Breaking the silence at Neuhardenberg refugee shelter

The GSBTB Open Art Shelter visits the Neuhardenberg Refugee Camp, an hour-and-a-half’s drive east of Berlin.

Already the drive was a beautiful adventure through white fields and forests. Fresh snow and fog made things appear peaceful, magic and silent.

Silence… This is what welcomed us in the refugee camp in Neuhardenberg. It was noon on Sunday and there was not even a single person strolling, smoking, or chatting. “We sleep too much. We stay in our rooms doing nothing because there is nothing to do in the village. Especially in winter. So you just sleep. As long as you can…” This is one thing that I repeteadly hear from the residents each time we come to visit.

Silence… To break it, we started playing music in the yard. Tom was singing and it was just beautiful. We blew ballons, hula-hooped, made noise… We must have looked a little ridiculous or even desperate, but we had so much fun with each other that we knew that real joy must spread and grow. A few children stood up in the windows but they were not even smiling– just staring. It took time. Building trust takes time. Time is the most beautiful gift we can offer to people.

Abdi who speaks Somali language, Israa and Noor who speak Arabic, Hania and Holger whom people recognize and seem to like and trust, India who came for the first time and was full of enthusiasm… Door by door we kept knocking, personally inviting people to join us outside and later do sport, music and art in the local sport hall – the place that we would never could get (and never for as long as four hours) without help from Hilde and Horst Nies, amazing activists from the local Willkomenskreis.

Silence… Was gone after one hour. The yard became full of people playing music, building snowmen, talking, laughing, discussing, having serious fights with snowballs as heavy weapons, hula hooping, playing volleyball… Didn’t I say that people believed they had nothing to do in the winter? And what about making a small parade through the village with music, bubbles and, of course, freestyle SNOWBALL throwing! All through the village that is silent in a very creepy, scary way. Where are you people? What do you all do on Sunday afternoons?

When our feet had become almost frozen we moved to the sport hall where happiness and freedom filled the space. Elderly Somali women playing soccer; Syrian men climbing the ropes up to the ceiling; children painting each others’ faces; more and more and more.

Till next time, our dear friends from Neuhardenberg. Or maybe soon from NOISEhardenberg?

Hania Hakiel is a psychotherapist and art therapist who runs the GSBTB Open Art Shelter.

Photos by Emilie Anomalie – more here.