matrah مطرح

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29.09.2017

 Hungry German Youth. The Project Matrah continues.

Text by Thomas Avenhaus

Many months have passed since March, a summer and a general election have come and gone. A racist political party are due to take seats in parliament, infact they are already the leading party in the federal state of Saxony. Their number one topic is the refugees. Their programme: Germany for the Germans. Their slogans become more and more ruthless.

Since the beginning of September, Daniel and Mohamad work together in the Schöneberger Zimmer; together they have produced a number of mattresses. One of these, an exclusive model in buckskin, was sold to a customer in New York. The woman who purchased it wrote back saying that she was glad to be part of the Project Matrah. Daniel is very content that the project is making its mark at home and abroad in the luxury section of goods and not just in the ideological trash category.

After the workshop Daniel has joined the initiative of German business companies “Wir zusammen” and taken a pledge of sponsorship. That means that he is part of a network of companies committed to furthering refugees and who are all presented on the joint platform: wir-zusammen.de

Mohamad is now Daniel’s employee.

The federal employment office supports him with a subsidy grant for one year; after that he will be fully employed by Daniel, at least for one year. This sort of proceeding is normally meant for long-term unemployed people, but good will made it possible that the scheme could also provide help for an immigrant on his way into the German job market. At the same time, it is a support programme for the young with a lasting effect: so that the rare and very old craft of manufacturing mattresses by hand does not die out, Daniel passes on his knowledge to a trainee craftsman. As a matter of fact, Mohamad is Daniel’s junior by one year.

Mohamad does not work full time; he needs free evenings for his German classes, he wants to reach level B2. In the last months he has passed his driving test; although he has had a Syrian license for 20 years, he had to answer (according to him) 1000 questions. He bought a second-hand Passat car and is now the family’s chauffeur: he drives all over Reinickendorf , taking the children to school or kindergarten and his wife to her German course. They quite often speak German at home, the children find it easier than the adults. Because of the rather miserable summer, they have not often left the city of Berlin, but they have seen Potsdam and Rathenow where some friends live. Note: this is a family that is trying to become integrated step by step. Mohamad tells me that the past two years have been difficult and demanding. He does not believe that things will become much easier in the near future, but at least there is some sort of security thanks to his job, which offers him work to his heart’s content. I ask him how he managed to survive such a difficult situation: from the first year alone in a refugee camp to the present day. He says that he has been inspired by the aim to build a future for his children. He adds that he is in Germany with both body and soul; I ask him to explain what he means. He says that it often comes back to him how much he lost in Syria as a successful business man, how many members of his family are so far away and that he hasn’t seen his mother for more than six years: nevertheless, he has adapted himself completely to the life here and now in Berlin. And he tries constantly to convey this attitude to his wife and children.

After the open doors day in March, things went quiet for the project for a while. But then the subject came up again before and during the general election: there was much talk about refugees and integration. Daniel and Mohamad were interviewed several times. Mohamad, who is always good for a joke, already sees himself as a media star! But not all interviews went well; a very nosy journalist asked more and more tactless questions, until Daniel – who had just been listening – had to intervene. This is a new challenge for Daniel: he is the boss now and as such carries responsibility. For him the situation is a big improvement: his employee is a partner, they can discuss ideas and put them into practice together, he profits from Mohamad’s knowledge as a tailor and from his cultural background.

Daniel is learning Arabic. He takes lessons, but he also learns a lot when listening to Mohamad speaking to his children on the phone. Daniel thinks it’s good that Mohamad, for all his efforts to integrate himself, still expresses his culture and religion; every Friday the family eat the traditional dish of beans called Foul and Mohamad is a regular in the mosque in Kurfürstenstrasse. When asked how he interprets the outcome of the general election, he says that he looks upon it as a problem for Germany and that’s what he is feeling sorry about. Germany has made him a present of one year in which to learn the language; his aim is to be able to work without the support of the State. I remember that when I first met him he was wearing a T-shirt with the slogan “Hungry German Youth”. He is now on his way to being part of it.

