The “Multaka Project”: A New Approach for Museum Visiting and Use of Cultural Heritage

In this paper I aim at introducing the “Multaka: Museum as Meeting Point – Refugees as Guides in Berlin Museums” that takes place in Berlin’s[1] [2] Museum für Islamische Kunst (Museum of Islamic Art), Vorderasiatisches Museum (Museum of the Ancient Near East), Skulpturensammlung, Museum für Byzantinische Kunst (Sculpture Collection and Museum of Byzantine Art) and Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum) as a collaborative project ("Project," 2019). Multaka (comes from Arabic word of “multaqa” – meaning meeting point) ("Project," 2019) is a state sponsored initiative that launched at the end of 2015. My aim with this review is to introduce the project and emphasise its importance as a collaborative action at the field of culture and cultural heritage. I would also like to emphasise the importance of the project since it is an important step to give the voice back to the refugees and trying to tackle the labels of “lack of identity” and “silence” which were imposed to refugees or people who are forced migration.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (henceforth UNHCR) there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide ("Figures at a Glance," 2019). Out of this total 40 million are “internally displaced people”, 25.4 million are “refugees” and 3.1 million people are “Asylum-seekers” ("Figures at a Glance," 2019). The data from the UNHCR argues today we have a record high number of refugees globally and as a result of this “forced migration” people lose their connections with their community, localities and identities.[3] Basically the forced migration renders one mute while forcibly and brutally disconnecting the one with all the social and cultural possessions that s/he accumulated over time. This catastrophic and unprecedented violence against the basic rights of people cast its reflection on art and heritage as well as cultural rights and cultural expressions. In an atmosphere like this I believe, having a human-oriented approach and using arts, culture and most importantly cultural heritage to re-create the common narrative and a ground for the people who suffer from the various losses they have endured carries the utmost importance for the victims of the forced migrations to regain their identities and having their voices back.

As a good example Multaka started in late 2015 by “the Museum of Islamic Art, in cooperation with three other museums” [Vorderasiatisches Museum (Museum of the Ancient Near East), Skulpturensammlung and Museum für Byzantinische Kunst (Sculpture Collection and Museum of Byzantine Art) and Deutsches Historisches Museum (German Historical Museum] started “[…] to train refugees or immigrants with Syrian or Iraqi background to be museum guides” (Weber, 2019). From the beginning of Multaka “[i]t is not the aim of the project to generate more visitors. The Museum of Islamic Art at the Pergamon Museum is visited by many hundred thousand people each year and due to renovation works there is limited access anyhow” (Weber, 2019). This mentality makes the project different from the similar attempts where the main aim is generating more visitors [read income]. Professor Doctor Stefan Weber, Director Museum für Islamische Kunst, Berlin summarises the main aims of the project as; “how can we – as a museum that covers mainly the period from the Late Antiquities to the Early Modern period (17th C) - bring the past to the present” and “can provide our specific expertise on Islamic Culture for the challenges of a changing society” (Weber, 2019). The already existing connections of the museum and its network proven to be beneficial for Multaka. Museum für Islamische Kunst (Museum of Islamic Art) and Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (the German Archaeological Institute) started the project of Syrian Heritage Archieve Project in 2013 with the aim of creating a digital cultural heritage list of Syria("Background," 2013).[4] This previous collaboration and added value (both in terms of experience and labour force created a good starting point for Multaka, since the idea was “to give perspectives” (Weber, 2019). Multaka was financially supported in this early stages by different sources as well as associations.[5] Multaka as a project also differs from the managerial aspects, the projects “adheres to a strong participatory principal and process. The idea was developed with Syrian contributors. Syrians are part of the project management team and we work closely with our Syrian and Iraqi network” (Weber, 2019). This creates an unique working approach for the team in general, since some of the team members “are not experienced in team work in their former professional lives” (Weber, 2019) this made a bridge between cultures and practices. Multaka guide Hussam Zahim Mohammed is right when he says; “Multaka is the connection between cultures” ("Team," 2019). Zoya Masoud on the other hand attracts the attention to the atmosphere of cultural diversity and creativity by stating; “Multaka is a meeting point for Syrians, Iraqis in Exile and Berliners from different cultural backgrounds, it is an opportunity to celebrate cultural diversity, creativity and democratic practice through dialogues within the tours and workshops” ("Team," 2019).

