Refugees tour Berlin museums, led by Iraqi and Syrian guides

Multaka Berlin museum guides © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum für Islamische KunstGuides from Iraq and Syria are offering free tours in Arabic at a number of Berlin museums: the Pergamon Museum (including talks inside the Museum of Islamic Art and inside the Museum of Ancient Near East); the Bode Museum (including talks inside the Sculpture Collection and Museum of Byzantine Art); and at the German Historical Museum inside the permanent exhibition.

The Guardian newspaper reports:

19 refugees in Berlin were recruited and trained as museum guides to provide native-language tours for fellow refugees, with the aim of helping newly arrived people foster connections between Germany’s cultural heritage and their own. The project is called Multaqa, an Arabic word meaning “meeting point”.

The New York Times explains how those on the tours react to seeing the Middle Eastern heritage in the Berlin Pergamon Museum.

The visits can be fraught. “Sometimes people say: ‘The Germans have all our heritage! They stole it!’” said Razan Nassreddine, who led the Arabic-language tour that afternoon at the Museum of Islamic Art, which is part of the Pergamon Museum and filled with treasures from empires past. Often, the visitors say the art is probably better off in Berlin because so much in Syria has been destroyed by the war and the Islamic State, Ms. Nassreddine said.

Other times, the tours bring up raw memories for visitors who have arrived in the last three months. At a painted marble wall niche from a house in Damascus that dates to the 15th and 16th century and was inhabited by Samaritans, a community related to Judaism, “some people want to cry,” Ms. Nassreddine said. “When they see the colors and the shapes, they get chills.”

The BBC say the asylum seeking guides are “paid the standard museum guide fee of €40 (£32; $46) per hour-long tour”.

The project aims to help them integrate into German society by easing them back into work and restoring a sense of self-worth … Many of the participants on the tour are still living in provisional refugee shelters, often sleeping on camp beds in former sports halls. They are in a state of limbo, waiting for their asylum applications to be processed so they can start looking for work. In the meantime, projects like this give refugees access to cultural pastimes.

Bashar spent 20 years working in museums before fleeing Syria and has been in Germany for six months.

“I would like to pass the idea on to refugees that we should respect the country which has opened the door for us to come, and that we should also be proud of our cultures … When German people give me the chance to be active and practise what I did over the last 20 years, it’s not only a chance for me, but it also shows other refugees that you will find very good people who will support you and will give you the opportunity to integrate and start a better life. For me this job in the Pergamon Museum is like a gift.” (BBC)

It’s possible that in the future the new guides will lead an even more diverse set of visitors around the museum:

Once continued funding for the project is secured and the new guides have improved their language skills, the organisers say they want to branch out: Syrians and Iraqis can then tell German visitors about the hidden connections between their cultures. (Guardian)

Further information on the Multaka Facebook page.