The Hopeful State of Mind of a Syrian Woman

A feature story by Merve Kartal

Widad Warrak, a Syrian single-parent refugee mother with four children, needed a great deal of resilience as she fled from the Syrian civil war in 2014 and attempted to hold on to geography she never knew. Although she no longer feels the death anxiety experienced during the civil war, she struggles to find a safe place and continue her own business, even after eight years. Still smiling hopefully: “The best things start when you say it’s over,” she said.

duvar, iç mekan, kişi içeren bir resim

Açıklama otomatik olarak oluşturulduWidad’s colourful threads in he tailor’s studio give her hope for the future.

Syria has been going through one of the most severe humanitarian crises of modern times. The Syrian Civil War has caused a refugee influx of unprecedented size in Turkey’s history. According to the data published by the Ministry of Interior Presidency of Migration Management of Turkey, the number of Syrians under temporary protection status registered in Turkey was 3 million 764 thousand 193 people as of June 9, 2022. Widad Warrak, 43, born in Aleppo is just one of them.

As of June, 9 – There are 3,764,193 Syrian refugees.

Source: Ministry of Interior Presidency of Migration Management of Turkey

Widad begins to tell me about the journey she embarked on in fear not knowing where they were going with her three children aged three, six, 14 at the time, and her sick mother, 62, by reminding me that journeys don’t always start with joy and inspiration.

Her struggle started at the age of 12 when she was working in many different jobs, from candy coating to the production of hair clips. She says that she separated from her husband, whom she married at the age of 21 because he was a person who was not aware of his responsibilities and did not take care of his family. She describes the moment when the situation in Aleppo started to get difficult day by day and she decided to flee to Turkey.

“I was both afraid and worried when I went to work because I had to take care of my mother and children by myself. Has my house been raided? Someone bombed? My six-year-old son passed away in Syria and my older brother died in the war. The increase in cases of abuse and rape against girls pushed me to decide to protect my family, which is why I left the country.”

From Aleppo, Syria to Ankara, Turkey in 2014

harita içeren bir resim

Açıklama otomatik olarak oluşturuldu

At a time when she could not even access basic needs such as water, electricity, food, and she was in a position where life was becoming impossible, she sold the things from her destroyed house and set out for Turkey: “We found someone who would drop us off the Turkish border with the money of the things we sold.”

During the three-day journey, Widad and her family took refuge in Turkey illegally because the borders were closed. They slept in the streets, in mosques, and on benches. A new adventure has just begun with a country she never knew before, a language she never knew to speak, and the family members for whom she is responsible. As for the most difficult moment during the migration: “When my children were hungry, I could not say to them, ‘be a bit more patient, we will eat when we get home’. Because we had no home to go to and no food to eat,” she stated.

ağaç, açık hava, kişi, poz içeren bir resim

Açıklama otomatik olarak oluşturulduImage: Widad of private

Her daughter and son 4 months after arriving in Turkey in 2014.

In this process, when I asked Widad, who only talked about her concerns about her children and mother, what her concerns were about herself, “I never thought of myself.” she answered by remembering the past.

Widad’s most difficult time began after she crossed the border. She says that when they crossed the border and travelled to Ankara by different sorts of transportation, almost all their financial resources were over: “With our remaining money, we could only rent a house where we could live. When we reached Ankara, we had only our clothes and a roof over us.”

She had a hard time choosing words to describe her feelings on the first day in Turkey: “I was in pain of losing my little son and big brother, and I had lost all I had been trying to establish with years of effort.” And recurring questions in her mind are, “How will I take care of my children and my mother in a country whose language we do not know and whose people I do not know? Where will we live? Will we have a home? What will happen to my children’s education? What future awaits us?”

When I asked her why she preferred to come to Ankara, “We always heard that living conditions in Ankara were easier,” she said. “We thought that we could get help from each other because we knew that there were more Syrians here.” It happened like that. Over time, they have begun to meet people who can help them. The new people they met have supported them by giving the staff they don’t have at their home.

According to the normal procedure in Turkey, a refugee who has a valid residence permit in Turkey for 5 years, can apply for citizenship. Widad, who has not yet gotten citizenship and has been living in temporary protection status, emphasized that becoming a citizen is not easy, but also talked about how it gives confidence to their children to school with their current identity cards and to benefit from health and security services.

Widad has begun to meet people over time, although not until she arrived in Turkey. Then she had the opportunity to start learning Turkish. She described the moment when she felt comfortable for the first time as the first day she started working as a tailor in her workplace. Widad’s problem with the language barrier and the lack of equivalence which caused her inability to be employed as a nurse, her real profession, is only one of the most common problems of people who had to immigrate. She decides to establish her own tailor’s studio in Turkey because Syrian people have been forced to work for longer periods for lower wages.

According to the data of the General Directorate of Migration Management, 31% of Syrians have a work permit, at least half of which have established their own company. Widad is among the Syrians who started their own business. First, she set up two sewing machines in her own house and started to sew and sell clothes.

A short time later, upon the advice of her close friend, she attended the Micro Business Game Training organized for entrepreneur refugees. After understanding the meaning of thinking like an entrepreneur and learning basic accounting principles and main financial tools, she expanded her own business with debt financing and created employment opportunities for 11 refugees. She established good friendships with the people she met during this training.

metin, kişi, iç mekan içeren bir resim

Açıklama otomatik olarak oluşturulduWidad was one of the Syrian participants of the Micro Business Game Training.

