single storey house in our small coastal town and spread the idea: Each and every person has God-given talents and abilities, dreams and passions like no other person, and they are worth supporting. And we are all made for a respectful community in which every person has equal importance.


True sharing, we have learned from mostly financially poor people, makes us all rich. We have learned that there is always enough if you can share. That is why we called it Sharehaus – Haus for the German part in it, a bit like Bauhaus. Sharing generously really has a different, deeper and more truthful economy, a divine economy where one plus one equals 3. In South Africa we experienced days when we were not sure how to feed our kids, but then there were always people sharing with us the little they had. It was never about resources but more about a heartfelt attitude.


The first Sharehaus was a success. The still apartheid torn Western Cape saw all cultures and social levels united at our Sharehaus without us doing much. For several months there was music, gardening, healing, work, fighting, laughing and a fresh wholeness that was as delicious as the shared food and fruits.


To our surprise we moved back to Berlin but we came back with new eyes and grown up kids. Again we were migrants but, unlike others, with the privilege of having the right passports that enabled us to world travellers. Many of our big dreams had come true, even the Sharehaus we dared not to begin for so many years had become a beautiful reality. Doing it instead of just talking about it felt great.


So we started to live with equally crazy and wild friends from the Berlin City Mission with the next big dream – a Berlin Sharehaus as an answer to a newly forming society. We wanted a place where tears would be wiped away and screams of terror were a thing of the past. Millions of people from war torn countries came looking for a better life, and Germany of all places had been so bold and visionary to open its borders. But to let us live in ghettos, elderly, students, artists and migrants, all in a different place? Why could we not just live and work together, share in the truest sense as we had experienced it in Africa?


We can. The Refugio was shaped by us as a new form of international community and a blueprint for many others who want this kind of community. The Sharehaus is not the solution to the so-called refugee crisis, but is there for a better life for all. At Refugio we are all hosts of a 5-storey house, we are all ambassadors of a new way to live and work together. There are no refugees and there are no helpers. We are in this together.


It is strange. Elke and I have lived for many years in the shadows, being observers, moving others with the words of our books and stories and being moved by the greatness of normal people who had not yet unlearned to dream big. South Africa has big and bold dreamers who can share amazing stories, and their greatness triggered in us into listening to the divine echo we all can hear within us. We started building a community and living our dream.


Words, I learned again, are powerful. Words are good for big dreams and the bigger picture; action is good for the small steps that follow. Our house is such a place. We are training to dream big and we learn how to do what is right. In all of this our house and the seeds from it are artworks, living social sculptures. And the very fabric of these sculptures are the stories that change us and give us life because they come from a deeper experience, a thirst for more.


To tell such a story or to understand one, I realized, you must be a migrant.




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