Together with refugees from Syria and their instruments, the Berlin Symphony played a heart-warming and mind-opening free concert at Gendarmenmarkt last Saturday. Not only was it the highlight of the Protestant Church Days, it was also the first day of the Muslim month of Ramadan, marking the occasion as ultimate intersection of religions, world views and cultures.
Truth be told, I am neither a devout person, nor do I get freakishly excited about classical music concerts. But this particular performance, the UNISONO-Symphony, resonated with me on an emotional level.
I am German with Syrian roots. During the refugee crisis, I was often hurt involuntarily by what people thought about Syrians. The condescension and the extreme pity were much worse than the racism and the fear. “Oh, those poor, simple folk – of course they want to live in Germany. We are great. Syria isn’t.” Needless to say, that’s not true.
Not just another Syrian refugee
My parents taught me early on to be as German as I could be so nobody could harass me for an accent or funny clothing. When we say integration, all we think is THEY have to leave THEIR identity behind and get on board with ‘ours’, whatever that may be.
Using the term ‘refugees’ (and even immigrant) strips people from their identity. Unless they sell Arabic food on Sonnenallee, they are reduced to being displaced. They are not credited with a past life. Their country is being bombed to shreds, and in Germany, they only get one option: integration. GERMANIZE or feel our wrath. As if Syrians don’t listen to global pop music, watch the same shows as Westerners or have varying opinions about fashion, art or gardening.
And how do you integrate yourself when people automatically assume you bring nothing to the table? If your whole identity is re-constructed externally, by media headlines, war traumas and welfare? “Ah, you’re Syrian, and you’re a refugee, that’s all I need to know to assess your personality completely.”
Even I started believing that!
That’s why collaborations in art – especially the fine arts! – are so important. They don’t reduce individuals to their political status, they elevate all the artists on stage to one single platform. There are no nations or borders in music. There is no racism in the sound of the Oud or the angelic voices of a choir, there’s only talent, passion and masterful precision.
“And how do you integrate when people assume you bring nothing to the table?”
For me personally, there was also the added bonus of listening to the Oud and feeling incredibly homesick. It has been almost 10 years since I’ve last been to Syria.
Music transcends the limits of ideology and identity while it transports cultures and traditions. The performance was supposed to be a symbol of tolerance and peace, and I think it was absolutely successful in that regard. I believe that playing together – football, music, board games – is the only way that leads to living together.
At the end of the concert, which was organized, initiated and composed by Nicolas Ruegenberg, all the musicians of the Berlin Symphony, their Syrian guest, the choir and all the visitors sang together Beethovens 9th Symphony, aka the Hymn of Europe, aka “The Ode to Joy” aka the one classic tune that everybody in Germany had to learn as student: FREUDE SCHÖNER GÖTTERFUNKEN. The proceeds of the event will be donated to the UNO Refugee Aid Organisation.
We were lucky to see the premiere of the UNISONO-Symphony from the balcony of the French Dom on Gendarmenmarkt, all thanks to one of the main sponsors of the open air concert, Lilienthal Berlin. In celebration of the event and their first birthday, the precision watchmaker has released the limited “L1 Götterfunken” edition. There are only 999 pieces made. You can win one of them by donating to the UNO Refugee Aid Organisation via the UNISONO webpage.
MADE IN BERLIN: Tolerance, freedom and respect
I also want to use the occasion to thank my beautiful friends from the ORIENTAL LADIES CLUB for accompanying me to this event. These women, among others, have shaped my identity as post-immigrant and helped me nurture my roots, despite growing up under different circumstances and coming from different ethnicities.
Some of you were refugees while I didn’t realize I was ‘different’ until someone called me an Ausländer in 4th grade. It’s incredible how vastly different the individual experience of immigrants (and their descendants) can be.
What you showed me in your graceful ways is that in Berlin, I don’t have to decide between being Syrian or German. And neither does the music of the UNISONO Symphony.