A study carried out by the Human Development Foundation in 2019 signifies the importance of the entrepreneurship pathway for the improvement of the Syrian community’s welfare within Turkey. Widad sets out on this path to take care of her family and improve her quality of life. But before she could fully experience the comfort of the time when she signed with some textile companies in Turkey and started to expand her business, the pandemic has begun. Last month she thought gained momentum with the end of the restrictions, but she had to take a break from her work due to the license problem.

In Turkey, where living conditions are getting harder day by day due to economic reasons, difficulties have come one after another just when things started picking up country. On the one hand, she has continued to struggle with finding a home again. When I ask why it’s a problem, we talked about prejudices and discrimination in the country. “We know a lot of people who say we shouldn’t be here. Once, the residents collected signatures and forced us to move out of our apartment. They started insulting my children, then criticizing the way I dress.” Both economic conditions and discrimination against them made the process of finding an apartment difficult. On the other hand, she can’t help but think about how she will pay her rental fee and bills.

Although she has been saying that she has struggled with different difficulties in both countries, she describes the best thing Turkey taught her as:

“There is always hope. Being able to meet good people even under hard conditions makes you have that hope. Because there are people who want to support you on a journey where you lost everything and started from scratch. This is a sign that there is still hope for all of us.”

Apart from Ankara, she visited Izmir, Istanbul, and Mersin as well. I ask what surprised her the most in Turkey, “We were very surprised that Turkey is such a beautiful and organized country. The nature of Turkey is so beautiful, I was amazed.” answered she.

When she looked back at Syria long after her migration, she realized that an environment that respected human dignity has not been presented to people there. While saying that the opportunities in Turkey make the lives of citizens easier, she gives examples of infrastructure and health services necessary for life. She defines the only beauty of being in Syria as being able to express herself and communicate in her mother tongue.

She has not been planning to return to Syria anytime soon. According to her, the war will not end in a short time, and its effects will take a long time to pass. “I am trying to establish an order for my family here, to provide a future for my children, I cannot leave these things and go back to a ruined order,” said Widad.

Asked what she misses most about home, she answers in her tiny voice: “The smell of its soil.”

She hopes to produce and sell in her tailor studio, without debt to anyone in a short while.  She dreams of expanding her business and seeing the fruits of her labour for her children.

kişi, iç mekan, cihaz içeren bir resim

Açıklama otomatik olarak oluşturulduWidad hopes to produce and sell again in her tailor studio.

She has a dream of there being no war, there is no evil, and humanity living in solidarity and peace. “The world has gotten so bad that I dream of having people you can trust, a sincere smile, a disinterested helping hand, in short, being able to trust the world again.”

Asked if she has hope, “There is always hope,” she said and added

“DON’T DESPAIR, ONLY LOOK BACK TO LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES. THE BEST THINGS START WHEN YOU SAY IT’S OVER.”

This story was originally published at Merve’s personal blog:

The Power Of Acceptance

A feature story by Savita Joshi 

How two people from two different cultures built a life revolved around love and acceptance.

Maya and Gary at their second wedding celebration (the one their friends threw for them after their first spontaneous ceremony) 

It was a bright, crisp morning in 1978, and the sunlight slanted through the windows of Maya and Gary’s Oakland home, illuminating the richness of its many wooden cabinets and stairs. It was in those early morning hours that a comfortable stillness could be felt in the rooms and hallways. This sense of quiet would soon dissipate when Maya and her sister Mira were both awake and had fallen into their comfortable rhythm of bickering and nagging, which for them was the ultimate gesture of love. It’s not completely clear what inspired Maya and Gary that morning, but the couple awoke in the bed that they shared together and decided that it was the day they were going to get married.

My great aunt and uncle are two of the most practical people you will ever encounter. They eat the same nutritional breakfast every morning of fruit and yogurt (prepared by Gary), and they attend yoga classes together to maintain their flexibility into their old age. When I was twelve and they dropped me off at summer camp, forlorn and extremely homesick, Maya could not understand my sadness. How could I be so glum when I was going to an island for three weeks to play and have fun? Why was I acting like I would never see my parents again? For a woman who had left her country at a young age, saying goodbye to all she had ever known, I can understand how my teenage American angst seemed unreasonable to her. Her favorite thing to tell me, back then and sometimes now, is how she was so broke when she first immigrated here that she couldn’t ride the bus and get ice cream in the same week. And I bet you can guess which decision she made. 

Maya and Family (Maya on the left)

It was this practicality that led to Maya and Gary’s small and sensible wedding, which took place in the family room. Only seven people were in attendance, which is one of the drawbacks to planning and throwing your wedding on the same day. But for Maya and Gary it was perfect. Their close friend, who was a Lutheran minister, married the two of them later in the evening. It was a very casual affair, not at all like the Western or Indian weddings that Maya and Gary were used to. “We didn’t even take pictures!”, says Maya. “We didn’t own a camera back then.” 

Maya and Gary were born in two different countries, to two very different families. Maya in Mumbai, India, surrounded by banyan and mango trees, to a family of eight. Gary in sunny Palo Alto, California, to a family of six. The two grew up in very different environments, but in 1968 they both found themselves on the same continent, in the same town to be exact. It was at the University of California Berkeley where their two contrasting paths crossed. 

