Why Berlin?

15 September, 2022


In recent years, with the flow of refugees from West Asia and Africa stream­ing toward Europe, many have strug­gled to find accep­tance and asy­lum in the UK, Ger­many, and sev­er­al Nordic coun­tries, but one city stands out as hav­ing become a pre­ferred des­ti­na­tion among Arab and oth­er Mid­dle East­ern immi­grants, and that is BERLIN.

TMR’s 24th issue is devot­ed to Berlin from the view­point of its SWANA immi­grants and refugees, in par­tic­u­lar artists and writ­ers, activists and edu­ca­tors from Afghanistan, Iran, Syr­ia, Egypt, Alge­ria, Pales­tine and oth­er coun­tries south and west of the Mediter­ranean. Is Berlin the “new Dam­as­cus” or “new Cairo” as some have called it? This pop­u­la­tion had the prece­dent of a large Turk­ish migra­tion; as a result, are Ger­mans in Berlin more recep­tive to and accept­ing of Mus­lim immigrants?

Much of what we do at The Markaz Review is work with writ­ers and artists who are mov­ing or nomadic, who leave one coun­try to start over in anoth­er, some­times by choice, often of neces­si­ty. While some trav­el back and forth, many can’t go home again. Whether you define your­self as mere­ly a trav­el­er, a nomad or a dis­placed per­son seek­ing refuge, BERLIN now offers many of the com­forts of home, in a lib­er­al soci­ety that accepts all strangers.

Our guest edi­tor for BERLIN is the Ger­man Egypt­ian film schol­ar and doc­u­men­tar­i­an, Vio­la Shafik, who off and on has spent more than 20 years in Berlin, between her peri­patet­ic exis­tence that takes her to many world cap­i­tals. Shafik pro­files artists Jihan El-Tahiri and Myr­i­am El Haik in the Berlin Bien­nale, and reviews mat­ters of colo­nial­ism and resti­tu­tion in her essay My Berlin Trip­tych: On Muse­ums and Resti­tu­tion. She also inter­views Ziad Kalthoum in Tra­jec­to­ry of a Syr­i­an Film­mak­er and pro­files Pales­tin­ian pho­tog­ra­ph­er Mohamed Badarne.

Look­ing at just a few of Berlin’s many Mid­dle East­ern artists, this issue includes Berlin-based Jor­dan­ian artist and cura­tor Ala You­nis, who inter­views Iraqi artist Ali Yass on his new work, while Noushin Afza­li pro­files mul­ti­me­dia artist Shirin Moham­mad, who glides back and forth between Berlin, Bre­men and Tehran; and Melis­sa Chemam pro­files con­tem­po­rary Alger­ian-French artist Kad­er Attia as he dis­cuss­es his role with the Berlin Biennale.

Iskan­dar Abdal­la reviews Mohammed Shawky Has­san’s new film, an ode to queer love, and Necati Sön­mez, a Berlin film crit­ic and cura­tor, reviews the new music doc­u­men­tary from Ger­man-Turk­ish direc­tor Cem Kaya on immi­grant Turk­ish music in Germany.

In Berlin Gas­tro­nom­i­cal, author and lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor Ran­da Aboubakr, who trav­els back and forth from Cairo to Berlin, explores the city’s Arab food offer­ings, while Mohamed Rad­wan writes about his expe­ri­ence run­ning Kairo Koshary, Berlin’s Egypt­ian food truck.

In The Intrud­ers and the City, Rasha Abbas, a Syr­i­an writer who ven­tures into the sur­re­al, exam­ines her con­flict­ed rela­tion­ship with Berlin, in a trans­la­tion from Katharine Halls. Pales­tin­ian nov­el­ist Sha­da Mustafa, mean­while, turns in a short sto­ry enti­tled “Para­noid in Berlin,” and Ahmed Awadal­la writes about love in Berlin, in his short sto­ry “Anoth­er Ger­man.”

And this issue’s cen­ter­piece from Egypt­ian writer Ahmed Awny, “What Are You Doing in Berlin?” divi­gates between fic­tion and real­i­ty in his decen­ter­ing short story.