05.03.2017

 The Great Day.

Text by Thomas Avenhaus — Photos by Kristin Loschert

The fourth of March has finally arrived. It’s the day everybody has been waiting for. We meet in the Schöneberger Zimmer in the afternoon. The families are there too, with lots of children. It takes time to work out who belongs to who.

The workshop has been rearranged: as is usual in Arabic countries, the mattresses and seats are lined around the walls, the centre of the room remains vacant. As a result, the room looks oriental. There are a lot of delicacies on offer, everybody has brought something special for the occasion.

 

Daniel managed to rent an adjacent room – which is normally an art gallery – for the presentation of the manufactured mattresses. They lie on the floor, between them three plants. Here too an oriental-occidental atmosphere has been created. The guests are arriving, and they wander about between workshop and gallery. The weather is a miracle; the day is mild and dry in the middle of an unfriendly winter.

All of a sudden, a customer arrives for the first mattress. The news spreads like wildfire. Then there is another customer and yet another.  The team is happy and relieved.

Later Daniel reports that when he delivered the mattresses, all the buyers wanted to talk about the project; it has set something in motion! Another interesting observation: the flats of the new mattresses owners were all totally different. But no matter whether over-furnished or very simple, the new mattresses fit perfectly in all types of surrounding. That is a pleasant side-effect. A thing which was produced by so many people, representing such a variety of approaches and backgrounds, succeeds in becoming integrated into so many different furnishing styles while at the same time remaining something individual.

The meeting is a success. Three mattresses have been sold, everybody is in good mood, the team and the guests mingle. It is good to notice that people, who otherwise would not meet, come into contact – at least for one evening. But still, forgetting the euphoria of the moment, we ask ourselves what will become of the Project Matrah? Will it have a lasting effect? What have we achieved and how can the project continue?

24.02.2017

 Buttons, pictures and perspectives: the group’s last meeting.

Text by Thomas Avenhaus — Photos by Kristin Loschert

The last day of work: today the buttons will be sewn on. They are distributed symmetrically on the mattresses and keep the stuffing in place. Pencil dots show where the buttons are meant to be. The men use a thick and very long needle. They need to help each other; one must press the mattress down at the point where the button will be, the other pushes the needle through the mattress, picks up the button and goes back through the mattress. That is a job which demands full concentration and strength similar to all the other tasks in the production. It’s quiet in the room apart from the occasional clicking of Kristin’s camera. During a break we all complain about the weather: it has been raining continuously for days. Zakaria says that his image of a German winter had been quite different – not as warm, neither as wet. In Syria winter means minus 17 degrees and a lot of snow.

 

Then the men continue working – today all the mattresses must be finished for the coming week when there will be the final party. Time for an interview with photographer Kristin.

Kristin is taking part in the project Matrah for several reasons: first, because she wants to help her friends Daniel and Philine, second, because she feels at a loss about the refugee problem and third, not least, because she is curious and wants to encounter new people and cultures. The very first meeting was a challenge: the women in the sewing-group refused to have their photographs taken. But a compromise was reached: Kristin was allowed to take their photos while they were sewing but on no account of their faces. There was no such problem concerning the men. Kristin is aware of the complex relation between the desire to take direct, personal photos and the safeguarding of the personal sphere of the human being in front of the camera. During the workshop the atmosphere has relaxed and became warm and friendly in no time at all, thus Kristin can work spontaneously and with little restriction in these surroundings. She says she feels like an observer who does not interfere but just shows what is happening. It’s important for her to grasp the situation, not to judge, not to force people into clichés. It’s the ambivalence that stimulates her: on the one hand, as a photographer, she is somewhat removed from the events, on the other hand, through taking photos, she comes into contact and thus becomes part of the whole.

 

The mattresses have to be flat when the buttons are sewn on, the horsehair has to be pressed together. This is best achieved by sitting down on the mattress with all one’s might. Thus, during the interview with Kristin, there are numerous comic moments when one of the men sits on a mattress like a sultan on his throne. There is much laughter. Kristin takes photos.
It’s Philine’s turn to be interviewed.

