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Culture

Why I volunteer: How helping refugees saved a recording studio in Germany

The music producers of Parkhaus Studio are helping refugee children to integrate in Germany with rap, drums and guitars. Part of the famous recording studio's building is now a refugee center.

Writers, musicians, artists and actors in Germany are getting involved in helping refugees, using their popularity to call for more solidarity, collect donations or criticize racism. In three questions and three answers, DW's series "Why I volunteer" reveals why they decided to help.

Martin Jungck, a co-owner together with Matthias Mörs, or the renowned Parkhaus Studio in Cologne, developed an ambitious integration plan to save their studio. They intend to include a café and a collective garden for refugees and have established regular music workshops.

DW: What do you do for refugees?

Martin Jungck: We are organizing free workshops in our studio for the people living in the refugee center that is directly in our building. Our recording studio is downstairs and just above us is the refugee center. Three times a week, children come and learn to rap with me, or to play guitar and drums with other musicians.

We were here in this building before it became a refugee center and then we were actually supposed to leave, but in the end, the city allowed us to stay as well. We convinced the authorities that it could be good for the refugees to have us in the building, because music is an intercultural medium that works independently of language skills, so that was a super way to get in touch with the refugees. We had to fight a lot to achieve this. We first welcomed the refugees during the World Cup by organizing screenings of the games outside. We progressively established contact with them. Now the children are permanent guests at our place.

Why do you volunteer?

I believe that it is very important to allow refugees to meet not only agency officials and other official social workers, but also regular citizens, who can deal differently with them. Since we do not have any special obligations towards them, we can deal with them like normal people.

We're musicians; we're a bit crazy and just act naturally with refugees. If they get on our nerves, we simply tell them and if we want to do something fun with them, we can easily do that, too. We are not just Germans, there are Dutch and Columbians musicians working in the studio too - basically just normal people. So that's one thing.

A second aspect is that we can bring them closer to the German language in a completely different way. With the rap workshop, we write texts in German and they can be really simple and don't have to mean much. Yet the children learn words and sentences and the music of the language. They have fun doing it and learn through rhythm and rhymes.

A third aspect is simply to keep them busy. Many parents aren't that busy either, since in many cases they're not allowed to work yet. It's similar for the children. At least they get to go to school. And we are offering another regular activity. For many children, it is important to have a specific activity on a specific day of the week and that they get used to it. They are happy to see an evolution and to notice that they are learning something. Those are my three most important reasons for volunteering.

Music course for refugee kids at Parkhaus Studio in Cologne, Copyright: Parkhaus Studio

Maybe one of the kids will pursue a career in music, says Jungck

What do you hope to achieve?

Many different things: For one, children who've been given a chance might develop something with that experience later. It may simply be that they'll have better contacts in the country or that they'll learn German more easily, but it might turn out that one of those children wants to pursue music as well. Maybe we're creating opportunities for these children's futures. And we are simply creating memorable moments for all of them.

Another aspect is that we want to demonstrate that it can work when a company and refugees are housed in a same building, that people do not need to fear them and worry about everything that could happen. We have a recording studio, there is valuable equipment here, but we made it work by getting rid of the concepts of "we" and "them." That means for the refugees living here that we're also part of their accommodation center, even if we have separate spaces. We've nevertheless established a feeling of proximity and we've demonstrated that something like this can work. Maybe it will work so well on the long run that it will help sink prices to rent buildings for refugees. Through our fight with the city, we also found out how much the city is currently paying to set up accommodation centers for refugees.

Those are two aspects, and the third one not only concerns refugees, but ourselves: We are learning that we shouldn't be afraid of simply doing things and establishing contact with people. Then you see the real problems and not just those we usually hear about through the press and social media. You get to see what's happening on site and you experience it firsthand - it helps break down the hysteria and deal with the situation differently. By creating normal relations with refugees, you learn not only about the problems, but also about the positive aspects as well.

We're building different types of relationships with the children. They're always happy to see us, but some of them are more interested than others and others prefer to do their own thing. We always have two or three who like to come down and visit us more often and we allow them to be alone in the studio. In other cases, it can be difficult to connect with certain children, because they might be too traumatized or are too preoccupied with other things, so we haven't managed to become very close to all of them.

The owners of the renowned Parkhaus Studio in Cologne, Martin Jungck und Matthias Mörs, developed an ambitious integration plan to save their studio. They intend to include a café and a collective garden for refugees and have established regular music workshops.

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