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on the Bard College Berlin Student Blog

Baynetna (Credit: Eva Johnaon)

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.

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