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Music

Why I volunteer: Judith Holofernes unites with refugees through music

Connecting without a common language, just through music - that works, says singer Judith Holofernes. An unexpected collaboration at a concert gave her the opportunity to get inspired by a Syrian pianist.

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.

DW: What do you do for refugees?

Judith Holofernes: I had this really strong impulse to help, so I did a variety of things. For instance, I organized a private flea market to sell my clothes on the street in Berlin-Kreuzberg and I had a lovely day. We donated the money we made at the flea market to the organization "Cadus," which is currently building a hospital in Syria. It's important that our help reaches beyond Germany. It was a really good day because I met many of the wonderful people who volunteer at Berlin's main refugee registration centre, LaGeSo [Eds. the Berlin State Office for Health and Social Affairs], including midwives and other people who give up a lot of their time to help. That was really inspiring.

I also participated in the "Thank you concert" for volunteers and refugees on October 11 in Munich. That was a very special day: I went there on my own but in the end, I spontaneously played with

Aeham Ahmad,

a Syrian musician. Aeham has since become known as "the pianist from Yarmouk." A heartbreaking picture of him went around the world, showing him playing the piano in the ruins of Yarmouk. He actually did that regularly for three years: He played in the bombed out city, gathered the children in choirs - that's really very impressive. Then "Islamic State" moved in, they burned Aeham's piano and he barely managed to get away. Now he's in Germany, in a camp near Cologne. I met him at 8:30 a.m. at the concert and in the evening, I played two songs with him on stage. That was beautiful and very moving.

Why do you volunteer?

Helping people seems natural. I don't know if I can explain this well, but I almost feel thankful that it's so easy for us to help so massively. While enjoying the safety of our homes, our warm, heated, safe apartments, we can help in such a fundamental way. These people have already done all the hard work to actually get here and I'm thankful that I can do what I can. I also respect people who move in the other direction, going into crisis zones to help the people there.

What do you hope to achieve?

Whatever is possible with music - I like the fact that everyone gives what he can do best. Sure, I also donated clothes and other things - that's important, too. Usually, I have a bit of a problem with people using their popularity for a cause, but if it helps, then at the end of the day, that's okay too.

At the concert in Munich, I got the feeling that music allowed me to really connect with a person who has been through horrible times, and yet who is incredibly resilient and cheerful. Of course he's not just cheerful - he jumped for a second when a volunteer wearing a uniform stopped his car, so he must be deeply traumatized. On the other hand, when he's on stage he is radiant - this guy is afraid of nothing! I've never seen such a fearless musician.

I believe we can create connections through music, and touch the heart directly, without speaking. We had a translator because Aeham doesn't speak English, but we really connected through music.

Judith Holofernes became famous in Germany as lead singer and guitarist of the band "Wir sind Helden" (We are Heroes). The Berlin-born singer/songwriter has been working on her solo career since 2013. Her album "Ein leichtes Schwert" (A light sword) was in the charts last year for many weeks. A gifted writer, Holofernes published a volume of poetry in October 2015: "Du bellst vor dem falschen Baum" (You're barking up the wrong tree).

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