Art And Culture

Refugees a Hit as Guides in Berlin Museums

Refugees a Hit as Guides in Berlin MuseumsRefugees a Hit as Guides in Berlin Museums

Mohamed Al-Subeeh was a senior restorer at Syria’s best-known mosaic museum, but as war swept deeper into his province, destroying artifacts and threatening his and his family’s lives, he was forced to flee.

The 64-year-old from Idlib Province never dreamt that he would ever work in a museum again, certainly not in Germany, to which he had fled in a 23-day journey that involved a rubber boat ride across the Mediterranean, endless bus and train rides and hours of trekking on foot.

But when he heard about a project at some of Berlin’s top museums that trains newcomers to become Arabic-language guides for fellow refugees, he grabbed the opportunity.

“I loved my work in Syria. Being a guide here today makes me feel like I’m getting a bit of my life back,” Subeeh, who used to work at Maaret al-Numan museum, told AFP.

Subeeh, who arrived in Germany last August, now takes groups of Syrian, Iraqi and other Arabic-speaking refugees on tours through the Bode Museum, where artifacts include a large mosaic piece from Ravenna, Italy.

As part of a bid to integrate refugees into Germany, several museums run by the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which administers the capital’s state museums, came up with the unique project.

Nineteen new arrivals were selected to participate in the program, which entailed taking a course about the artworks that would be introduced to fellow refugees.

“We also learnt about how to capture their interest, so that they don’t get bored during the one-hour tour,” said another Syrian guide Kefah Ali Deeb.

 Talking About “Our Heritage”

Deeb, who now conducts tours at the Pergamon Museum, said she is grateful for the opportunity to “meet other Syrians and Iraqis and to tell them about our own heritage”.

Every Wednesday and Saturday, a tour takes visitors to see one of the participating collections - the Museum for Islamic Art, the Near East Museum, the Sculpture Collection, the Byzantium Art Museum as well as the German History Museum.

Since December, 3,000 refugees have joined such sessions to view artifacts from their own heritage, and to learn about Germany’s tumultuous history.

The tours have proved so popular that the organizers are looking at expanding the program to include “intercultural workshops, which the Berlin public can also participate in”.

After taking in more than 1.1 million asylum seekers in 2015 alone, Germany is shifting gears from its emergency refugee relief work to integrating the newcomers.

Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, underlined the significance of the collections included in the ‘Multaka’ project, whose name translates into “meeting point.” It includes Arabic and Islamic art collections as they are “particularly important for people who have lost their homeland and who now find themselves in a foreign land”, Parzinger said.