What came to follow could easily be romanticized, two people from different cultures who found their soulmates in a way that neither of them could have dreamt of. However, Gary and Maya’s story is not a fairy tale, at least not in their eyes. Instead it is a story that is deeply rooted in the tangible, in patience and commitment, and in a strong devotion to family. Although their love defies boundaries of race and culture, they don’t see this as something special. This is because according to them, they are just two people who fell in love and continually decided to put love first.

I can attest to the fact that having a loving and supportive family, especially one that is open-minded, makes dealing with societal standards and expectations much easier. Luckily, both Maya and Gary were blessed with families like this. Maya’s parents, my great grandparents, were very forward-thinking for their time. As freedom fighters, who were a part of Gandhi’s movement (we even have letters written between my great grandfather and Ghandi), they were accepting and progressive. They would even let my grandmother and her sisters have boys over to the house, which was not that norm for that time. They pushed their children to leave India, see the world, and fully immerse themselves in new cultures. 

Maya’s parents (my great grandparents)

Part of this immersion was befriending and, in Maya’s case, dating people that were different from her. “My father taught us that a good relationship is more about the partners themselves, not the cultures that they come from.” While Gary’s parents were not quite freedom fighters, they did not let their preconceived notions of race and culture get in the way of their connection to their son. “They expected me to marry a white person, so they were a little bit surprised, but they always trusted my judgment.”

Maybe it was the fact that their love was born out of a progressive and accepting place like Berkeley, or maybe it was just luck, but Maya and Gary were able to navigate their many years together without experiencing much discrimination or harassment. Besides the odd neighbor who didn’t like the look of a white man moving into the house next door with two brown women (Maya and her sister), or the people in small towns who gave them strange looks during their cross-country road trips, they didn’t face much bigotry. I believe that it is this lack of adversity and hatred that has helped them cultivate such a deep and resilient bond.

Marrying into an Indian family meant that Gary was suddenly surrounded by a large extended family, which was very different from his small nuclear American family. “My family was close, but we didn’t want to bother each other. On the other hand, Maya and her siblings call each other every day. That’s how they show their care for each other.” I can see vividly what Gary is referring to here. Whenever I would stay with them during the summers, I would often come downstairs in the morning to be greeted by one of my other great aunts or uncles via Maya’s phone. And despite the many technical difficulties they have, which were most obvious during 2020 when we had numerous zoom birthday gatherings, they keep in touch even though they are miles and sometimes oceans apart. 

Maya (left) and her three sisters, Mira, Rekha, and Sheela

While Maya brought a tight knit family structure into Gary’s life, Gary provided Maya with a partnership that was different from what most Indian men could offer her. “I always knew that I didn’t want to marry an Indian guy”, recalls Maya. “I knew that I was different from other Indian women. I wouldn’t bend to cultural or familial restrictions.” This statement could not be more true. Maya is an extremely embodied, fiery, and often quite loud (and I mean this in the best way) woman who is guaranteed to chat your ear off. I have always been inspired by how confident and genuinely herself she is, and I cannot imagine her playing the role of a traditional dutiful Indian wife. By choosing Gary, Maya was able to maintain a sense of autonomy and freedom throughout her marriage.

Maya and Gary Skiing

For many American families, Christmas is the biggest holiday. However, for my family, our most important holiday has always been Thanksgiving. It is on Thanksgiving that everyone gets together to eat, drink, and be very very loud. Even before my time, Thanksgiving was an important moment where Maya and Gary’s two cultures and two families came together to share space. It was a true melting pot, as the Indian guests (who were vegetarian and therefore didn’t eat turkey)  would bring dishes of their own to be eaten alongside the more traditional Thanksgiving food. “We would have up to 50 people at our Thanksgiving for many years, and that was where the cultures blended”, remembers Maya. To this day there are often Indian side dishes accompanying the turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. 

Maya and Gary’s family grew in 1985 when they adopted their son Ethan. Having battled breast cancer and undergone numerous rounds of chemotherapy, Maya was unable to have children of her own, and so they decided to adopt. Once Ethan arrived on the scene, Maya and Gary were even more cemented together, through their dedication to their son. “We knew that we couldn’t be the best parents on our own, that we needed each other”, says Maya. “We knew we needed to be strong for him”. The presence of their son (who in many family photos can be easily spotted due to his prominent bowl-cut and thick round glasses) acted as a sort of anchor for the couple, keeping them upright and steadfast. 

Maya, Gary, and Ethan

I know that it seems a bit cheesy, but as a millennial who grew up with divorce being not only accepted but normal, I had to ask the question: What is your secret to a long lasting and strong relationship? “Tolerance, allowing space, and accepting the other person”, says Maya. “Everyone has an idea of their partner in their head, and usually at some point they realize that they are different from that image. If you can accept the person as they are, then life gets easier and this strengthens your relationship.” For Gary, it’s also about the give-and-take between the two of them. “We depend on each other in different ways. Maya does so much for us. She handles all the money, all the problems with our credit cards, orders our medicines, things like that. And I make her tea in the morning. So it’s sort of an even trade”, he jokes. But in all seriousness, you can sense that the two of them have found a rhythm in their lives that is smooth and steady.

This isn’t to say that Maya and Gary don’t bicker. They snap at each other sometimes, I mean after 44 years of companionship to not have conflict would feel more like a problem than a gift. But I have always been amazed by their ability to ride the waves of their emotions together, always coming back to the love and stability that they share. 