 

Philine is a set designer; she and Daniel planned the project Matrah together. She has been his advisor during the whole process. They decided that the covers of the mattresses should be made from material originating from the orient. They were lucky to find remnants of damask material from Syria, each bale being extremely colourful: yellow, pink, blue, green. They decided to use the fabrics not as such but rather to assemble them in a new way, at the same time changing the direction of the patterns. They were inspired by a photo of prayer mats aligned diagonally to the room, directed towards Mekka. It was not the religious factor that decided the issue but the idea of making something unconventional happen: to make the material run diagonally to the shape of the mattress. The result shows: the mattresses are of great variety, individual and yet forming a unity. Philine sums up her personal experience:

Before the start of the project they had both foreseen a number of possible difficulties, e.g. cultural misunderstandings or rivalry between the men. There were no such difficulties; on the contrary, Philine is convinced that the group as such might go on working together after the end of the project. If only German bureaucracy would play along! Seen from the inside the project Matrah has proved a success but the ‘official’ side is full of obstacles. That is, according to Philine, the negative aspect of the project: the authorities say, “NO” over and over again: there is no possibility of a payment of fair wages, no possibility for flexible structures – thus private commitment is curbed. The question which remains unanswered for Philine –  as well as for the whole group is how refugees can be integrated into the German job market if those who want to help them integrate are confronted with so many difficulties.

 

17.02.2017

 With the test phase behind us, the real work begins

Text by Thomas Avenhaus — Photos by Kristin Loschert

There’s tension in the air. It’s Friday and the test phase has come to an end; now we work with the real material. The big mattress used for practice is dismantled. The horsehair is set aside as each of the four men begins work on his own article. There is not much room for them all around the big work table and Daniel thinks about splitting them into two teams, but the group wants to stay as one. This is a good sign, not least for its message that Hossein, who speaks neither Arabic nor German, has become fully integrated; indeed, he no longer brings along his son, Nazir, as an interpreter.

For lunch we have hummus. Mohamad tells us that at home he now cooks the Swiss dish of noodles, cheese, butter and cream, which Daniel has made for the group; his wife had been wondering what else he was learning in the Matrah Project.

 

Zakaria and his wife prepare one of the next meals: bulgur, beef and a salad. It’s clear to us all that food and drink are just as conducive to cultural exchange as working together. The small table in the kitchen becomes the second meeting point for the group. The men talk of the situation in Syria. Although we don’t understand everything, as their German is still rudimentary, it gives us an idea of the terror and arbitrary rule that now define their country. Zakaria tells us that in Aleppo, he and some neighbours saw to it that the poorer people in their street were able to buy bread. In front of the baker’s shop there were groups of armed men forcing the baker to sell his bread at exorbitant prices. Zakaria and his neighbours managed to get civil servants to watch over the shop so the bread could be sold at a reasonable price. He says that such struggle – not only for bread but water, electricity and gas as well – is nothing short of gruelling.

But our conversations reach other topics as well, and we laugh a lot. Tareq shows us photos of his four children and says that if it weren’t for the war, by now he’d be a father of eight.

 

The following days are all very productive; the first mattresses begin to take shape. Against the grey of the German winter sky the material appears to radiate. Then somebody is struck by an idea: the buttons a mattress needs to keep the stuffing in place should bear the imprint ‘matrah’, for ‘matrah’ is the key word, the link between the concept, its application and each and every one of us. So it’s settled: the word will be printed on fabric and then fixed onto the buttons. But first the mattresses must be sewn together, stitch after stitch. Tareq is the fastest worker; he calls out: ‘Daniel, super?’ Daniel, with his sense of Swiss sobriety, tries to slow him down, and keep things in perspective: ‘Super is something else, but it’s good!’ We all laugh. And then we’re silent again. It’s so quiet you could hear a needle drop, as the German saying goes. During a break I interview Tareq, sitting at the kitchen table with Zakaria as our interpreter.

 

Tareq

Tareq is 40 and comes from Damascus; he is a trained tailor. He was a successful businessman in Syria and owned two shops. He knows how to create made-to-measure clothes for both men and women. His shop offered a vast selection of materials. Customers either brought their own material or chose from his stock. They then chose a pattern from one of his folders and Tareq sewed according to their wishes. I think of Islam’s segregation of the sexes and ask Tareq how he handles the problem of taking a woman’s measurements without touching her. With the help of some thread Zakaria demonstrates how it is done while using Daniel as a stand-in. Both Tareq and Zakaria say it gently but show signs of slight irritation: What Germans think about the role of women in Syria is such a cliché! Of course there are women who prefer to go to a female dressmaker, while others ask their husbands to accompany them when going to a tailor, but there are enough emancipated women who go to a tailor alone. Just like that, the first prejudice has been dispelled, to be followed by another: Tareq is a Syrian of Palestinian origin. He tells us that after finishing school he learned his profession in a Jewish-owned shop. I am confused, yet Tareq continues talking in the most relaxed manner, as if this were the most natural thing in the world. His parents left Palestine in 1947 and moved to Syria. He grew up in a district of Damascus where people with different religions lived together: Christians, Jews, Muslims. He stayed in the Jewish firm for many years before starting his own business. In 2015 he came to Germany with his wife and children, ages 11, 9, 7 and 3. To be more precise, he set out alone. It was a long and difficult journey via Sudan and Libya. He spent ten days in the desert until he could go by boat from Libya to Italy, first on a rather ramshackle boat but then on one that was bit trustier. His wife and children joined him later, and fortunately they could travel by plane. The family now lives in the Berlin district of Friedenau. Tareq plans to start up his own business in Berlin – one day, when his German is strong enough.

 

Back to the project:

Except for the buttons that must be sewed on, the mattresses are finished. In the evening we gather in the kitchen; there is a collective sense of fulfilment. All are proud of what we have accomplished.

At the beginning of the project all the stitchers went home after work as soon as possible, but now the days end with a social gathering.We decide to celebrate the mattresses here, presenting them in the Schöneberger Zimmer. The flat that includes the workshop has become the home of the project. It’s here that we’ve gathered for our work and it’s here that we’ll celebrate its completion – and wonder what the future holds.

 

10.02.2017

 Old plaits, new tasks: the second meeting

Text by Thomas Avenhaus — Photos by Kristin Loschert

Friday’s programme is untangling horsehair. The lot in question is a very old stock and accordingly the plaits are very stiffly twisted. We descend into the basement where Daniel has installed an electric drill into which a skein can be clamped. You get hold of the other end of the plait, the machine starts working and you twist the plait in the opposite direction so that it becomes undone. This again is a job which demands strength and talent. The men take turns, everything runs smoothly. The undone plaits are then passed through the “Zupfmaschine”. We feel at ease with each other, we sit in the kitchen next to the samovar and enjoy the Hanuta.

On Saturday sewing is practised again; we work on a big specimen of cloth that will not be used for mattresses. Two men can work at the same time because Tareq is a left-hander and so the two men don’t get into each other’s way. There are no communication problems although Tareq and Hossain speak very little German. But apart from German there is a continual flow of translations underlying the activities filling the whole room. And gestures help as well: if you want to explain the difference between ‘pointed’ and ‘sharp’, you show a needle which pricks and some scissors which cut. Parallel to the sewing activities more horsehair is put into the machine, taken out and packed into sacks. This is becoming routine as well.

In the lunch break Daniel cooks a Swiss dish which is very popular with shepherds in the mountains- it consists of noodles, potatoes, a lot of cream and butter. It is definitely not an oriental dish but they all say that they like it—and not just because they want to be polite: they have emptied two large bowls. Afterwards we clean the kitchen: looks like a flat-sharing community of men. Then we turn to Mohamad for an interview.

