Baynetna – Between Us.

How the first Arabic library in Berlin emerged. The opening.

von Ines Kappert

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Mohanad Kaikanni, Dana Haddad and Ali Hasan during the opening celebration of the library “Baynetna”. Photo: Juliette Moarbes

The penthouse on the 16th floor at Stresemannstraße 95/97 in Berlin-Kreuzberg is packed. It’s a wonderful place with a fantastic view over the whole of Berlin. The first Arabic library still isn’t finished, but the launch of new reading and cultural location has already been enthusiastically celebrated.

The idea for Baynetna (Arabic for ‘between us’) emerged around one year ago, and it came from a sense of longing: Mohanad Kaikanni missed his books. He studied English language and literature in Aleppo – without passion, however, as studying in Syria generally meant sitting in a room with 2,000 fellow students completing multiple-choice tests. More important was his private library at home, but it was bombed, just like the rest of his old life.

His desire for Arabic literature grew during German-language classes in Berlin – as it also did for the musician Ali Hasan sitting next to him. They both became passionate about the idea of opening an Arabic library in Berlin, but they lacked the location and also the money for it. Nonetheless, they wrote to Arabic publishing houses and immediately received the first packages of books as donations. The Mamdouh Adwan Publishing House was particularly generous. Why wait? The idea is great! The location problem will sort itself out eventually. Correct. Baynetna has since found a home at Zusammenkunft, a project for Berlin artists who create opportunities for refugees.

In fact, that’s exactly what the now library team doesn’t want, however – to be reduced to their escape. They don’t want to be given opportunities but to create them themselves. They are creative artists – and they will change Berlin, just like thousands of other new Berliners before them.

Dana Haddad, who is studying architecture at TU Berlin, had a great idea to design furniture for Baynetna and donate it to the library. The idea won her a final-year “Fioretti 1:1 build and design project”. The results were presented on the launch evening, and they’re stunning! The students have built custom-fit shelves, tables and chairs for Baynetna’s needs. Everything can be rolled out and converted. You have to be flexible if you’re not paying any rent and be ready to pack up the library whenever needed to make space for other projects. The shelves have a mat compartment and cushion protection and thereby facilitate a combination of Arabic and European sitting and reading cultures: while some people roll out their mats and make themselves comfortable with cushions, others sit at tables. The tables can be converted into a small stage for readings, transforming the library into an event location. Concerning the books, the focus is on Arabic literature and the latest non-fiction texts. Arabic translations of European classics are as in demand as German or English translations of Arabic works.

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Sign guiding the way to the party. Photo: Juliette Moarbes
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Not just the transformative book shelves – designed especially for the library – were stunning, but also the view from the 16th floor. Photo: Juliette Moarbes
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Photo: Juliette Moarbes
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Photo: Juliette Moarbes
Foto: Juliette Moarbes
Arabic literature ready for readers. Book donations are welcome. Photo: Juliette Moarbes
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Ines Kappert tells the story of how the idea for “Baynetna” came to be. Photo: Juliette Moarbes
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The design project for the library was headed by the TU professor Donatella Fioretti. Photo: Juliette Moarbes
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Students are presenting the transformative furniture they designed. Photo: Juliette Moarbes
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Great diversity of Arab food on the buffet. Photo: Juliette Moarbes
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The roof offered a space for some drinks, pause from the bustle and again the great view of Berlin at night. Photo: Juliette Moarbes

From March 1, the library will be open from Monday to Thursday from 10am to 5pm, and at the weekend from 12pm to 5pm.

If you don’t yet have a library card, please call 0152 08 68 24. 13 when you reach the door.

We look forward to meeting you!

The Baynetna team