Maya and Gary cutting their wedding cake

The only complaint that Maya currently has about her relationship is that Gary doesn’t like to play boardgames with her. “He doesn’t want to play games with me because he always wants to win. If I lose I don’t have a problem because I know I can always win again another time but he throws a fit if he loses”. However, even these words, which were the only negative ones that she said about Gary during our interview, were said with a smile, a laugh, and a look of mischief in her eyes. 

Career Advice With Michaela Krause

An interview by Walter Kemp Bruce

Walking into Michaela Krause’s offices in Mitte, Berlin, is quite impressive. A buzzer door leads off a beautiful archway, up four flights of stairs and into an open space where young professionals are busy working at Macbooks. Around the furniture you can see a collection of different products associated with Michaela’s public relations company, Laika Communications. Among them are harnesses and other contraptions designed specifically for dogs. The fact Michaela’s company chooses to work with these particular products is unsurprising given that Laika Communications is named after Laika the dog – the first animal to do an orbital spaceflight around Earth – and because you’ll often find a cute dog trotting around the office. 

Laika Communications is a very forward looking, modern PR company, and have worked with Snapchat, Twitch, Soundcloud and other huge names in the digital space. Michaela, as founder and CEO, has guided this company since it was created in 2018 and according to Linkedin, it already has 25 employees. 

But I’m here to discuss a particular subject with Michaela: I want to find out what guidance she might have for young people who, like me, are at the very beginning of their professional journey. Although she has already worked in different companies and in several industries, Michaela is a young person herself, and seems quite close to me in age (I do maintain a sense of British etiquette that prevents me from asking someone how old they are in exact terms). I hope this article might help to bridge the gap between my generation and our typical sources of career advice: people our parents’ age. 

Right off the bat, Michaela responds to my questions with total clarity: “You need to go out and try different things.” (I had asked her about the challenge of finding the right career, and how lost so many of us seem to be.) “I was lucky enough to do internships in three different fields in the time I was studying, and it allowed me to try my hand at different responsibilities and different industries. That really helped me to figure out what I liked and what I was good at,” Michaela explains. She is adamant that this is as relevant now as it has ever been. “Even in the digital age, there is only so much you can learn from trying out and observing, or looking stuff up. At some point you have to go out and do,” she says. Her last comments on this topic really hit home: “If you’re at the first stage, don’t let yourself get caught up in the insecurity that you might choose the wrong path that defines your whole career. That could stop you from taking opportunities. The truth is you’ve got so much time at this stage to explore, change and switch tack. People are often far too young when they start worrying about what’s exactly THE right job for them.” 

As an employer of young people herself, I ask Michaela what stands out to her about a promising applicant. “I like to see that someone has a firm idea of what they are curious to learn, as well as telling me what they bring to the table,” she says. She takes a second to think about this before continuing. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to have confidence in your skills, but I like to hire applicants I can help grow, and who want to gain new skills working with me, rather than people who consider themselves the full package already. Because I believe we never stop learning and that’s the attitude I want to see in someone” Michaela explains that the personal value of helping someone grow and develop as an employee is a great part of the work that she does. I’m sure staff at Laika also appreciate that they’re not expected to arrive as a finished product and will eventually leave with new skills and abilities. 

But what about very talented people, who have a particularly well honed area of expertise? Well, according to Michaela this could be cause for concern. “Sometimes, people with special abilities can fall into a trap,” she says, “because they end up developing that ability beyond all their other responsibilities.” For example, in her industry, Michaela explains that someone with an amazing knack for content creation could neglect their knowledge of brand strategy. More to the point, “in any industry, everyone wants someone who is a really competent, well-rounded colleague, who can pitch in and help out where needs be. It’s great to feel like you’re working with people who have that agility,” Michaela says. But this point goes even further: “Something that people don’t realise is that specific abilities can basically dip in and out of fashion. If you want true job security, it’s great to become invaluable to your industry without getting trapped in a particular niche. Being open to change and learning new things is the real hidden talent,” she says. 

Lastly, Michaela stresses the continuing relevance of the age-old principle of acuity: build good relationships. Michaela suggests this principle might even be grounds for going offline in the post-Covid world: “Y’know it’s always great if you can meet face to face. Even just because it’s a gesture which shows your level of interest and commitment. But generally, it’s just great to build lasting relationships with people, and put in effort to make it clear those relationships are important to you.” She goes on to say that developing good relationships in your career is about genuinely caring about people for their sake, and not thinking about what you can get from them. Maintaining positivity and kindness is a huge advantage professionally, not a weakness, she explains. 

For such a drastically changing planet, it’s surprising to me how much of Michaela’s advice could relate to previous generations. It strikes me that, in a certain way, developing a great career runs parallel to growing as an individual. Many of the skills and strategies outlined by Michaela reflect deeper facts about our personalities – we often think about what we can add before what we can learn, we can overspecialize when we find our talents and tastes, and we can sometimes allow our relationships with others to suffer in service of ourselves. For this reason, I think Michaela’s advice might be as helpful to developing personally as it is to developing yourself professionally. All the more reason to take her words seriously. 

Berlin For Latin American Artists

A video feature by Alejandro Sandoval Bertín, MA student in Digital Journalism at HMKW. The video was produced as part of the Culture&Entertainment course taught by Prof. Dr Tong-Jin Smith.

It aims to illustrate the life of Latin American artists living in Berlin. The artists were Marcelo Castellani, Fernando Zapata, Irwin Bruno.

