[drɪŋks wɪð] Was Gutes

First things first: Yes. That’s German. Don’t worry, there’s translations. And subtitles. And, you know. Google.

Let’s jump right in, shall we? (Much) earlier in 2020, as the craziness that would become this year was still a couple of months away, I had a chat with my old housemate Kamil. About life, what’s been happening, and that thing him and some friends got going: Was Gutes (which literally translates to “Something Good”, by the way) was born from a sense of wanting to do, well, something good in the world, by shining a light on others who are doing just that. Doubling up on the goodness, if you will. To highlight the fact that there are, indeed, positive things happening in a world that often hast a tendency to focus on the negative. And, last but not least, to perpetuate what Kamil calls Karma: Do good, anything good – and something good will come from it, somehow, somewhere. I guess you could call them a documentary production company, but really they’re much more than that. But let’s start at the beginning.

Kamil Hertwig, who is one of the co-founders of Was Gutes, and I shared a house for a while when I went to university in the “smallest large city in Germany” (a “large city”, by definition, being a dwelling of more than 100,000 people, which Paderborn JUST made, which seemed to instill some weird sense of pride in a lot of people. Germans are weird that way). What was special about our particular living situation was that we shared that house – definitely the most run-down in a fairly fancy neighborhood – with eight other people. We lovingly called the place “M7”, because it was on Mathildenstrasse, and had the number 7 (you might have guessed). We had the best theme parties in town (self-proclaimed, but no less true), and people who used to live there kept coming back to visit. It was a pretty sweet spot, complete with a big back yard and many good memories. And a fish that was ugly as hell and named after our landlady. I think she got poisoned with vodka at some point. The fish, that is, not the landlady.

When Kamil moved in, he marked the end of a pretty desolate summer where half the rooms in the house were empty, much to the displeasure of our landlords. He immediately brightened up the place, and even though he wasn’t really home all that much, when he was, it was always a good time. We connected over the fact that he had gone to school in Marburg, which is where I grew up, and – and this is actually pretty random, even for German standards – was working with a band one of whose members I had gone to middle school with. Crazy, right?


Before he joined our little band of 10, Kamil – who was born in Poland, but grew up around Kassel – had undergone an apprenticeship in IT, found that the 9-5 thing wasn’t for him (neither was the feeling of “just doing a job for someone else” that didn’t actually mean anything to him), and so went to study Media Sciences in Marburg, because “doing something with media” – albeit a bit of a one-liner back in the day – was something he was actually interested in. And sure enough, once in it, he started meeting the right people, things started to fall into place. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

He worked with said band for a while, and founded a company with former business partner Stefan, which went really well for a while. They were hired for a bunch of music videos, and commercials, but things didn’t quite feel right, and eventually fell apart. “Too much focus on commerce”, Kamil says, looking back. Meanwhile, Kamil had met Marian, who had been working on OK KID’s (that’s the band) videos, particularly when Kamil wasn’t available. Marian worked on a few other projects with No Drama, Kamil’s former production company, and they realized that they were vibing well on a professional as well as a personal level. Despite their age difference of almost ten years, and quite different paths, their way of looking at their work and what inspired them was quite similar – and still is.

Marian (on the right)

Marian Hirschfeld was born and raised in Cologne, and started out as an early iTunes Podcaster when he was 12 – talking about the first apps for iPod touch that were coming out at the time. Had things gone a different way, he may have eventually become the Justin Bieber of tech-YouTubers, but as it were, he focused on the production of videos instead, and ended up winning several competitions doing that. Similar to Kamil’s story, one thing led to another, he made a lot of connections just by doing what he was doing, and now we’re here: No degree, because “nobody really cares” anymore, anyway.

Coming back to the present day – so, January 2020, there, I said it – Kamil and Marian were about to embark on their second journey to Cape Town, South Africa, where they had shot the first three documentaries under the moniker Was Gutes. And it’s also the ultimate birth place of the project: It was on their first trip to Cape Town in 2019 that the general idea of wanting to portray positive-impact organizations and the people behind them matured into what is now basically a four-people enterprise, consisting of Kamil, Marian, Marian’s sister Marlene and assisting producer Manu Sommer-Ritz.

The connection to Cape Town is rooted in Marian’s and Marlene’s childhood. Marlene – who is in charge of social media, communications, acquisition and PR, among other things – and her brother were part of a youth circus when they were young. Marlene is actually still part of Linoluckynelli, who has ties to ZipZap in Cape Town, which is the circus project Was Gutes made one of those first documentaries about. So there has been a strong connection to Cape Town, and the township of Khayelitsha in particular, from a very early age for Marian and Marlene, which formed a great basis for Was Gutes to lift off of.

Marlene – Jacqueline of all trades and poster girl for the Was Gutes sigil.

Originally the idea for Was Gutes came to Kamil when things with No Drama started to fall apart, and he realized that what he’d been missing from his life and work was the humanitarian aspect of it all: Wanting to help people had always been something he wanted to do, and part of the reason he went into the media industry in the first place. He had started working with schools and different volunteer organizations back when we shared a backyard in Paderborn, and after the dissolution of No Drama started looking into doing something similar in Cologne, which is where he’s been for the past six years, and where Was Gutes has its home base. It’s also where Marian and Marlene are from. And where the volunteer organization is located that built the mobile dentist office they made their very first documentary about. (The German term is “Zahnarztmobil”, please feel free to send in videos of you pronouncing that if you’re not a native speaker). And that’s the last piece of the puzzle – the inauguration project of Was Gutes, if you will.

