Daniel Hellmann arguably leads the most riveting double life. When Daniel’s not carrying out his day-to-day duties, he’s dancing, singing and talking as Soya the Cow, a drag symbol and force to be reckoned with. Since making her debut at the Animal Rights March outside of the Volksbühne, Soya the Cow has become an icon at discussion forums and protests, not only in Berlin but across the continent.
Developed to embody queer-feminist ideology, animal rights activism and high fashion, Soya also dabbles in poetry from time to time. She hosts workshops about pivotal issues such as consent and is a regular performer on the stage and at nightclubs. Fortunately, Daniel was able to spare some time away from his endlessly fascinating schedule to check in with us.
Œ: The ever-famous question. What brought you to Berlin?
Daniel: I grew up in Zürich and came to Berlin 9 years ago, because I fell in love with the humans who lived in this city, building many vibrant communities of free spirits, creative minds, utopian dreamers and committed activists. Since then, I have lived between Berlin and Switzerland.
Œ: Who is Soya? How did you come to create such an ingenious gender- and species-bending character?
Daniel: The idea of Soya was born in a period of despair and disillusion in my life. I had turned vegan about 1.5 years before and couldn’t comprehend, how most people, including many people I loved and still love, could tolerate and participate in the brutality and violence of the animal industries. At that time, I found a lot of inspiration from drag artists, who freely speak their minds and stand up for inclusion, LGBTQIA* rights and other social justice matters, seemingly fearless and with so much creativity. They inspired me and I wanted to be as self-expressed as them. And somehow it clicked, and I decided to become a queer, vegan drag cow, a fantasy creature who would stand up for a world with more joy and freedom for everybody.
Œ: So you weren’t always vegan, how did that transition happen for you?
Daniel: I had been a vegetarian for many years, but I ate and loved cheese. I’m from Switzerland after all. The crazy thing is, that I had no idea, how milk and dairy were actually produced. I had thought, that cows were some wonderful beings who just happened to “produce” milk, like a water fountain. And then I found out, that the dairy industry has to make the cows pregnant, year after year, that their babies are taken away, usually on the first day, so that humans can steal, sell and consume the milk. No other mammal does this to another species! My mission with Soya is to speak about those things because the industry and marketing lies want us all to believe the fairytale of the happy cows on the meadow. But on a closer look, the dairy industry is an absolute horror.
Œ: So it’s no secret that you’re very politically active! How much do you believe your music gives you a platform to tackle cultural issues you’re passionate about?
Daniel: I’m very grateful, that I have found a form of expression which is at the same time political and joyful. When I sing a song from the perspective of a dairy cow, it allows the listeners to change the perspective for a moment. Some of my songs express deep feelings of grief and disempowerment. Others give space for anger. And oftentimes, I use humour to deal with the huge mess around us. When I fight for the liberation of all animals, it also includes human animals. We are all connected. And nobody should be locked up in a cage, in a stable or in jail. I want to make people think about new forms of togetherness, where nobody is killed or excluded for their gender expression, their sexuality, their race, age or class – or because they belong to the “wrong species”.
Œ: How do you feel about the fashion industry? Do you envision areas of it that need to be addressed/improved?
Daniel: Fashion allows us to take something from the earth, transforming it into shapes and stories and making it our own self-expression. There is something really magical in this process. Yet, of course, the fashion industry has many dark sides.
We need to learn to be aware of the impact of our actions and choices. Where do certain materials come from? What is the environmental impact? How are the workers treated? And are non-human animals harmed in this process?
As an animal liberation advocate, I don’t wear any leather, fur, wool or silk. But luckily more and more alternative materials emerge and I encourage all designers to explore them. Personally, I’m a big fan of thrift stores and I love recycling and upcycling and I hope more and more fashion will take this road, rather than producing always new stuff out of new resources.
Œ: Do you have any exciting projects coming up that we can bookmark?
Daniel: Unfortunately, my December gigs were just cancelled because of Covid. But I have some street activism plans and in 2022, Soya the Cow will sing at a gala in the biggest museum of Switzerland and then go to the USA – for a tour around different states with concerts, performances, workshops and an exhibition. I can’t wait to see how people in Texas will react to Soya!