Click the link below to watch the full video:

Wandel Lab 2022 – Storytelling as an act of Resistance

By Maria Chotou

In response to the planetary emergency, activists, filmmakers, and storytellers clashed their visions over how we could produce co-creative spaces at the Wandel lab festival in Berlin. A weekend of action workshops, open spaces, art, and culture around social change took place at Atelier Gardens on the 3-6th of June. 

Among the many talks that Wandel Lab hosted, one of them was coordinated by Berlin-based filmmakers (Green Twenties) and students from MA in Visual and Media Anthropology at HMKW. ‘Storytelling as an act of Resistance: Artistic Intervention and Impact on the Planetary Emergency’ was the title of the roundtable discussion. The workshop included stimulus material, research findings, presentations, and insights from a range of current and recent projects that respond to the environmental crisis and provide an opportunity for activists and storytellers to network and discuss

The workshop aimed to brainstorm around how can stories transition from awareness building to action and how can creators be more targeted with modality and distribution of stories to gain maximum impact. 

‘We need to think of the output and how to imagine sustainable futures, but also how to bring them out’ says Blake Paul Kendall, lecturer at HMKW and coordinator of the discussion. 

Participants from HMKW were students: Elke Hautala, Hauxita Jergeschew, Melissa Blythe Knowles, Yusuf Ölmez,, and Mamo Akefetey. Others: Pavel Borecký (AnthroPictures / University of Bern) and Leonard Leesch (Green Twenties)

Short interview with Yusuf Ölmez,

Yusuf is a director, screenwriter, and producer.

His master’s in Visual and Media Anthropology at HMKW has allowed him to explore his artistic research through photography and ethnographic films. 

“The program is a key for me to dwell more into the non-fiction forms of storytelling and ethnofiction. This means that it allowed me to explore the field of visual anthropology that opened up a space that combines my profession of filmmaking with another research-based perspective.” Yusuf says.

Interview: 

  1. What ‘stimulus material’ did you present at the roundtable discussion for Wandel Lab 2022?

I presented a short documentary that I made as part of our effort in the Environmental Anthropology course. It was a collective story that is shaped by the interview that I made with my participant, Remzi Oguz Gunaydin, about his approach to planetary emergencies. I also experimented with the codes of poetic cinema to question this critical situation from an alternative and emotional perspective.

  1. In your opinion, how can documentaries make a positive impact on society, especially when filmmakers collaborate with activists and anthropologists? 

Activist documentaries of this kind have the potential of creating empathy, dialogue, and emotional stimuli. I think this can make it a bit different from research-based mediums which are also contributing a positive impact on society. Artistic research can be a method of abstraction to enrich and diversify the possibilities of other fields which strengthens the diversity of the contributions with other fields.

  1. How can storytellers/filmmakers contribute to the transition into sustainable futures?

There are a lot of ways to be part of this but I’d like to share my own experience. Raising an alternative voice of protest and awareness is one of the greatest possibilities that art allows us. When I think about this, I also remember how some poems, like the works of Nazim Hikmet, enriched my inspiration about resistance differently. Cinema and other mediums of artistic research can have the same.

  1. Do you have any advice for young filmmakers out there or any advice you would like to give on cinematography?

I do not see myself as a person to give advice but for the sake of this valuable question and my dedication to sharing personal experiences, I would say following my intuitions and intellectual pursuit with my lens and ear allows me to have conversations with more people through the works of image and sound that I create. I try to experiment and investigate my questions in this way. This creative process makes me engaged with the participants and audience through my camera.

You can view Yusuf’s short film presented at Wandel Lab 2022 by clicking the link below: 

Check out the trailers that Yusuf produced for two of his fiction films:

What Kind of Digital Society We Want to Live In

by Maria Chotou

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re:publica is the largest conference about digital culture in Europe. It was founded in 2007 as a small-scale meeting for digital creators and today marks a wide-ranging conference of digital culture representatives. During a three-day festival in Berlin, artists, activists, scientists, entrepreneurs, NGOs, journalists, scholars, and social media experts converge to share knowledge. 

Arena Berlin and Festsaal Kreuzberg hosted for the first time re:publica22 on the 8th-10th of June. The reconnection with the community was an absolute thrill after the two years of the covid19 pandemic and the online execution of the festival. The Glashaus, the Arena Club, the Flutgraben, the Hoppetosse, and the Badeschiff – including beach areas – were also used as exhibition spaces.

This year’s digital conference focused on acute social, digital, and political grievances in the face of several crises: the climate crisis, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, the Corona crisis, and the fight against hatred and agitation on the web.

Anyone who has ever attended re:publica knows that the festival always ends with the celebratory and collective singing of Queen’s “Bohemian Rapsody”. With over 400 workshops and programs on ten indoor and outdoor stages and more than 700 invited speakers, re:publica22 opened this year’s ceremony with the last line of the same song: “Any Way The Wind Blows”. Since these were the last words spoken at the pre-pandemic get-together of re:publica19. “Never again war” – the performance by Tocotronic marked the end of re:publica22 in the year of the war against Ukraine. 

The main takeaways from re:publica22

A series of discussions and lectures explored the question of what kind of digital society we want to live in and how we can shape it together. 

The major debates of our time around climate, the war in Ukraine, and Corona were discussed, as well as technological evolutions and advancements such as Metaverse, the Web3, NFTs, and artificial intelligence, and their economic and social impact.

This year’s focus also included civil society strategies for combating disinformation, ways to curb hate on the web, and new ways of limiting the power of large tech companies through platform regulation.