While their basic idea of making documentaries about positive-impact people, projects and organizations is to raise awareness and, ultimately, funds for their “clients”, ideally their collaborations don’t end with the finished film. Part of the “mission statement” of Was Gutes is to not just go in, make a movie, draw some attention and then forget all about the projects that they introduced, but to make sure that the connection continues to support, which isn’t always easy. With the “Zahnarztmobil“, for example, getting the truck ready and shipped to Syria required a certain initial investment – but to keep the truck and all the equipment running as it’s serving Syrian refugees that are in dire need of dental care is a whole different story. Thankfully, in this instance, the volunteer organization Niehler Freiheit whose premises the truck was built on by invested volunteers had teamed up with another charity, Green Helmets (Grünhelme) that is now running the former food truck loaded with dental chair, instruments and a small office space, in the Aleppo region, and keeps raising funds for the operation.

Yet the question remains: How to amp up effectivity, and keep engaging with the causes Was Gutes cares so much about? How does a project sustain itself that, while it’s close to the heart and fulfilling that need to help that brought Kamil and his collaborators to it in the first place, doesn’t pay any bills, since any donations coming in in response to the movies are being funneled directly into the organizations, but requires the same amount of labour, time and care, if not more, as their paid jobs do – these days mostly commercials? And ideally continues to sustain not just Was Gutes and the people running it, but also the organizations affiliated with it?

Marlene, Manu Sommer-Ritz and Kamil at their week-long work retreat in the Netherlands.

“You need to look at it like it’s a real job – if you start something like this, but then only do it on the side, things will keep colliding. You have to give it your all.”


The funny thing is, even though adjustments needed to be made (originally, the plan was to release one documentary a month, which has proven to not be realistic at this point in time), things keep rolling just fine at Was Gutes. Marian and Kamil launched with a community event on the Niehler Freiheit property in Cologne, which was a huge success – not least of all because of Marian’s tremendous efforts to advertise it beforehand on all social media outlets. Kamil described the evening as full of “long hugs”, with him “running around with a huge smile on my face” in response to the amazing feedback they received from the over 300 people that came, including many people from within the media industry – bloggers, magazine representatives, the whole lot; who didn’t mind that there weren’t enough chairs for everyone to sit on, but came away feeling inspired, some of them thanking the Was Gutes team for reminding them why they, too, went into “doing something in media”: wanting to do good, in some shape or form. Even weeks after the event, Kamil and Marian received offers from people to work with them – maintaining their website, or social media, bringing forward projects, running the camera… they’re still sorting through some of that correspondence. And the beautiful thing is, people either want to help, or they don’t, Kamil says. There’s no negotiations – it’s either yes or no. No BS.

“When you’re working within the media industry, there’s always ups and downs – the question ‘what am I even doing this for’ arises a lot. When you see something inspiring, it triggers something in you – that’s the kind of conversations we had after our summer event: People saying – ‘You gave me something to build on’. That was beautiful.”


That authentic connection is part of what Kamil loves about this work, and it shines through in the way Kamil and Marian shoot their documentaries, too. While he acknowledges that there’s a lot of beauty particularly in the artistic expression that can be funneled into posed, fabricated film settings, he thrives when he can witness people doing what they’re truly passionate about – without too much, if any, direction, or him getting in the way. Which – contrary to your run-of-the-mill media cliché – may include turning the camera off for a while. Which was the case with their last film, about a centre that provides space and healing for traumatized kids and families who lost a close relative, Leuchtturm e.V.. “Some things I don’t want to have on camera – it’s too personal, too intimate”, Kamil says.

Was Gutes Sommerkino

“When they’re completely immersed, forgetting the camera, just doing their thing – that warms my heart.”


On their last trip to Cape Town earlier in 2020, Kamil and Marian organized a screening of their documentaries in the township that they were shot in, involving all the people in the projects (aside from the already mentioned ZipZap Circus School this includes Ubomi, a youth project teaching life skills and art, and Aftekh Coding school) who since have started building connections among themselves. The idea was to “bring it back”, to give those projects the attention and acknowledgement of their own communities, too. Because in the end, Was Gutes see themselves merely as an instrument to show the awesome stuff that’s already there – and if more comes to those projects as an effect of that spotlight, even better.

For Was Gutes, the journey continues a bit closer to home moving forward. While their connection to Cape Town remains strong, they also want to highlight projects at their home base, and in Germany in general. There’s a few ideas floating around, and there’s plans future collaborations, the intention to found a charity to be able to actually collect donations for the organizations and people they work with. And generally to join forces with people who have a similar outlook on life, and the world – like that charity in Bremen they have been in touch with who is supporting refugee support work. “You talk on the phone with complete strangers in Bremen who share the same vision – that’s epic”, Kamil says. Eventually, they hope to have a portfolio that they can present to the public networks in Germany, and maybe make their heart’s work their paid work, too.

For me, it lifts my heart to know that there are people who will not give in to the anxiety that spreads through the news, social media and ultimately into our brains, but who keep focusing on the positive, and, like buying that coffee for the next person who can’t afford it, spread the love, and positivity. Something good, you know?

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