Making home feel like home: creating a common room in Charlottenburg

Give Something Back to Berlin’s  Open Art Shelter has been invited to create a cosy space in a new refugee home in Charlottenburg. Open Art Shelter manager Hania Hakiel shares her first experience here.

So what are we doing on here, in this super fancy Charlottenburg, on Thursday afternoon? Do we try to buy a stylish villa to turn it into an Open Art Shelter? Maybe in the future…. (if you want to donate, you can do so here).

On the 29th of January we came to the old hospital-turned-refugee home to kick off a special process; creating a cozy community room together with the residents. The first step is about brainstorming and pencil-storming ideas for a wall painting.

Wherever you are, the notion of home brings peace of mind and feeling of belonging. So basic and so difficult, when war, poverty, conflicts… pushed you far away from your natural and intuitive paths and surroundings. A cold and little spooky hospital in wealthy Berlin neighborhood became home for the many— not a perfect place, hopefully temporary, full of new neighbors speaking foreign languages of values and emotion, but home.

The process of creating a community space for 600 residents is not only about decorating, building, painting. As important is the process itself— feeling responsible, having your voice and opinion heard, sitting together with people with whom usually you do not interact… Doing is important for feeling powerful, responsible, and capable of making a difference. But feeling, connecting, belonging, openly facing conflicts… is what gives life colors and meaning.

So I do not know how the room will look like at the end. I hope, it will turn into space where everybody can find rest and a friend to spend time with.

One day after our first visit in the home on Eschenallee my head is still full of faces and words. I still feel this calming feeling of connectedness with humanity, with individual beings whose cultures, languages and stories are so foreign to me. And in the end, we did nothing more than drawing and chatting…

I still think about a Syrian child observing us from distance being afraid of every smile, who after 2 hours of judging from afar whether we were people worth his trust, joined us and we were drawing together.

I still hold in my heart a woman from Afghanistan and her 11-year-old daughter, their beautiful memories from an Afghan mountain village taken into a chaotic dance with flashbacks from the Taliban intrusion; from baking bread and singing around the fire to burning houses and bodies. Tears and sadness followed by peaceful smiles: these moments of connecting surprise when the Afghan woman drew her house close to the border with Uzbekistan and it looked exactly like the house of Joan, a girl from Denmark. Or when the woman drew traditional floral and geometric patterns that women from her village use to embroider on the scarves and dresses and it looked like the pattern I know from the the Polish Tatra mountains’ folk art.

But there is one thing that we do not have in common: a sense of time. After four hours people from our team one by one started heading towards other duties or friends. Some residents felt disappointed that we had had not said at the beginning what little time we had; in the European realm, four hours is an eternity.

But time is the biggest gift we can exchange. Do not say you must go after one hour. After four hours we had just been invited for tea by one of the residents. She said, “my room is small, but it is my home, and you are my guests.”

Update 2: Mid-February, 2016:

Some photos from the second visit to the shelter as the project continues…

Update 3, March 2016:

We now have more than 100 kids and adults involved in making the shelter feel more like home, both volunteers and residents. It’s amazing what you can do with just five colours of paint…

———————————-CALL TO ACTION———————————-

Donations needed for the project:

* Ideas for a wall painting (jpg or pdf is fine) — you can offer copyrights to your artwork and we take care of reproducing it on the wall if people happen to like your idea. You can also join the team.

* Posters or Prints or Paintings that we could place on the wall if people like it.

* Blankets and pillows

* Fabrics, threat, wool, needles (women want to make some handcrafted deco for the room)

* Wallpaper glue

* All sorts of ideas

We continue the work on the wall painting and other cozy-up processes on Monday, the 8th of February, from 11am on.