The German writer, Sascha Lobo, in his talk “Any Way the Wind Blows,” reflected on current social developments while keeping a close eye on the media, politics, and the audience. Bringing together digitization, globalization, and moralization, he invoked the power of the network, but also the dangers of Alexa and China’s TikTok. 

Marina Weisband, a German-Ukrainian journalist and activist, raised a critical voice – virtually connected – in an appeal to the audience about German hesitation and reaction to the Ukraine war. ‘Democratic states need to stick together now more than ever’ she said.

Olaf Scholz was the first German Chancellor to take part in the event. The German Chancellor from SPD, during his visit at re:publica, described the war in Ukraine as a turning point “because a single country, Russia, is breaking international law in the most brutal way with the power of its military apparatus and without any cause.”

All talks have been published online on re:publica2022 Youtube Channel: 

Volunteering for re:publica22 

Each year, re:publica is also accompanied by a group of volunteers. This is a great opportunity for those who are unsure whether to attend or cannot afford the relatively expensive ticket for this big conference. The tasks usually involve mainly press crediting and ticket checking. 

Students in HMKW’s master’s program in Digital Journalism also volunteered and gained insights from the conference. As a volunteer, I was mostly occupied with tasks related to the standard ticket stands, with plenty of time, however, to wander around the conference and explore the different stations.

There is a Facebook group that is been updated and all people are welcome to register for the next conference as volunteers. 

A flashback to 2019 

The re:publica19 newsroom was run by a student team from HMKW Berlin headed by Prof. Dr. Ranty Islam and operated by the Department of Journalism and Communication. As “Shifted News”, the students of the master’s program Convergent Journalism reported live and multimedia on behalf of re:publica. They were also supported by the teachers at the HMKW Jost Listemann, Sarah Meister, and Daniel Lehmann, and students from the design department.

As part of the HMKW MediaLab, a combination of teaching editing and multimedia newsroom, the group was able to prepare for the tasks. This was a unique opportunity for the students to use the skills they have learned during their studies in a live context at an event of this dimension.

Click below to view HMKW’s participation in re:publica: 

Here are some photographs from re:publica22:

The Interdisciplinary Nature Of The Humboldt Forum

A feature by Maria Chotou

What do Berlin and Intelligence have in common? Τhe answer may be revealed in the essence of interdisciplinarity that inheres on the first floor of the Humboldt Forum.

Two exhibitions that are currently taking place at the Humboldt Forum, Berlin Global and After Nature, mark an encounter between culture and technology. The two are inextricably bound with the involvement of experts from various fields of science, artists and Berlin-based initiatives in both exhibitions. A cultural-scientific dialogue is fostered by the Stadtmuseum behind Berlin Global and the Cluster of Intelligence behind part of After Nature.

A Multiplicity of voices 

In July of 2021, the Berlin Global exhibition opened its doors to visitors with seven diverse themes: revolution, free space, boundaries, entertainment, war, fashion and interconnection. “The exhibition Berlin Global combines an interdisciplinary representation of the city’s history and culture, but also offers a unique participatory experience of interacting with this history using multimedia technology,” says Karsten Grebe, press spokesperson for the Stadtmuseum Berlin. The Stadtmuseum Berlin has been in charge of the communication for the Berlin Global exhibition since its opening.

The exhibition embraces the fact that there is not just one ostensibly objective presentation of history, but rather many histories. A team of political scientists, historians, communication scientists, musicologists, and gender studies scholars have been working to achieve this goal.

On account of such involvements, visitors have the chance to come across aspects of the multifaceted Berlin, reflect and construct their own views through a participatory experience and interactive technologies. Visitors choose a path when going from one station to another. And at the end of the exhibition, they receive a summary of their input and decisions, enabling them to challenge further their critical view and recognise the multitude of diverse opinions from other visitors. 

The possibilities of interactivity in the museum are so open-ended that their conceptualization and design are what make the experience special. Touch, feel, critique, and create, but, most importantly, be asked questions. 

Grappling with colonialism

Going back now to the museum’s view, the heterogeneity of its contents can already be seen on its façade. A merge of modern architecture with baroque construction. 

The new museum stands on the site of the demolished East German parliament building alongside Berlin’s Cathedral and has been dubbed one of the largest cultural developments in Europe in recent years. The Berlin palace was damaged during WWII. It was demolished and replaced by the Palace of the Republic, which housed the parliament of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). 

The decision to rebuild the baroque Berlin palace, which is now forming the Humboldt forum, has been undoubtedly a controversial topic. Inhabitants of Berlin have been debating about the reconstruction of a royal palace, which has associations with Prussia and the monarchy, and the Forum’s intention to host non-European cultural themes. 

The Humboldt forum was built and its content, rather surprisingly, challenges and advocates a new way of acknowledgement and discussion around the colonial past. 

“The Berlin Global exhibition seeks to engage critically with the history of Berlin and Germany. What underlines the whole concept is a critical view on the colonial structures of power in the present,” Karsten Grebe says. 

In fact, there are plenty of examples in the exhibition that show gestures of openness and dialogue, but also recognition of the past. The exhibition opens up with an art piece by duo artists How & Nosm that depicts the history of European world views and exploitation since the early modern age. The topic of colonialism is also found in the station “Boundaries” and “War” where they address the invisibility of Germany’s colonial past in the country’s culture of remembrance and call upon political leaders and the public to take a new look at colonialism.