Multaka started its journey with a committed team and specialists form three different museums, who “agreed to take the needed time spontaneously” (Weber, 2019). As the first step of the project “[i]n collaboration with the department of “Education, Outreach and Visitor Services” of the Staatliche Museen and the “Education and Outreach” department of the Deutsches Historisches Museum, a training program for the guides-to-be was fleshed out, based around the themes of the museums and issues of didactics and methodology” ("Project," 2019). Multaka as a project “[…] aims to facilitate the interchange of diverse cultural and historical experiences” (Weber, 2019). These experiences, combined with the position that Multaka as a project is standing creates a common goal for the contributors as stated by Alaa Alkasir; “During my guided tour in the museum, I cross a bridge that connects me with my home and my present and this puts me on the way to my dream future” ("Team," 2019). More importantly and to me this is the part that differentiates the project among the others Multaka also “[…] aims at an active cultural participation through a process of appropriation of cultural institutions” (Weber, 2019). This active cultural participation makes it possible for the participants to experience different roles. Kefah Ali Deeb reflects this by stating a memory of her; “[a]t the end of one  of my guided tour, one of the visitors wrote on my notebook ‘Today was great  day, we were not refugees or victims of war, today we were tourists! And we learned a lot about our region civilization and we are very proud that we belong to this civilization, thanks for Multaka”. This is Multaka: Space we are proud to be part of it[6]” ("Team," 2019).

Multaka makes it also possible for the participators (guides and guests alike) a chance to connect with each other, instutions and the culture. Professor Doctor Stefan Weber explains this as stating; “[t]hrough experiencing the appreciation which the museum shows towards cultural artifacts from their homelands, we hope to strengthen the self-esteem of refugees and allow for confident and constructive connection with our cultural institutions” (Weber, 2019). Project guide Ishtar Samir Dhahir explains this as saying; “Through Multaka we look into the past and connect the present with the future” ("Team," 2019). Another guide Mariam Bachich shares a same approach and states; “Now… is the bridge between the past and the future, here is the place where we meld our memories with our new stories, time and place are concepts, which have no meaning if they are not connected to people, Multaka is our possible forum with the presence of the past to share our current stories, to give the time and place a meaning![7]”("Team," 2019). As of June 2019, Multaka has a team of 22 trained guides working four different museums in Berlin ("Team," 2019)[8]. As part of the project the applicants are given the chance to choose in which museum they would like to work as a guide. Majority of the project contributors at the beginning of the project chose to work at Deutsches Historisches Museum and particulary the era that covers post Second World War and the period of “rebuilding” is a popular section ("Project," 2019). Based on the project website this choice is explained as; “[t]he tours at the Deutsches Historisches Museum connect these cultural experiences with their new home. […] Through the depiction of such commonalities and the incorporation into a larger cultural and historical, epoch-transcending narrative, museums have the immense opportunity to function as a connecting link between the refugees’ countries of origin and their new host country, in order to create a context of meaning for their lives here” ("Project," 2019).

This emphasis of “new host country” can also be taken into consideration. As a project Multaka aims at giving the “mute” [read refugees and people suffer from forced migration] their voices back. Multaka aims at empowering the silent people in their new host country. This empowerement is made possible with the museums. According to the project museums have two important qualities. These are namely being “memorial sites of a common past” and “being space for intercultural dialogue” ("Project," 2019). The emphasis of the common past and having intercultural dialogue at the museums have the key importance here and I believe these are what makes the project so far a successful one. Nowadays majority of projects or several social inclusion work are being conducted with “tolerance”. The word tolerance has its roots from early 15th centruy from the words of “’endurance, fortitude’ (in the face of pain, hardship, etc.), from Old French tolerance (14c.)” ("tolerance (n.)," 2019) or “capacity to endure pain or hardship” ("tolerance ", 2019). Both words are related with “toleration” and the meaning of it is related with our key concept. It means “permission granted by authority, licence” ("toleration (n.)," 2019) or “the act or practice of tolerating something” ("toleration," 2019). Multaka as a project adopted a different angle and distanced itself from the banal limitations of “tolerance” [read letting the people do something and tolerating this action]. Toxicity of tolerance, however good the intentions are stemming from the hegemonic structure in it. By tolerationg someone doing something one side ends up declaring its superiority over the other, hence letting the other do something in a certain framework which was set by the dominant side. Multaka on the other hand destroys this notion and naming the country refugees are in a “new host country” ("Project," 2019).

