Herford, North Rhine-Westphalia Wedding, Berlin 25 years old
In many ways, Santosh Voigt is quite a person of contradictions — one who lives in Berlin, but isn’t from Berlin. Dressed in muted colours of black and grey, Santosh has a beer in hand while doing this interview with namennennen in his two-room flat in Wedding.
And on his feet… Gary the Snail house shoes, which he takes off discreetly halfway through the interview out of embarrassment when he came to a sudden realisation that it might be caught on camera.
He was born in Herford in North Rhine-Westphalia to an Indian mother and a German father.
“I have a double name. One for the Indian side and one for the German side,” he says.
He prefers to go by “Santosh” over “Sebastian” just because it’s his first name, and “Santosh” is his only link to his Indian heritage. He doesn’t speak a lick of Assamese nor does he celebrate any Indian festivals or traditions, but he does enjoys Indian food like every other Berliner.
“With culture, traditions, and festivals, I’ve never had that much in my childhood. My mother used to cook Indian but I never learned to do it. I’m not really related to India. I’m in touch with my family there and that’s it. They consider me as a German, not as an Indian,” says Santosh.
I ask Santosh if he finds it a pity to not speak or understand any Indian languages, and he thinks not.
“I mean when I was at the perfect age to learn Hindi or Assamese, my mother was busy learning German. And I think she set the right priorities, to be honest. I went to university full-time [in an] English programme and English is spoken as frequent as Hindi in India. So I think I was better off learning proper English than learning Hindi which I would not be using at all in the end,” he adds.
Only during official occasions or on official documents is his second name Sebastian used, and those instances are few and far between.
“I never got the point of the second name to be honest. I mean, second names seem to be outdated anyways. Some parents give their kids four names which is completely ridiculous. It used to be a thing to give your kid a name and give the grandfather’s name as a second and third name,” he adds.
At 19, he moved to Enschede in the Netherlands for university and later moved to China twice, then to Korea, and then back to Germany and is now settled in Berlin.
“My father moved here in 2006 together with my sister. This was my main reason to come here. Throughout my studies, I’ve been abroad to big and major cities like Shanghai and Seoul, and I just did not want to live in a small town after having been there because I’ve seen the benefits of living in a big city.”
He enjoys the multicultural aspect (there are about 180 nationalities living in Berlin!) of Berlin. He sees it in his day-to-day life — from his Lebanese hairdresser to the Indian restaurant owner who runs an Indian-Mexican restaurant in his “underrated” Wedding.
“It’s not as fancy as Prenzlauer Berg, a bit more raw than other districts. It’s also green because of Volkspark Rehberge. It takes me 15 minutes to walk to the nearest lake. I don’t think there are many areas in Berlin where you can just walk 15 minutes to the next late,” he says with a proud glint in his eyes.
Apart from spending time at the park, Santosh also invests his attention on his old-timer. A Mercedes sedan built in 1983, seven years older than he is.
It’s, in his own words, an “almost taxi colour” and commands attention in public.
“I was in Poland earlier this year and queueing for the tolls, they were 20 kilometres long. Really. Never go to Polish highways. When I was in the queue, a guy wound down his window and said, ‘How much do you want for this?’ and I said, ‘You’ll never be able to afford it’.”
With the car came his initiation into a new community.
He posted a question online about the maintenance of his car, and half a day later, a guy wrote him with tips and suggestions on how he can care for his pre-loved Mercedes.
For me, one question prevails. I, too, come from a city packed densely with an excellent public transport network. Why would Santosh get a car in a city like Berlin? Like New York City? Like Singapore?
“I don’t use it everyday. With a car, you always have the option to go to the Baltic Sea over the weekend without having to buy train tickets. And I really enjoy this independence,” he says.
The name Santosh is commonly found in Indo-Aryan languages like Nepali and Hindi. It means satisfaction or contentment. According to Santosh, “Santosh” is as common as a “Walter” in Germany. It is a name for both males and females.
Sebastian, on the other hand, comes from the Latin name Sebastianus which means “from Sebastia”, the ancient name of the city Sivas in central Turkey. Sebastia comes from the Greek word σεβαστος, meaning venerable.