The performative work produced by contemporary artist Philip Kojo Metz called SORRY FOR NOTHING takes place in the “War” room and points out the German silence regarding the country’s colonial past. It is one of the main works at the exhibition that highlights this new stance of the forum to challenge the past. 

From the exploration of Berlin’s society to what intelligence is 

As we progress through the interactive wanderings of the Berlin Global exhibition and gather a sense of the museum from the outside, we are transported to a different room on the first floor. The After Nature exhibition room has a similar design with the rain of matrix and installations that challenge our sense of human existence. Large floodlights hang from the ceiling and hold glass boxes exposing all sorts of objects from history. The exhibition, however, begins with an emphasis on sustainability and a reference to the human mind. The Cluster of Intelligence in Berlin curated part of the After Nature exhibition and exhibited precious findings from their work. 

“Members from different subject areas such as robotics, biology, and philosophy work together towards an interdisciplinary understanding of intelligence. The aim is to identify general principles of intelligence as well as technological applications that make use of these principles’’ says Prof. Dr Jens Krause, a scientist at Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries. Prof. Dr Krause’s research is part of the behavioural biology component of the Science of intelligence cluster.

A prominent part of the After Nature exhibition highlights our connection with the natural ecosystems. The exhibition starts with a massive installation of moving fishes, that just like humans, move around in swarms. Our collective actions and decisions have consequences for others. This is the power of collectivity. 

The science of intelligence cluster is a joint cluster of excellence of the Technische Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität in Berlin. This interdisciplinary outlet focuses on research about collective intelligence and presents an experimental setting of RobFish at the After Nature exhibition. 

One of the glass boxes mentioned above hosts the RobFish. Visitors of the exhibition come closer to a little robotic fish which is placed in a real-life simulation environment and through interactive technology tries out behaviours in a collective concept with other simulations of fishes. 

The robotic fish is anticipating the behaviours of its conspecifics and the aim of the experiments is to use such insights for improving collective robotics.

Why collective intelligence matters

Studying how humans or animals process information and make decisions collectively can identify new principles based on which experts can address important problems in society. The study of anticipatory strategies and social responsiveness with AI models is at the core of current research by the cluster of intelligence regarding collective intelligence. 

“Some of the mathematical models which are inspired by social decision making in animals were capable of providing algorithms for cancer diagnosis which are better than the human doctor,” says Prof. Dr Krause. 

“Collective Intelligence is the ability of a group of animals or humans to make better decisions than a single individual could. An important prerequisite is that individuals independently gather information from their environment. This information is processed through social interaction and leads to the solution of cognitive problems that single individuals cannot solve in this way,” he continues. 

The interdisciplinarity behind the exhibitions

The After Nature exhibition belongs to a part of the Humboldt Lab within the Humboldt forum, which aims to make science more accessible, bringing experimental work such as the RobFish closer to people. The Humboldt Lab is a great place to show visitors what goes on in the excellence cluster in Berlin and illustrate how interdisciplinarity, even in the most complex scientific fields, is necessary. 

“The Humboldt Lab is a place for science communication and we look forward to creating more content in the future,” says Prof. Dr Krause 

From Berlin Global to After Nature, it makes perfect sense to believe that all fields of life are interconnected. From culture to science and art to technology. The Humboldt Forum in Berlin at last is offering the space to experiment with those connections. 

The city derives intelligence and intelligence derives the city.

If you want to learn more about the ongoing exhibitions, please click the links below: 

https://www.humboldtforum.org/de/programm/daueranghttps://www.humboldtforum.org/en/programm/dauerangebot/exhibition/after-nature-16464/ebot/ausstellung/nach-der-natur-14144/

All photographs were taken by Maria Chotou.

The Resurgence of Curated Newsletters for Journalists

A blog by Maria Chotou

Media outlets today provide journalists with multiple ways to distribute their work. While social media has grown in terms of user numbers, email still has the largest number of users. News writers might want to consider creating newsletters to expand their reach.

During the Culture and Entertainment module taught by Prof. Dr Tong-Jin Smith, students in the Digital Journalism master’s program at HMKW learned how and why newsletter journalism is becoming increasingly relevant. Following the theoretical seminar, they were exposed to e-newsletter creators and were able to develop a free format newsletter of their own.  

The curated box that changed newsrooms

A newsletter’s design and distribution are vital, and the tools that are used by networked journalists are fascinating in terms of how they need to think creatively and openly to inform their audience. So, how have newsletters changed the online newsroom?

The resurgence of newsletters shifted the online newsrooms in the way of disseminating curated news content and controlling incoming traffic on news websites. They became a new way of discovering how to inform the public. A curated box that is delivered to our digital letterbox just like newspapers were thrown in garden yards once.

In recent years, we have seen the emergence of affordable, user-friendly software such as Mailchimp and Substack that make newsletters more feasible. Both of these services offer plenty of design tools, a simple interface, and the option for paid subscriptions. Adding a newsletter to the news experience added a personalized touch and curated content aimed at encouraging recipients of newsletters to consume the news. 

Newsletters can serve as an excellent engagement tool, delivering valuable journalism content. As journalist NiemanLab staff writer, Christine Schmidt, emphasizes in her article about the shift from newsrooms to newsletters, newsletters seem like a “one-person-show reporting operation”. Her concept diverges from the idea that newsletter journalists are turning to readers instead of advertisers for support through subscriptions and the establishment of a personalized journalistic presence online. 

