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Fighting HIV/AIDS the Berlin Way

Today is World AIDS Day and as many as 11,000 people in Berlin are affected by the epidemic. Berlin has many ways of dealing with the epidemic – from art and film to education to on-the-street outreach.

Image for Fighting HIV/AIDS the Berlin Way December 1 is World AIDS day. The one day a year the world reflects on the collective advances in the fight for AIDS awareness and against the spread of the disease. We can look to South African president Jacob Zuma’s enlightened prevention method of 2006, showering after sex. We can witness Uganda’s fight against AIDS by its ‘killing the gays’ proposal. Or we can revel in the US decision to finally allow people with AIDS to enter that country, no longer lumped with communists and terrorists as threats to its safety. It’s been an amazing past five years in the 21st century battle against AIDS and HIV. There are, however, people somewhere in the world doing something substantial regarding HIV – specifically, in Berlin, where things are done a little more creatively, but still with depth. As many as 11,000 Berliners live with HIV/AIDS, the majority of whom are men who contracted it through sex with other men. As an international metropolis with different appeal to different people, Berlin has found ways to raise awareness and combat HIV/AIDS in a variety of different ways from the artistic (film and art) to education to pragmatic solutions. Still, Berlin has yet to implement the most pragmatic way to fight HIV/AIDS in the city – free, abundant and readily available condoms. KEITH HARING WOULD BE PROUD The Berliner Aidshilfe presents a five-day film festival, filled with features, shorts and documentaries revealing the sometimes harsh, sometimes light-hearted realities of living with AIDS. It begins with the international premiere of Sex in an Epidemic, which explores the history and concept of ‘safer sex’ in the US. Other recommendations are John Greyson’s exploration of the legend of Patient Zero (Zero Patience) and Gregg Araki’s low-budget road trip The Living End: Remixed & Remastered. At the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, the first posthumous retrospective solo exhibition since 1994 of Absalon, an Israeli-born artist who died of AIDS in 1993 at the age of 28, still proves the illness is not an inhibitor of potential realization. But AIDS is not a one-day disease. And on December 2, local filmmakers Susanne Ullerich and Melanie Berke will receive an award for their upcoming film, Double Life, exploring the difficulties of women living with HIV and AIDS. Following the central character Lena and her 25-year struggle with the illness, the film addresses the often silent struggle of women with AIDS (1,300 women currently live with AIDS in Berlin according to the Robert Koch Institut). Ullerich and Berke first encountered Lena in a shared backyard, shared stories and quickly became friends. And the idea for the film was born. Lena’s quarter-century battle with HIV/AIDS is different from the usual story because she has been raising her now 22-year-old daughter simultaneously. Her daughter does not have the illness, but social stigmas and prejudices have forced them to live in a closet, keeping the truth a secret, causing a double life. Lena would love to publicly fight for better research, better care, but protecting her daughter from discrimination and isolation always takes priority. The double life is a burden, but a necessary shield in a society still blighted by misunderstanding and fear. Double Life uses interviews with doctors, philosophers, social workers and people with AIDS to dissect society’s lasting reluctance to understand and accept the realities of AIDS. Lena may not reveal her face in the final cut of the film, but that only increases the universality of the message. People with AIDS are not on the outer fringes of society, they are as much a part of society as anyone else. The BBK VBU Family Heart award will be given to Ullerich and Berke for their efforts to raise awareness of the struggles women and children endure when dealing with AIDS through their film and their Double Life Association. Shooting for Double Life wrapped recently, with post-production expected to last until early next year. The 45-minute documentary is slated to be screened in May 2011. KINDER ENCOURAGEMENT Prevention and progress start with education. Nestwärme, a kindergarten in Kreuzberg, has been working for 13 years to overcome the prejudices and stereotypes rampant in society. Children with HIV are in groups with children without HIV, learning together, playing together. Nestwärme believes “integration is not a one-way street”, it is not about the outsiders placating the normal people. New generations are growing up with the truth, unafraid of reality. POSITIVE AND PRAGMATIC And let’s not forget those that contract HIV/AIDs through intravenous drug use. Monday through Friday from 11am to 4pm, Fixpunkt, through a mobile van parked on Moritzplatz, provides a safe haven for people to obtain clean needles and use, cutting down on the risk of contracting the disease. Fixpunkt’s main motivation for providing this service is to cut down on the spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitus C in the drug using community. NOT THE LIVING END World AIDS Day can be a celebration of life in the face of the illness. It can be a reminder of the discrimination and fear faced by people with AIDS. Or it can be manipulated by publicity-seeking celebrities like Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian, sacrificing their own Facebook pages, and simulating celebrity death, to affirm their commitment to saving lives. When our chosen leaders, political and popular, don’t get it, education and progress, become the perfect DIY project. How Berlin.