Refugees As Guides In Berlin Museums

Pergamonmuseum, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin

Multaqa: Museum As Meeting Point

Multaqa is Arabic and means Meeting Point.

The Multaqa-Project
‘Multaqa: Meeting Place Museum – Refugees as Guides in Berlin Museums’ is an exceptional project and the only one of its kind in any German museum. Refugees from Syria and Iraq have been trained as museum guides. Now they are offering guided tours free of charge in Arabic in four Berlin museums for other refugees from their own countries. Multaqa is a co-operation between the Museum of Islamic Art, the Museum of the Ancient Near East, the Collection of Classical Antiquities and Museum of Byzantine Art and the German Historical Museum and has received several awards. Multaqa stands for dialogue between different cultural and historical experiences.

The Syrian and Iraqi cultural artefacts displayed in the Museum of Islamic Art and in the Museum of the Ancient Near East are outstanding products from the history of humankind.

The museum as a place for meeting and discussion: refugees can encounter their cultures here and see how their homelands are valued in foreign countries.

The guided tours in the four different museums show on the one hand Syrian and Iraqi cultural artefacts and on the other hand German culture and history, with all their crises and renewals.

The idea behind Multaqa: Meeting Place Museum is to create new points of contact between visitors and the museums. Museums are places of memory where past and present meet.

By focusing on historical and cultural connections between Germany, Syria and Iraq and upon features held in common across the ages, this offers a unique opportunity for developing a sense of community.

The Multaqa-Guides
Let us introduce six guides and their personal favourite exhibits. We asked them what exhibits fascinate them most and what they remind them of.
Kefah Ali Deeb
Syrian artist and opposition activist, fled to Berlin in 2015.   ش   Syria is my home and I wanted to change the political system. I was arrested and threatened and decided to flee because I could find no peace in my own country. The Museum of the Ancient Near East has become my museum because it reminds me of the National Museum in Damascus, which I used to visit almost every day. I am part of these exhibits, of this culture. The statues and reliefs have the power to mediate between cultures. Identity, history, self-awareness and trust – that is what I would like to tell people about.

The statue of the weather god Hadad is my favourite object, because it reminds me of my homeland and its traditional tales. We grew up with such tales about the god Hadad Baal and all the good things, like rain and crops, that he provided to the people.

"Multaka" is very important because this country didn’t only open shelters – it opened museums, too! The weekly tours give refugees not only insights into their own heritage, but also into the twists and turns of Germany’s dark past and subsequent recovery. So I can give them hope.

Daisam Jalo
Born in Damascus, Syria. Studied music and trained as a musician. Came to Germany in 2012 with a DAAD fellowship.   ش   Since my childhood I have been passionate about art in general and music in particular. At the Damascus Higher Institute of Music I studied the Arabian lute, the oud, and Western classical music. My love of German composers like Johann Sebastian Bach and Karlheinz Stockhausen was the reason why I started learning German. Then a fellowship gave me the opportunity to research Kurdish music in Weimar. The Multaqa project has opened up whole new worlds of art for me. Here, in exile, I am able to encounter the culture of my own ancestors.

I discovered my favourite exhibit on my very first visit to the Museum of the Ancient Near East.

A Sumerian cylindrical seal that was once used for monitoring trade and signing clay tablet letters portrays the god Dumuzid with a pair of branches growing out of his body, with which he is feeding two goat-like animals. To the left and right are bowed bamboo canes symbolizing the goddess Inanna. The whole thing is inspired by the myth of the rebirth of Dumuzid.

What this means to me is that terrible times are always followed by something good and that we should never give up hope of reconstruction.

Razan Nassreddine
Born in Damascus, Syria. Cultural manager. Fled to Berlin in 2012.    ش    The guided tours and meetings in the museum are a gift for me. I meet people from every conceivable religion and political background here. Visitors find familiar things here and share my experience no matter where they come from, be it Damascus, Mosul or Kabul.

For me, the Samaritan niche in the Museum of Islamic Art is a little bit of Damascus, and so a piece of home.

When I am standing in front of it I can smell the old familiar smells and sense the coolness of the marble.

During that hour in the museum we move along a path to integration. In the face of the old stones telling us stories from our far-off homeland we can lose some of our fear of the new culture. The exhibits in the museum are migrants just like us.

Zoya Masoud
Architect from Damascus, Syria.Cam 2012 to Germany to study architecture.    ش    Before I came to Germany I worked in the old city of Aleppo and Damascus. Now I work at the Syrian Heritage Archive at the Museum of Islamic Art in the damage assessment section, which documents in details the destruction of the cultural heritage buildings, due to the war in Syria.  I am carrying out my PhD research on built environment and social capital of Aleppo Bazar as basic investigation of the Bazar's reconstructions. My aim is to design an evaluation model for anticipated future reconstruction strategies and Master plans for the Bazar.

My favourite object is the Aleppo room, as it illustrates a wonderful rich dialogue between different religions, nationalities, countries and ethnicities.

This beautiful meeting point between Chineese Qilin dragon and Sasanian Simurgh, Sufi poetry with Christian blessings promotes the feelings of openness and transfers from a generation to another the cultural meanings, which has a great value for the collective memory and Syrian cultural identity.  

Many visitors come from Aleppo, but most have no idea about this aspect of their own cultural history, which they discover here to have a more international flavour than they thought. Exactly that is what I find it important to get across, because only if we recognize that our own culture has always developed in a dialogue with other cultures can we be open to new things in a confident way.

Bachar al Mohamad al Chahin
Born in Damascus. Syria. Expert in archaeology and museum administration. Fled to Berlin in 2015.    ش    In my homeland Syria I worked for a long time as a certified tourist guide. I had a contract with the Syrian Directorate General of Antiquities and Museums, which is part of the Culture Ministry. I offered tours in English as well. So talking about my cultural heritage is something that I am very familiar with, and it is my very good fortune that I am able to carry on doing that in a foreign country and even add to my own knowledge.

My favorite object in the Near East Museum is the Giant bird which is sculptured from baselt volcanic stone.

It is from the collection of Tell Halaf one of the archaeological site of my homeland Syria. It reminds me of my homeland and of the story of the Phoenix bird which obtains new life by arising from the ashes of its predecessor.

It is giving me hope that regardless what's happening in my homeland Syria the glory of its history will last for ever. As this giant bird is still in the Museum in Berlin even though during the second world war it was destroyed in pieces and ashes after the bombing of the museum. And it was recreated as the rest of the tall half objects after several years.

Tony Al-Arkan
Architect from Damascus, Syria. Fled to Germany in 2015.     ش     I left Damascus because of the bad political situation. Now I work in a Berlin architecture office. The office mainly carries out work in the field of monument protection. The Bode Museum has a special fascination for me because of my background as an architect. Quite apart from the works of art in the museum themselves, every detail in the building is exceptional for me as an architect. During my tours I tell my groups a lot about the past, the construction of the building and a few of the works of art.

When I think of the art in the Bode Museum, what comes to mind first is the ‘Dancer’. What makes her exceptional is the contrast between her completely white face and the idiosyncratic colouring of the material of her body.

The artist Antonio Canova has clothed her in a transparent dress. All parts of her body can be guessed at from a distance. You can look at her and analyse her for hours on end.

Every time I show people the ‘Dancer’, we stand in front of her for a good quarter of an hour concentrating on this extraordinary work of art by Antonio Canova.

Credits: Story

Text: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Concept / Editing: Astrid Alexander
Translation: Catherine Hales, Stephan Schmidt

© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz


Credits: All media
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