The fact that freelance journalists can establish their journalistic brand presence is creating a convenient marriage between entrepreneurship and journalism. The encounter of the two fields combines journalistic skills with marketing, communication, audience research, and business. 

Keeping it up with newsletters 

No matter how fascinating these new possibilities might be, it can be difficult for journalists to get familiarized with the different tools and software necessary for newsletters. For those interested, we have put some useful information below for you about how to start creating newsletters and curating the current news 

Knight centre offers a self-directed course about newsletter strategies for journalists and will be more suitable for anyone who focuses on the strategic aspect of newsletters. The newsletter guide is ideal for journalists that want to find their niche and understand how they can curate news on their matters. Lastly, an online journalism blog embraces the success potential of a newsletter with an informative video and the 19 essential newsletters for every journalist are undeniably a good inspiration thread. 

Newsletters from Berlin

As for local newsletters, tipBerlin is curating news from the city in German and Exberliner offers a newsletter for English speakers as well. Students from HMKW also tried to produce content for the city and the result is worth having a peek at. 

Michael Grubb and Reuben Holt, master’s students in Digital Journalism at HMKW produce newsletters about Berlin’s political news and Berlin’s dancefloors: The Hauptstadt Update and Offbeat.

If you want to read more about newsletters, you can click on the articles below: 

Listen Here, Queer!

A podcast by Alejandro Sandoval, Brandon Drake, Michael Grubb and Reuben Holt

With the closure of establishments due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people lost the only space where they could freely express themselves and create community bonds. 

This was the case with Sonntags Club. Originating in the former East Berlin, for years the club has provided a space of visibility and safe gatherings for queer people. It has also expanded into a mental health clinic and counselling services in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood. 

We spoke with Michelle Hartman, Peter Rausch and Jan-Jules Zimmer, who told us about the importance of the club and the adversities they faced when they had to close their doors during the pandemic. Listen Here, Queer, is a podcast dedicated to the spaces that make Berlin a place where queer people can call this city “Home.” 

“How often have I heard in discussions, ‘I thought I was alone, that I am the only one who is like this.’ And then they realize there are others, but they have to find them first. We wanted to create spaces where people could go.” said Peter Rausch about Sonntags Club. 

For more information about Sonntags Club, the activities there or the counseling services, please visit the following link:

https://www.sonntags-club.de/index.php

To listen to the podcast, follow the link below:

The NeoZoa Digital Magazine

A blog by Maria Chotou

According to NeoZoa’s own description on its website “Each issue of NeoZoa combines a poignant topic and ‘identity’, with the aim of uncovering how we are defined by cultural intersections and societal ideas”.

NeoZoa is a student-run online magazine written and produced by master students studying the MA in Digital Journalism at HMKW. Students began the magazine as part of their classwork for the module Culture & Entertainment in the summer semester of 2021 and it became a Minor Project in the next winter semester as well, both classes being taught by Prof. Dr Tong-Jin Smith. The main editors of the magazine were Alice Preat, Paul Krantz and Raf Yengibaryan, with everyone else in the class contributing as writers. The project’s idea was to rotate the roles and to give everyone the chance to become an editor, as explained by Airine Nuqi, one of the magazine’s writers and  designers of the magazine.

Prof. Dr Tong-Jin Smith encouraged the students to work collectively in launching an online magazine which they would then be capable of enriching further with their creative stories and journalistic works. They had to share roles regarding editing, design and web assistance. The first edition of the online magazine concerns issues of Language and Identity. The magazine is divided into features and multimedia, revolving around the concept of fear from different aspects.

Contributors were Alice Preat, Airine Nuqi, Carina Sheen, DJ Coffey, Hannah Atteneder, Hannah Reiss, Julia Merk, Leo Frick, Paul Krantz, Raf Yengibaryan, Stephen Benkert, Nadine Allgeier and Will Bryan.

Multimedia section from NeoZoa’s website
Features section from NeoZoa’s website

NeoZoa..but what is it?

“NeoZoa are animals that have been introduced into an area that’s not their native habitat. Since we all moved to Berlin from various places and had to find our ways in this new habitat, the name was very fitting. We all had to adjust to a new culture of sorts. Plus it sounds cool.” — Leo Frick, a NeoZoa writer.

“One of the ideas behind NeoZoa was to explore the theme of identity in relation to other issues that play a big part in our lives: language and fear for example. Our identities are complex and influenced by so much, and we thought it would be interesting to investigate some of these relationships and their impact on our lives. In the magazine, you’ll find pieces about the US military complex, phobias, voice actors, and more.” — Alice Preat, NeoZoa’s editor and writer. 

Challenges and advice

Regardless of which digital storytelling tool we use, it can always be challenging to learn and compress your ideas to create a web magazine. Student-run magazines like NeoZoa are always tricky to manage since they are operated by students for students.

According to the students: “everyone has different editorial and management styles and reacts differently to feedback and criticism. It’s always an opportunity to learn in the end.”

As for the last piece of advice for those who have the idea of creating an online magazine, but do not feel confident enough to do so, the secret is to not be afraid of the challenge and go ahead find your team, theme and get it started.

“Even if your magazine has only one or two issues and never continues on, it will be a valuable experience for all who participate. It will teach you how to work as a team, how to follow editorial visions, and how to follow up on your investments” says the NeoZoa team. 

To read the full first issue of NeoZoa magazine, click the link below: