Berlin has long been a haven to migratory creatives, as well as refugees. Now, the former are taking Berlin’s spirit of innovation to make a difference in the lives of the latter. Working collectively in cooperation with the refugees themselves, many Berlin-based organisations are developing ways to help the city’s newcomers.
Migration Hub Network gGmbH
Building, Theater, University
Migration Hub is a network of social entrepreneurs and organisations working in the field of migration, refugee support and assimilation for people who are fleeing for their lives from the Middle East and Africa. Headed by Ana Maria Alvarez, the concept behind the operation is simple. Migration Hub’s aim is to create an environment where refugee aid organisations can congregate and collaborate with one another to figure out ways to improve the lives of refugees in Berlin. This co-working collective is located on Spreewerkstätten, and the landlord who owns the building offered the office space rent-free. The ultimate goal at Migration Hub is to mentor refugees, connecting them with organisations working in the sector and encouraging collaboration, knowledge exchange and best practice sharing across the world. Migration Hub also serves as the headquarters for Kiron University, a free, online portal for higher education entirely designated for refugees.
One of the most notable predecessors to the newfound diversity of creative efforts to aid refugees is Give Something Back To Berlin, which Annamaria Olsson founded in 2013. This platform is focused on organising a multitude of different grassroots volunteer efforts and intercultural activities. The no-frills site functions as an interactive database that connects volunteers with organisations in need of various skilled and unskilled helpers. When prompted about her reasoning for creating this platform, Olsson muses, ‘[Berlin] has migration in its veins, so it felt up to us to give our time to this.’ Olsson also stresses the importance of fostering connections between refugees and volunteers as well as engaging refugees in developing solutions for the current refugee crisis.
Social Science Works is a new company that aims to make social science research more accessible to stakeholder institutions within modern democracies and beyond. One way that they are doing so is by conducting interviews, seminars, and other projects with the refugees in order to gain information they believe is imperative to developing best practices for refugee integration. Their most recent project, ‘Understanding Europe: Helping Male Refugees Settle In Germany’ for instance, is a workshop series where refugees are prompted to consider their relation to European identity and cultural values. Though technically located in nearby Potsdam, Social Science Works was formed when its founders connected at Humboldt University of Berlin.
Courtesy of Social Science Works
CUCULA, the Refugees Company for Crafts and Design
School, Shop, Theater
CUCULA Showroom | Courtesy of CUCULA
Another company geared towards empowering refugees is CUCULA, the Refugees Company for Crafts and Design. The organisation takes in refugees as trainees and teaches them craft and design skills, which they can use to find work upon completing the program. Additionally, CUCULA is set up to aid the refugees during their visa application processes, and to provide them housing in the interim. The project is funded through the profits yielded from selling the contemporary furniture that the refugees themselves create at the company using the designs of the legendary Enzo Mari, making it a marvellously self-sustaining operation. You can stop by their showroom in Kreuzberg every Wednesday from 2-5 p.m. and pick up one of their items, which include chairs, tables, shelves, benches, and children’s furniture.
Pergamon Museum’s most distinguishing attribute is that outside of the Middle East, it contains one of the largest collections of Islamic art originating from places like present-day Syria and Iraq. It would be pretty difficult to ignore the fact that thousands flock to the museum to enjoy these exquisite items while the countries themselves are being destroyed. Thus, the Pergamon is offering refugees the exclusive chance to become tour guides at the museum as a means of fostering richer cultural interchange. After all, refugees from these locales have a firsthand connection to the art and architecture found in the Pergamon’s Museum of Islamic Art, and many even have professional or academic backgrounds in the subject matter. The tours are also offered to other refugees in their native languages thanks to the tour guides. The Pergamon is also doing its part to elevate members of the Syrian creative community into the limelight as a means of offering an alternative perspective on a nation so often characterised by the wars taking place there.
Another creative-run effort to accommodate the influx of refugees in the city is Refugees on Rails, an initiative that teaches the newcomers how to code. In doing so, the team at Refugees on Rails is helping to boost economies throughout Europe while also giving refugees tools to better integrate into society. The project largely relies on the help of other IT professionals serving as volunteer buddies for the refugees enrolled in the program, along with donated laptops and other materials. Refugees on Rails even set up a free online curriculum with step-by-step instructions that other nonprofit organisations can use to further the work. Plus, the company has expanded to several cities around Germany since it first began in Berlin.