 

Mohamad

Mohamad is 38 and comes from Damascus. He, his wife and three children live in Reinickendorf. His son Hamsa is of stunted growth; he is 7 but his arms and legs are those of a two-year-old. Mohamad shows me a photo so that I can see how small Hamsa is. He attends the first class. Mohamad says that life was not easy for them in Syria. In the street children jeered at Hamsa. Life is much better for him here in Germany, when people look at him they smile in a friendly way.

Mohamad left school at the age of 15 and started working in a tailor’s workshop. There is nothing in Syria that corresponds to a German apprenticeship; you learn a craft while working. He was a tailor for more than 20 years. In 2000 he joined a big American company in Jordania, first as a tailor but later, because of his good command of the English language, he became product manager. The company made children’s wear for America. Later, during the summer, he ran a shop near Damascus where he sold ladies’ wear. Apart from that he owned a company with seven employees; they assembled pre-cut pieces for French and Italian labels. Mohamad is a syrian Poet who gave poetry evenings in Damascus. His poems are about life and love.

Then the war started in Damascus; it was a slow process which made it less and less possible to work, where one couldn’t walk about as before, when bombs fell and friends died in the street. He and his wife decided to flee for the sake of their children. His wife is a nursery nurse. They thought that life would be difficult for their handicapped child in other Arabian cities as well and so they started on a long journey. Germany or Sweden seemed good alternatives; in the end the German welcoming culture decided the issue.

“I’m here for my children”, he says. He misses his life as a merchant in Syria. But he can see a new perspective for himself in this country.

 

02.02.2017

 A lot of stuff: The first meeting

Text by Thomas Avenhaus — Photos by Kristin Loschert

The material for the mattresses comes from the same countries as the refugees. Via a retailer in Beirut we bought a stock of material which originated from a weaving mill in Aleppo. It was difficult to come by the lot and we did not get an accurate description of what type of cloth it was nor which colours, patterns or quality we could expect.

Weeks later the material arrived in Schöneberg. The impression is one of oriental cheerfulness, not perfect as regards the weaving technique but strongly evocative of the skilled craftsmanship of the pre-industrial era. The material does not talk about the war, it seems fallen out of time.

Later, in the course of the workshop, the men and women tell us that this type of cloth was part of their everyday lives. Some of them had owned a mattress covered with a similar material, others said that they had slept on such mattresses when staying with relatives.

The participants

From a group of applicants four men were selected. It was important that they knew something about tailoring. Only one woman had applied. But we wanted to include women in the project; so we had the idea to mass-produce the material with a group of women from the emergency shelter for refugees in the ICC. The material would subsequently be used to cover the mattresses. We saw that all of the applicants had a strong desire to do something useful. They were either tailors or cobblers. When asked whether they had ever had the opportunity to make a mattress, they said “no”, but they were sure that they would learn that craft easily.

The women

We met the women in the ICC; they live there with their families in provisional quarters and they take part in a needlework-class which the Iranian Lady Nahid runs. They are all from Afghanistan and speak very little German.

When we go to see them in the ICC in their windowless classroom there is a tension in the beginning – we feel like nosy tourists. Nahid introduces Daniel. He speaks a little Farsi and some of the women start to smile. We know nothing about the women but we have the impression that they hardly ever leave the ICC. The room where they do needlework is like a place in a village where women meet for female activities. We decide to invite them to visit the Schöneberger Zimmer.

The following Thursday five women arrive: Fatema, Arefe, Nadine, Fahime and Manure. Nahid and two of the women’s husbands are there as well – although it is supposed to be a women’s day. The women do not take off their coats and make us understand that they won’t stay long. Then tea and dates are offered and the atmosphere becomes more relaxed.

One of the women sits down at a sewing-machine and starts sewing. The others watch her while talking to each other. The husbands sit at the far end of the table and watch the scene, Then the other women also start working. Philine shows them how to do it: they tack pieces of material together, they iron the seams, they join pieces until the cover is finished. It consists of parts of differently coloured and patterned material and looks like patchwork. It is then cut into five pieces: each piece will cover a mattress – one for each of the refugees and one big mattress for all. While the women are working, Daniel and the men are drinking tea in the kitchen – it feels like classical role behaviour.

