A Bit of Afghanistan in the Midst of Hamburg | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 29.01.2002
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A Bit of Afghanistan in the Midst of Hamburg

The Afghanistan museum in Hamburg is one of a kind. Personal exhibits and artefacts weave a rich cultural and traditional tapestry of life in the mountainous Hindukush region.


The harbour in Hamburg

There's no trace here of the Afghanistan that the world has become familiar with through television footage and photographs. No ruined streets, menacing Taliban fighters or women in burqa begging on the streets.

Instead a colourful world of exquisite artefacts, clothing, jewellery, and oriental spices assails the senses at the Afghanistan museum in the harbour city of Hamburg.

Located in the historic warehouse district of Hamburg, the museum was opened four years ago. It showcases Afghani culture and acquaints visitors with the daily lives and routines of ordinary people in Afghanistan. Naturally before the rise of the repressive Taliban regime.

The man behind the museum

The museum is the only one of its kind in the whole of Germany and owes its existence to the painstaking efforts of one man.

Nek Mohamad carefully collected most of the exhibits in his hometown in Afghanistan and then had them transported across continents to Hamburg.

It wasn't an easy task. The "right connections", a little bit of luck and sometimes even a spot of financial help from philanthropic sources all went a long way in the realisation of the museum.

Even wealthy individuals, who lived in Afghanistan or vacationed there, generously donated certain exhibits to enable Mohamad to put together an exhibition on his country's cultural history.

Mohamad was determined to steer away from clichés and bring little known aspects of his country's rich traditions and culture to the fore.

An oriental treasure-trove

The exhibition hall, designed by Afghani artist, Nazir Hessam, is like an Aladdin's cave.

In addition to items of daily use, gleaming silver jewellery from the 19th century, dented tea kettles and embroidered pieces of clothing meet the eye.

A postage stamp from the year 1936, at that time a symbol of democracy, a pair of shoes made from old car tyres and an ancient red-green painted camera.

Black and white photographs from the 1960s are hung on a pillar. They testify to a time before the crippling wars in Afghanistan: men in western outfits stand below an archway on intact streets and smile into the camera, women coquettishly carry their umbrellas over their shoulders.

A lesson in cultural history

About 200 visitors have a look at the museum every week. They can read up on the cultural history of Afghanistan on the show boards. And they can also view simulated everyday situations and professions that afford them a further peek into life at the foothills of the Hindukush mountains.

One example is the "porcelain doctor". Watching him fix broken porcelain with clamps, visitors learn that porcelain is extremely expensive in Afghanistan.

Visitors can also witness a traditional shoe-maker at work and learn how bread is traditionally baked in the country. Other famous landmarks such as the gigantic Bamiyam Buddhas and the minarets of Djam are also presented.

And those who are curious about what life in a burqa is like, can actually pull one over their heads!

No dearth of visitors

It's an exotic tour and one that does give visitors a feel of what life in Afghanistan is like. And at the end of it, comfortable oriental corner seats fluffed with cushions and steaming cups of tea or "chai", awaits visitors.

Since the September 11 attacks in the US, Mohamad can't complain of a lack of interest in his museum.

Even German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder dropped in incognito with his family for a visit. And took the time to enjoy a cup of "chai" and snack on some authentic Afghani raisins and chickpeas.