matrah مطرح


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:

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.