On Saturday the women come back to the Schöneberger Zimmer – surprisingly half an hour early. The supervisor Nahid does not accompany them but again the husbands are there. But they are no longer spectators, they help the women who iron, they do the dishes in the kitchen and in doing so question our perceptions of how patriarchal Muslim husbands behave.

Then the work is finished and everybody is sad that it is over. We are sure that it was absolutely right to make the women leave the ICC for some time. They tell us that the only contact with German people they have is that with their German language teacher and that the classes also take place in the ICC. We want to see them again.

The men

The four men who have been chosen by Daniel for the project matrah arrive an hour later. They sit down at the huge workshop table. A round of introduction follows: there are Zakaria, Mohamad and the Palestinian Tareq, all from Syria. Hossein is Afghanian, he speaks very little German, therefore his son Nazir is accompanying him. Nazir is 16 and attends a secondary school in Berlin.

The room is full of people and shy grins. Mohamad wears a T-shirt with the slogan “Hungry German Youth”. We explain a few details of the organisation and clear the table. Daniel starts explaining how to build a mattress.

The men learn to untangle the horsehair which comes in plaits with the help of the ‘Universalzupfmaschine El-Ba Standart’. They work with due care although quite rapidly. They take turns in testing the machine: one has to put a plait in and at the other end the horsehair comes out untangled.

Then all come back to the table and Daniel spreads a big piece of material on it. On top of it comes a fleece and then follows the horsehair. It’s important to lay it out evenly. For a person who is no craftsman it is fascinating to see that much happens by non-verbal communication: observe, copy, correct by hand and again observe and copy. Few or no words at all are necessary. The atmosphere is now completely different from the beginning: the room vibrates with energy. The spreading of the black hair, the pulling and stuffing is a mass event, everybody grabs, everybody is concentrating and wants to be as good as possible. The only sound is the clicking of a camera, as this is indeed a good subject for a photo: the table full of hair and the hands digging in it.

When this part of the manufacturing process is finished, the next one is about to start: the sewing. This is done with the help of cords and clamps. Daniel explains the saddle stitch which has to be used. He has to show it to each of the four men separately and therefore I take advantage of a short break to start a conversation with Zakaria.

Zakaria

Zakaria is 42, from Aleppo and has worked in several professions. From the age of 10 on he worked in a factory after school. His mother had 21 children, his father died young and so the children had to help earning money. He made underwear, also for a German company, for C+A.

He was a talented tailor from the beginning. As a child he had only one jumper. One night when his jumper had been washed, he made himself a second jumper. The next morning his mother was amazed!

Later he started up his own business with two of his brothers – a textile factory for underwear for men, women and children. With three bosses in one business that’s at least one too many, so he started teaching Arabic and mathematics in a private school and later on also worked as editor of a newspaper.

He came to Germany last year, he reached the B I level in the German course in no time at all. He has found lodgings with his wife and three children in Spandau. When I say that Spandau is a mighty long way away, he laughs and says that he only need step outside and walk about 100 metres and then he is in Brandenburg.

Recently, with the help of the society ‘Flüchtlingspaten Syrien e.V.’, he succeeded in bringing his stepdaughter from Aleppo to Germany.

What will the future bring? He doesn’t make plans. He knows that he is unlikely to find a job as a tailor; he is participating in the project matrah because he is always eager to learn something new, to improve his German and to meet German people.

I don’t ask him how and when he left Aleppo because this does not seem to be the right moment. Now it’s his turn to be taught the special stitch. Hossain knows it already and so I can now talk to him.

