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Arabs of Berlin: Artistic and Social Achievements, Political Failures | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Berlin-A book published by the Commissioner for Foreigners in Berlin is considered an important document to learn more about the history of Arabs who first came to the city. According to the book, the first Arab immigrant who arrived Berlin from Spain was Ibrahim bin Yacoub, messenger of Andalusia’s Caliph in 965. He was an Arab Jew and lived in Tortusa, Andalusia.

*Berlin: from Ottoman trade center to an Orientalism School
Although information on the development of these relations are few, the book has revealed that the Ottoman army brought Arab soldiers in the 16th century to Bradenbourg near Berlin to participate in wars. Berlin enjoyed a significant importance for Ottomans and they considered it an important commercial center. In 1849-1850, Abbas Pacha I, Wali of Egypt, also dispatched Egyptian students to study medicine in Munich as part of efforts to enhance ties between Egypt and Europe.

At the beginning of the 19th century, and after introducing the Arabic and Persian languages to German universities, Egyptian Hassan Tawfic (1862-1904) was appointed as an editor of Arabic language in the Orientalism University in Berlin, today known as Humboldt University of Berlin. But the first Arab who has a political influence was Egyptian Mohammad Labib Muhrem who arrived in Berlin in 1910 and married a German woman; he made remarkable efforts to urge the German government to protect Egyptians from the Italian occupation.

*Weimar Republic, golden stage for Arabs
The Weimar Republic (1912-1933) represented a golden phase for Arab political refugees, where they were allowed to practice many political activities; and the first Arab conference on the independence of Tunisia and Algeria was held in 1916. The local media outlets also covered the situation in the Arab countries under the control of the British occupation and allocated columns for refugees to write in. It is worth mentioning that the first Arab-German newspaper known as The New East “Der Neue Orient” was launched in 1916.

*Arabs of Berlin succeeded in trade
Arabs were obstructed by the regional and ideological conflicts and didn’t take advantage of the political momentum they received in Germany. However, many of them succeeded as businessmen; Abdul Aziz Shawish (1876-1929) started his path as cigarette vendor and ended up establishing a large export and import company.

*Arabic music from Berlin to Cairo
Arabs in Berlin also worked in art. The first company to record Arabic songs was established in the German capital and was owned by Lebanese Michelle Bida, who traveled to the city in the twenties.

*Novelists and artists
Mustapha al-Sherbini and Ahmed Mustapha were considered among the most eminent Jazz musicians and made headways in Berlin and New York.

Aziz Doumit, a Palestinian poet who was born in Cairo (1890-1943), has written in the German language but the level of his writing remarkably regressed.

*Berlin, the neighborhood of Arabs
The generation that lived the World War II must remember the expression of “Berlin, the neighborhood of Arabs” by the voice of Youness al-Bahri, who worked in a radio station established by the Nazi government to broadcast news in Arabic.

In spite of this long history of achievements in Berlin, Arabs didn’t succeed in marking their presence in the German political scene; dozens of them worked and studied in the most renown German institutions but till this day, they are not represented in the Federal Parliament “Bundestag” despite that the Arabic community in Berlin comprises 800,000 members.

*The street of Arabs today
Zunin, also known as the Arabs’ street, is one of the most popular commercial areas that attract many shoppers; it also comprises many Arab restaurants that serve platters from Lebanese to Palestinian cuisines.