When I was asked to write a piece on Baynetna, the only existing Arabic library in Berlin, I was immediately interested. I have always found deep reserves of empathy and solace within the texts of others. I believe literature is one of the most radical mediums of communication that humans possess, as it allows conditions of existence to be relayed viscerally through language, therefore facilitating greater understanding of experiences that lay beyond the individual. All literature is, in this sense, an act of translation. Often, when I read a work of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction, it is hard to pinpoint the specific site that triggers my fascination. It is as if the non-normative use of language transforms everyday reaction to stimuli into something more spiritual, emotional, and accessible. As a child, my favorite books were stories of adventure and survival. These narratives often occurred in contexts spatially and temporally disparate from my own, and yet somehow managed to be relevant to my own experience. From this vantage point — but, as an American, knowing relatively little about Berlin and its sociopolitical structure — I spoke with Muhanad Qaiconie, the founder of Baynetna, about his ongoing project.
Muhanad explained that Baynetna is, above all, a place for exchange — of languages, culture, ideas, resources, and support. The idea for the library came to him when he was in a camp in a village outside of Munich, waiting for his residency papers, with nothing to do but scroll through Facebook and wait. He found an article by a German journalist that translated to Arabic. Having enjoyed the article, he friended the journalist on Facebook, and they started to talk.
When I was little, I didn’t like biking. I had a long string of second hand bikes, none of which ever seemed to work quite right — a complaint that had some merit but also one I used as an excuse to explain my otherwise irrational dislike of the activity. When I left home for boarding school at age 13, I took my bike with me and rode it exactly once a year. I soon stopped owning bikes and didn’t ride one for four or five years. After highschool, I took a gap year living and working in the outskirts of Portland, OR, where the buses run only twice an hour but the city’s cycling culture persists. It took my 9am job, the infrequent public transportation, and an old man named Lou to get me on a bike again. Lou gave me his old bike, helped me replace the numerous punctured tires, and switched out the yarn-secured milk crate on the back with real saddle baskets. I soon began biking almost everywhere I went. The change came from the necessity of getting to work on time, but biking quickly became integral to my happiness as well, allowing me to both mentally and physically distance myself from the stress of work. The movement had become a stabilizing habit, and, despite the physical exertion involved, it was easier, somehow, than sitting on a bus.
The architect, stage designer, artist and theoretician Frederick Kiesler (1890-1965) explored and challenged the boundaries between individual art genres and his theories of endless space and Correalism- which deals with the human perceptions and visions in relation to the cultural anthropology of architecture. This exhibition offers a multi-perspectival approach into his works in “space-time” architecture, sculpture and art.
A few days before this year’s International Day for Women’s Rights, I came to the realization that I could not attend the annual Berlin Women’s Day demonstration as I had to give a presentation for my course on the 8th of March, Marx Yesterday and Today. Instead of marching for Women Workers’ Rights, I could only discuss theories of labour in an academic setting. Protests are one of the few things that I can say are “my thing,” so I found myself feeling very disappointed at not being able to take part in a demonstration that advocated for a matter with which I am so intimately concerned.
The döner kebab is a ubiquitous street food and a staple for many Berliners and BCB students alike. Despite its popularity, this functional fast food has ambiguous origins and is claimed by multiple creators. Follow Claire August and Hana Bargheer as they trace the history and reception of this food of legends, checking in with BCB students Ido Nahari, Ibrahim Bozdemir, and others to find out more about the dish.
Featured songs, listed in order of appearance:
Kara Toprak by TPAO Batman Orkestrası
I Wish I Could Sprechen Sie Deutsch by FSK
Kebapträume by DAF
Jump right back into Berlin’s cultural scene by attending the film series In-between Performative Films, which focuses on artists trying to break away from patriarchal and national production contexts. This month’s movie premier follows artists and curators from Ghana. It raises various questions: Does the artist imitate art, or is it the art that reflects the artist? How can Ghanaian artists convey their history and heritage in art that is distanced from home? There will be a discussion with the director Maman Salissou Oumarou after the screening.
Wafa at a student artwork exhibition on campus (credit: Tamar Maare)
Wafa was arrested in 2011. The protests against the Assad regime had begun to heighten in frequency and intensity, with riots regularly breaking out in different Syrian cities. The Syrian authorities launched a nationwide crackdown on protesting in an effort to quell the rising dissent against the government, arresting many civilians. Amongst these were students who were dragged into prison for their activism, including Wafa Moustafa, now a BA1 student in the HAST program at BCB. “It was hard,” she says to me. “At this point, they didn’t arrest girls very often, so they had no idea how to deal with us appropriately.” After being beaten many times for disobedience, she decided that she would go on a hunger strike. But that, combined with serious asthma and an undiagnosed stomach condition, didn’t end well. “They summoned a doctor who force-fed me with syringes. Doctors here don’t help you, they’re all a part of the regime.”
On the beach in Alexandria, Egypt (Credit: Farah Khalaf)
Watching the sun’s last rays glisten on the waves of the Mediterranean as its burning flame anticipates being quenched by the Sea’s cool water, I listen to Yasmine Hamdan’s raspy Lebanese dialect as she sings of Sehnsucht and heartache (watch video here) . Whether it’s a blessing or a curse, these are things I have long since experienced.
As the tip of a bottle teases my lips and the icy drink fools around with my tongue and taste buds, I catch myself subconsciously trying to translate the song’s words and expressions into a language he would understand. Maybe I’ll have him listen to it one day. But its artistic and musical value wouldn’t be enough: he would want to understand the driving force behind the creation of this beauty.
The translation was a simple matter of finding the correct vocabulary, but that wasn’t what I was listening for. The soul of the song dimmed with the setting of the sun. The more I tried to find ways to convey it in his tongue, the more the song’s flame and passion became frail and shadow-like, until eventually the melody seemed only a ghost of what it was before I tried to capture it.
The song was lost and I brushed it off. Suddenly, I missed how he makes me feel like the goddess of that glistening golden sun embracing the Mediterranean. I remember this lurking uneasiness I had in the back of my head. A fear of loss. Loss of oneself, loss of language and identity in the process of merging cultures. But I’m starting to see now the malleability of one’s identity and how it’s constantly simply getting richer with the fusion of others’; it is all-consuming, like a sponge, or like the sea.