SA actress Mmakgosi Kgabi talks life in Berlin

Moving to a new city overseas to further your career can be a daunting experience. Yet in the global network that keeps growing, we see many South African artists taking their work and talent overseas to increase their audiences, fans and seek new opportunities. As great as it can be to work as an artist in South Africa, the reality is that a lot of artists struggle to find the financial success afforded to international artists.

Mmakgosi Kgabi is one of those multi-disciplinary artists that currently calls Berlin, Germany her home. She was born in Botswana and raised between Gaborone and Johannesburg. We caught up with her to talk about her creative journey and experiences of moving to Berlin.

How long have you been an actress and artist?

I have been an actress since I was five years old or younger. I have been on television since I left Rhodes University in 2007, with multiple minor roles. I was in theatre productions at the same time.

Would you say there have been better opportunities in Berlin than South Africa in terms of your art?

I wouldn’t say better opportunities however I definitely get remunerated better.

What advice would you give to people looking to move to Berlin?

I would definitely advise learning German for getting by, not necessarily on an academic level unless that is your direction. It’s a charming way to open doors if you can speak the people’s language.

What should people consider before moving?

Pay close attention to your financial status. Your expenses that are necessary and not optional, i.e health insurance, will be very high and almost impossible to maintain before you are gainfully employed.

What’s the long term plan for you in Berlin?

When I finish my Masters Degree in December 2018, hopefully, I will tour with collaborative works which are currently in the research stage but have received tentative invites to festivals. I will continue working on my German and delve back into pursuing acting for the camera which I take to like a fish to water.

How long have you lived in Berlin?

I have lived in Berlin on and off since 2011 but I officially moved my entire wardrobe and pyjama drawer here towards the end of 2015.

Why did you choose to come to Berlin?

My first trip here was for work touring with a Berlin based dance company in collaboration with some South African artists. The level of efficiency, professionalism, and care that I encountered from the colleagues had me from the get go. On the heels of that was the anonymity I felt in the streets as a lesbian. I suddenly did not feel exposed or overtly visible as was the case in previous sexist/homophobic spaces I had lived and worked in.

What do you love most about the city?

I love that if you know what it is you are looking for you will find it. If you just place your attention on your needs they will be fulfilled through the network which is so open to assist.

What do you dislike most about the city?

The number of homeless people who are clearly at loggerheads with the system be it political or sociopolitical, who are self-destructing and destroying their bodies under the unfortunate weight of uncontrollable drug use.

What do you miss the most about home?

The vibrant lingo that we have for self-expression.

How often do you visit South Africa?

I will be home for the first time in a year and a half in September.

Do you speak German?

I can get by with the German I speak.

How long did it take you to learn the language?

With the intensive courses around a year. But it is an ongoing process as my vocabulary is still expanding and I become more succinct with my use of words.

Does that make a massive difference in finding work etc?

I definitely think it does. But then again depending on what work you are looking for. I found that in my theatre work it gave me peace of mind being able to understand the technical team as they were doing my shows. And in party/promotion jobs, as long you hear the drink order you are good to go. It only gets messy if people start asking you specific things.

What are some of the recommended places for people to visit in Berlin?

I love parties, so I would say all the clubs that offer different parties for the club kids. But there are also breath-taking venues for concerts and live art performances. Getting up the TV tower is also a great experience because you get to see how far the city spreads out.

Check out some Kgabi’s show-stopping moments on Scandal:

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