In a Berlin loft, a team of international academics, writers, and publishers have come together to create a sanctuary for Arabic culture in Germany. Muhannad Qaiconie, the mastermind behind the unconventional library, is a displaced Syrian student studying English literature who found solace in Germany after years in Lebanon and Turkey.
Muhannad had to abandon his own library in 2013 when he fled his home in Aleppo. “I didn’t have a single book in my hand at that time,” he says. “But studying was always in my mind, because I missed it so much. In Syria, I bought the books to read and made my own library, my own education.”
“It’s horrible to lose everything, but it’s not just the need of food or money, there are the needs of the mind. You need your culture, your books.”
After leaving Syria, Muhannad spent time in Turkey, Lebanon, Greece, before waiting in a shelter in southern Germany for his asylum application to process.
While waiting for the bureaucratic red tape to clear, he found himself bored and in search of a good book. An online friendship began with Berlin-based Ines Kappert, who is a literary scholar and newspaper editor. When Muhannad asked his new friend where he could find an Arabic library, she was unable to help him as she didn’t know of any in the country.
“That stayed in my mind,” said Muhannad. And it stayed in his mind even after he won a scholarship and moved to Berlin. Now living in the same city as Ines, the pair began to bring their idea of an Arabic library to life. The reality solidified once they found a space – the top floor of a high-rise hotel now used to house families from Syria and Iraq – and filled it with donated books on politics, religion, history, and science. The library doesn’t only house Arabic books. German and English books also fill the shelves.
Image via UNHCR
“The library is for everybody – it’s an exchange of culture. There are many writers, authors, musicians coming to Berlin. They need this stage, a place to introduce their work. We can learn from each other, it’s not just one side. If there’s such a thing as integration, that’s it. You learn from me, I learn from you.”
The library has received support from a large amount of literary and cultural groups from a variety of countries, including Germany, Syria, and Jordan. The library is open four days a week and patrons are invited to browse, discuss, and research. At night, the library showcases authors from Berlin’s flourishing Arabic-speaking literary scene.
“Lots of people feel they are home now, because it’s their culture, their people, and their discussions.”
Featured image via Twitter – Muhannad Qaiconie.