Salma Jreige: The Museum Guide
How do you begin a new life in a foreign country? By taking on an active role in society, for example. We make a point of supporting projects in which the principal agents are refugees themselves. We’ll introduce three of them in this mini-series. Shown here is Salma Jreige, guide at the German Historical Museum.
The people she guides through the exhibition rooms of the German Historical Museum (DHM) are not refugees, says Salma Jreige — they’re new Berliners. “Every person who has emigrated for whatever reason and come to Germany has his or her own story.” In other words: no labels, please.
To return to the museum groups full of new Berliners: one thing they all have in common is the need to find their way in a new society, a new culture with new rules. That demands a lot of strength. This is where the project "Multaka“ comes in. Initiated by the Museum for Islamic Art, the project trains refugees as museum guides. These guides, such as Salma Jreige, can then give visitors tours in their own languages.
Salma Jreige explains every detail of the German Historical Museum to groups of visitors.
“When the people who visit the museums learn how well regarded their cultures are here, it’s good for their sense of self-esteem. Good self-esteem is a prerequisite for feeling welcome, and it helps with the integration of newcomers. Jreige herself guides groups through the German Historical Museum. There, of course, the subject matter is German history, which is very important to her. “If you’re from Syria or Iraq and you see what Berlin looked like at the end of the Second World War, you can find hope,” she says.
“If you’re from Syria and see what Berlin looked like at the end of the Second World War, you can find hope”
That’s brought home to her, she says, especially when she points out that women played a leading role in the rebuilding of the country.
When you see how focused Jreige is as she guides people through the museum, carefully explaining each detail and providing an answer to every question, you get an idea of how much this work means to her.
She takes a rational perspective on her life as a refugee
For the participants, it’s clear, these impressions must be very emotional. Questioned on this, though, Jreige reacts with a look that says: be careful of kitsch. She is more of a rational sort of person, she says. When asked about her own experience as a refugee, her own fears and losses, her reply is again tentative. “Not every refugee experience has to involve the most severe hardships.” She grew up in Damascus, where you can live relatively undisturbed to this day. “After my law studies, I wanted to go abroad anyway, and the civil war just brought that decision forward.”
And then, almost at the end of the conversation, she does recount a situation that moved her. During a museum tour, an Uzbek boy once remarked that he really liked weapons. And then Salma told him about her own experiences. And at the end of the tour, the boy said to her: “I think I don’t like weapons after all.”
came to Berlin three years ago. She is involved in “Multaka,” a partner of the not-for-profit art project “Berlin Glas,” which helps artists with a refugee background create a livelihood for themselves in Berlin. The project receives support from the Robert Bosch Stiftung.