 

Hossain

We already know each other because we both took part in the same German class – I was the teacher, he one of the students – we both learned something new: he the German language and I a new teaching method. The course was a project of the ‘Liechtenstein Languages’, sponsored by the Malteser Hilfsdienst and the Liechtenstein Embassy; it is a new method of teaching a language miles away from classrooms, the alphabet and German seriousness. With the help of pictures, games and music a basic vocabulary is taught in an amusing and effective way.

Hossein participated in the course together with his son Nazir who has a gift for languages. The family – father, mother, Nazir and a second son Nahdi, 6 years old – fled via Iran to Sweden where they stayed for 6 months. Nazir speaks Farsi, English, Swedish and now fluent German after only 7 months in the country.

The father is not as gifted as his son. I notice that it is often the fate of children to act as interpreters for their parents which may not always be easy when subjects discussed are of an adult nature. But Hossain and Nazir seem to be a good team, they treat each other respectfully. Hossain is 44 and used to work as a cobbler in a shoe factory, first as a young man in Iran and then in his native country Afghanistan.

The family lived in Ghazni, they are Hazara and were as such persecuted. As life became insecure in Afghanistan they fled. They have been living for months in a small room in the ICC.

Hossain would like to work with his hands – preferably as industrial worker in a big German company. Nazir will stay on for a short time in the integration class of the Friedrich Ebert Gymnasium but will soon switch to a regular class.

 

03.01.2017

 Refugees building horsehair mattresses

Daniel Heer, manufacturer of horsehair mattresses in Berlin, is starting a charity project. He is going to teach five refugees his traditional craft. Under his guidance they will learn how to manufacture mattresses. The workshop will hopefully lead to a long-term collaboration, with the aim of enabling refugees to earn a living with the skills they have acquired.

Daniel Heer is a saddlemaker like three generations of his family before him; the family is of Swiss origin. His great-grandfather manufactured horsehair mattresses in the town of Lucerne. The mattress is neither a Swiss nor a European invention. The word ‘mattress’ derives from Arabic ‘matrah’. It denotes the spot where something is put down, a ground cushion on which you may lie down, your foundation. The project matrah is meant to build bridges. It connects artisan traditions of the West with those of the Middle East. People with different backgrounds come together to manufacture a product which is utilized in closer physical proximity to our human body than most other objects.

Why start up the project matrah? What is the aim?

Daniel Heer: I have met refugees who live in the neighborhood. I see that they are condemned to a life of idleness. No perspective, little advisory service, uncertainty concerning their residence permit. At the same time I realize that the amount of work I have to cope with is increasing beyond my capacity. So I thought that I might combine the good with the useful. The project matrah is good for both sides: I teach some refugees my craft, in the future I may have one or two skilled workers helping me in my business.

Luxury mattresses and refugees—do the two go together?

Daniel Heer: I teach the refugees the noble art of making mattresses. The mattresses are filled with horsehair and covered with very fine material. They are as perfect as handicraft objects can be. Somebody might argue that the refugees don’t even have a room of their own and that they probably don’t mind what sort of mattress they sleep on provided there is one. And now they are supposed to learn a craft in the luxury category? Isn’t that cynical? I don’t share that view. I open my workshop in order to offer practical aid. The refugees learn a craft which may be of good use to them when they start making mattresses themselves which may be less luxurious and nevertheless as perfect and original as artisanal work. A number of my customers are philanthropists and support sustainable production and social commitment. Why not make the two worlds meet? Integration also happens when people work together.

What does ‘building bridges’ mean?

Daniel Heer: The mattress originates from the Middle East. I think that there must be many skilled craftsmen there who may teach us a lot. It is important to make it known to the refugees that the craft skills of their own tradition may be successful in our Western job market. I am looking forward to a mingling of our traditions; I want to teach them and to learn from them. Moreover I think that it may be helpful for a person who has fled from war and persecution to manufacture something in full concentration and in peaceful surroundings, something which by itself conveys the sense of peace and security – and what other product could do this better than a mattress?

Involved in the project matrah are: Daniel Heer, Philine Rinnert, Thomas Avenhaus, Kristin Loschert, Bram Loss