The project adopted key narratives in the museums which have the two important duties in the new host country. These narratives are namely; migration, shared heritage, common threads in history, contact zones and identity ("Concept," 2019). These narratives are designed to emphasise the importance of museums, their duties in the project and role of the previously silent people in the new host country to re-crete their meaning and start building a common future. Each of these narratives are emphasising the importance of the culture and heritage which were coming from the original lands of the silent people and the way they are being merged in order to create an umbrella narrative for the project does not contain tolerance or toleration. In this umbrella narrative Multaka attracks the attention to cultural pluralism by saying “[i]n times of social uncertainty and increasing culturalistic exclusion, cultural pluralism can be seen as a positive development. Objects from the past then function as reflective spaces and allow for the negotiation of collective identities” ("Concept," 2019). In a world where we suffer from populism and rising polarisation, cultural pluralism is a key concept that we all need and implement in our lives.

Under this scope, so far Multaka as a project seems like a good practice and has a new approach for museum visiting and using of cultural heritage. Currently the projects seems to be a success and so far Multaka won several prestigious German national and international awards[9]. Multaka also has an outstanding media coverage and it was “[…]approached several times by different museums, institutions and scholars who intend to adopt the concept” (Weber, 2019). This concept which has a human-oriented approach, empowering the participants and aiming at creating a common creative with all the participants regarding of their status of either being citizens of the countries they are in or being a refugee or a displaced person. This construct of not taking the tolerance into consideration is a method which guarantees active cultural participation through the appropriation of culture and cultural heritage. This action leads to emphasise the identity of the silenced crowds to regain their voices as well as their self-esteems. As a project Multaka is still having its early stages of development and it is difficult for us to jump conclusions yet. So far the project seems to be a success among the others which has similar goals but staying behind as a result of false implementations, faulty concepts and different approaches they have. So far Multaka showed us another method for the museum experience with its participatory approach and its management as well as use of cultural heritage with the help of the people who are coming from the source of the cultural heritage and whom has exprecienced tremendous loss and endured pain. With this approach these people are re-connecting with the artifacts from their home countries in their “new host country” and regaining their voices and identities with the help of museums and cultural heritage. The effects of this approach is still remain to be seen since the project has a relatively short history Yet, currently Multaka with is expanding network (Radford, 2018) ("Multaka Geflüchtete Zeigen das Museum," 2019) (Mills, 2019) continues to impress and teaches this new approach to other institutions and countries. Perhaps it is best to conclude with a statement from a guide. Salama Kassem reflects while defining Multaka as following; “Here I find my identity” ("Team," 2019).


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[1] Starting from 7 April 2019, the Multaka Project is also taking place in Bern, at Bernisches Historisches Museum (Bern Historical Museum) on a weekly basis. So far tours until 29th December 2019 are listed to be taken place. For detailed informaiton please look: [German only]

[2] Another similar project, which was inspired by Multaka Berlin is taking place in Oxford, the United Kingdom. Pitt Rivers Museum and Museum of the History of Science are working with Middle Eastern and African refueefes. Funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund the project will continue until Novermber 2019. For more information please look:, and

[3] KPY call for papers:

[4] Syrian Heritage Archieve Project started with the collaboration of Museum für Islamische Kunst (Museum of Islamic Art) and Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (the German Archaeological Institute). Project was managed by Freunde des Museums für Islamische Kunst im Pergamonmuseum e.V. (Friends of the Museum of Islamic Art in the Pergamonmuseum Incorporated Association) and funded by Auswärtiges Amt (German Federal Foreign Office), The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Gerda Henkel Stiftung (Gerda Henkel Foundation). For detailed information please look: or

[5] Multaka was firstly supported by the federal programme “Demokratie leben!” (Living Democracy!) of Bundesministerium für Familien, Senioren, Frauen und Jugend (BMFSFJ) (German Federal Ministry for Family, Seniors, Women and Youth), as well as Beauftragte der Bundesregierung für Kultur und Medien (BKM) (Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media), Schering Stiftung (Schering Foundation) and Freunde des Museums für Islamische Kunst im Pergamonmuseum e.V. (Friends of the Museum of Islamic Art in the Pergamonmuseum Incorporated Association) as well as many private donors.

[6] Spelling errors have been corrected by the author and indicated in text as italic

[7] Spelling errors have been corrected by the author and indicated in text as italic

[8] In total of these 22 guides; 6 guides work at Museum für Islamische Kunst, 6 guides work at Vorderasiatisches Museum, 6 guides work at Deutsches Historisches Museum and 4 guides work at Bode-Museum.

[9] For a list of these awards please check the official web page of the project on;