Cul­tur­al his­to­ri­an Diana Abbani med­i­tates on the SWANA music scene in Berlin, in a piece enti­tled Exile, Music, Hope & Nos­tal­gia Among Berlin’s Arab Immi­grants. Also delv­ing into Berlin his­to­ry, Ahmed Farouk, the Ara­bic trans­la­tor of Gün­ter Grass, W. G. Sebald and Rosa Lux­em­burg, among oth­ers, strug­gles with Trans­lat­ing Wal­ter Ben­jamin on Berlin, a Ger­man-Ara­bic Jour­ney. And film cura­tor and schol­ar Irit Nei­d­hardt search­es for clues to the Berlin dis­ap­pear­ance of gramo­phone tycoon Michel Bai­da, in The Mys­tery of Tycoon Michel Bai­da in Old Arab Berlin. Final­ly, Pales­tin­ian writer and jour­nal­ist Abir Kop­ty in an opin­ion piece argues that Ger­man guilt is being used to silence Pales­tini­ans and oth­ers who protest on their behalf.

Berlin Who’s Who

But for as many sto­ries as we include in this spe­cial BERLIN issue (20), there are thou­sands more that remain to be dis­cov­ered. Among those we hope to write about in future issues of The Markaz Review are:

The eclec­tic Muham­mad Jabali, orig­i­nal­ly from Tay­beh (Pales­tine), a writer and social entre­pre­neur who stud­ied law at Tel Aviv Uni­ver­si­ty. He was a cofounder of Anna Loulou in Jaf­fa, and he cofound­ed Al.Berlin, which over the past few years has become a main­stay for Arab Berlin, which also attracts Berlin­ers inter­est­ed in the Mid­dle East and Arab arts.

Oum Hals, a 7‑act play, per­form­ing Octo­ber 14 in the Fest­saal Kreuzberg Berlin orga­nized by AL-Berlin.

Al.Berlin is pro­duc­ing its 3rd annu­al arts fes­ti­val in Kreuzberg on Octo­ber 14, 2022, which “will trans­form the immer­sive space of Fest­saal Kreuzberg into an all-day cel­e­bra­tion of West Asian and North African con­tem­po­rary music and art.” More info.

Jabali is a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary artist, writer, poet, DJ and an inter­net wiz. He posts his art on his Insta­gram page, and you can find some of his writ­ing here.

Anoth­er Berlin mover and shak­er is Georges Khalil is the Aca­d­e­m­ic Coor­di­na­tor of the Berlin-based Forum Tran­sre­gionale Stu­di­en and of its research pro­gram Europe in the Mid­dle East—The Mid­dle East in Europe (EUME), that seeks to rethink key con­cepts and premis­es that link and divide Europe and the Mid­dle East. He co-edit­ed Di/Visions, Kul­tur und Poli­tik des Nahen Ostens (2009), Islam­ic Art and the Muse­um, Approach­es to Art and Arche­ol­o­gy of the Mus­lim World in the Twen­ty-First Cen­tu­ry (2012) and Com­mit­ment and Beyond: Reflec­tions on/of the Polit­i­cal in Ara­bic Lit­er­a­ture since the 1940s (2015). He recent­ly coor­di­nat­ed a fas­ci­nat­ing con­ver­sa­tion with author-schol­ar (and TMR edi­to­r­i­al board mem­ber) Ella Shohat, on “Writ­ing the Arab-Jew: Reflec­tions on Dis­place­ment and Mid­dle East­ern Dias­po­ras” (watch here).

Oth­ers who TMR hopes to write about going for­ward are nov­el­ist Muham­mad Rabie, co-own­er with Fadi Abdel Nour of the Khan al Janub Ara­bic book­store, and so many more.

Jor­dan Elgrably


Berlin’s Khan al-Janub Ara­bic book­store, co-owned by Egypt­ian nov­el­ist Muham­mad Rabie and Pales­tin­ian social entre­pre­neur Fadi Abdel Nour (pho­to cour­tesy Khan al-Janub).



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