The last two weeks we made some research at the Refugee Camp at ICC Messe Berlin. The very nice volunteer Berivan showed us around and we had the chance to talk directly with the people.
The first time we visited I was surprised how „good“ the atmosphere was. I somehow always thought a refugee camp would be a very sad place, but children were running around playing and everyone was kind of open and nice to each other (from my point of view).
The ICC Messe is a former congress centrum which was recently rebuilt to be a refugee camp. The Big Main Hall is segmented with thin white walls into something like 40 rooms that look like roofless boxes. Instead of doors there are blankets and towels covering the entrances. There are no windows; in this main Hall the light comes from tubes in the ceiling. Inside of each room there are 4 bunk beds, so in total 8 people per room (familys are usually separated and live in private rooms, also: the rooms are separated by gender).
Usually the rooms don’t have any kind of furniture inside, but the one we were sitting in had a big picnic table and a bench and also a bunch of office chairs. We got offered very sweet black Tea in plastic cups and started sharing stories.
Firstly we asked how people organize themselves in the room.
The Camp is designed for people to stay around three months, but most of the people are staying six or more. There are only the bare necessities provided. For example there are no possibilities to unpack the backpacks or suitcases, which are probably unpacked since the beginning of the journey. Thats why the people find solutions, for example they pull out nails from the wall and hang their cloth on these nails. Or they found a piece of metal string which they also used to hang cloth from. There are also some card boxes used as bed table and chest. Hussam (who is diligently learning German) pointed at one of the card boxes saying „Kühlschrank“. We were laughing but it was true! tomatoes, cans of beans and a lot of eggs were stored there. Also under the bed was a lot of food (maybe the darkest and coldest spot in the room). The reason for that is that they don’t always like food by the caterer and of course you get hungry between the official „meals“. They boil the eggs in a water cooker by the way!
Another interesting observation was a little plastic cup full of washing powder.(they usually give the dirty cloth away to the washing and get them back clean) Hussam told us that he likes his shirts to be without creases and because there is no way to iron,he washes them with his hands and drys them in the room. That was eye opening for me because, yes they might have nothing but they have dignity and preferences! they start a living.
Also very interesting is that in the bunk beds the bottom bed is the preferred bed because they can build a little privacy by hanging towels and sheets at the upper bed. The upper bed is always dependent on the main light system which is switched off at 11 in the night.
Berivan told us that in one room they build constructions out of a broken bunk bed so that also the upper bed could shield from the light.
Another very striking construction was a piece of wood sticked to the wall with duct tape which was supposed to be a smartphone shelf, to watch movies at night.
Also they put pictures from magazines on the wall to make the atmosphere a little more cosy.
But still even if they find the possibility to hack something there is a lot of stuff just flying around in the room.
There was a lot of creativity to make the most out of the given, bit still no tools or materials. Berivan told us they used to give out tools, but because they never came back so there are no tools anymore. What if we could support the already existing creativity by opening a space for tools and materials? encouraging them with their ideas and hacks?