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The new magazine 'Abwab'

Kersten Knipp / groJanuary 1, 2016

A unique new magazine has been launched in Germany: "Abwab," which means "The Doors" in Arabic. The name speaks for itself: the magazine aims to help Arab immigrants find their way around in their new home country.

Ramy Al-Asheq Overlay
Image: Privat

Doors are like borders. They open, a person enters and then they close. That's how doors usually work. In Germany, things are different at the moment. Many doors have been left wide open. They are open for the refugees from the war zones in the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands have arrived in Germany and found the open doors. This positive experience also plays a role in "Abwab," as the Syrian journalist and editor-in-chief of the newly-launched publication, Ramy al-Asheq, has been through something similar, and told DW that that was why he gave the magazine its name.

When he arrived in Cologne, Germany, a guest family took him in, says Al-Asheq. "We gladly opened the doors widely for you. But from now on, you are responsible for your own success," said the guest family when he departed. In other words, from that moment on, Ramy al-Asheq had to open doors himself. "And that is when I realized that 'doors' is a good name for our project."

Danke Deutschland Arabische Redaktion
"Be friendly" - the campaign "Thank you, Germany" by Syrian refugeesImage: Ahmad Alrifaee

'Buy yourself a book'

That is what the magazine's makers primarily aspire to do: they want to help newcomers find their way in their new country. They aim to help people help themselves. The magazine, which is to appear monthly, is like a set of instructions for living life in Germany, but in Arabic. For most immigrants cannot easily open the one great gate: the German language. "The refugees come to a new country whose culture, society and politics they are not very familiar with," writes Al-Asheq in the editorial of his first edition. "They find themselves in a helpless situation, for they do not speak the language, which is the most important means of communication." Of course, the refugees will, at some point, learn the language. But until then, "Abwab" aims to help them. "The magazine is there to open new doors for Arabic-speakers," writes Al-Asheq.

The refugees must take the initiative so that they can arrive in Germany with their hearts and minds as well, emphasizes the magazine repeatedly. "Ten steps towards integration," is the name of an article highlighted on the cover page. The first piece of advice: learn the language. "Do not wait for free language courses," cautions the magazine. "Buy yourself a simple book, learn the basics and try to use terms as often as possible. For example, speak to pensioners sitting in a park.

Open-minded attitude

"Just take the country as it is; do not criticize it," is the second point in the integration crash course. "Adapt to everyday practices," is the third. "Get first-hand information," "be friendly" and "seek contact with Germans" are other pieces of advice offered to the magazine's readers. More tips include "put in an effort," "continue learning" and "become acquainted with the country." It is a pity that the magazine is not published in German, because people who do not speak Arabic would then see that the magazine focuses on dialogue, which is typical of a Syria that has always been aware of life beyond its borders, as the country lies at the crossroads between East and West.

But perhaps a German version will eventually be launched. The magazine is published by a British-based media group called "New German Media" and funded through advertising. The magazine speaks a great deal about "hope," a sentiment shared by advertisers, who include an Arabic telecommunications company and a money transfer agency. If you look at it that way, things are going well.

Germany's Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) also hopes that this trend will continue. The ministry's advice for refugees is also published on one of the magazine's pages.

Leipzig Neue Heimat für syrische Familie
"Buy a book" - integration with hearts and mindsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/H. Schmidt

The magazine shows other doors to the new homeland beyond the realm of bureaucracy. For examples, musicians have come together to form a refugee orchestra, an Arabic children's choir has been founded, and Syrian artists are taking part in a festival in Cologne.

"Are we racists?"

"Are we racists?" is the name of another article in "Abwab." The article unexpectedly does not address racism among Syrians, but instead Germans. PEGIDA is mentioned. This article is an unofficial crash course on political culture in Germany for Syrians. It explains why the Germans react so sensitively to racism and hatred of minorities such as Sinti, Roma and homosexuals. The article describes how this sensitivity goes back to the terrible experiences during the Nazi era and thus provides an introduction to modern German history.

Incidentally, and perhaps without being aware of it, "Abwab" cultivates old Arabic narrative traditions. After all, isn't the title a modern allusion to "Open Sesame?"