Forging friendships – an interview with Tamim Masood about the art project “Odyssee”
Tamim Masood, 22, was a journalist in Afghanistan before coming to Germany in October 2015. In a short interview, he talks about his personal experiences during the development stages of the Odyssee (Odyssey) art project, which was launched by the artist and steel sculptor Georg Friedrich Wolf. The project, which started in Habitzheim, Hesse, was presented in Berlin in December 2016.
How did you learn about the art project?
The artist Georg Friedrich Wolf’s forge is in Habitzheim where I’ve been living with around 35 other newcomers from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria since November 2015. Right from the outset, Wolf planned his project in such a way that it would specifically involve newcomers and he contacted us via our local asylum counsellors. The idea was to erect a large sculpture and we started by forging the components – including hundreds of iron nails – ourselves. The first few days were hectic and somewhat confusing. The project had to find its shape while participants had to understand that this was a concrete project with fixed work times in the forge and they needed to turn up on time. The idea was also to involve around 100 newcomers from the surrounding areas in the project over a period of approximately three months. My knowledge of German meant that I could support the process with lots of language and coordination work.
You were involved from the start. How did the project develop during the year?
This intensive cooperation meant that I was busy from morning to night from May 2016 onwards. Alongside my coordination work, I also learned how to forge nails. This was something completely new for me, as I’d never done any craft activities before. I was able to transfer this knowledge to co-workers who joined the project later. Even if they came from countries other than my own, it was always possible to communicate with each other. If we encountered difficulties, I was always able to motivate the other people in the team and I felt involved in the work processes at all times.
At the presentation in Berlin, Georg Friedrich Wolf introduced you as his ‘right hand man’ and expressed particular gratitude to you. What was important in terms of getting to grips with the project quickly?
My knowledge of German, due mainly to good contacts with local people. I play football with young people in Habitzheim and have lots of contact with the local asylum counsellors. I help my neighbours whenever necessary and take part in local festivals with the other asylum seekers. I learnt the basics of German in a three-month language course that was offered to all newcomers. Social workers in the community have also often asked me for help in relation to problems with other newcomers. The local helpers have accompanied us on visits to local authorities and the doctor, and helped us to fill out the necessary paperwork, our work together going way beyond the project. I always enjoyed the collaboration and learned at lot from it – both German and some Hessian!
Were there any special challenges in addition to language?
I got lots of blisters on my hands in the first few days, even a few small burns, as I wasn’t used to the work. The heavy hammer gave me neck and upper-arm pain in the evening but at the same it was very satisfying to do physical work and take part in a joint project with others. My discussions with other newcomers gave me insights into their life stories and blows of fortune. This touched me very deeply and made both my life and the lives of my brothers and sisters more bearable.
How did you experience the final stages of the project?
“It was a great week,” is what all the participants said after we’d spent seven days finishing of the project – working, eating and celebrating together. I spent one night in a tent at our helpers from the Westerwald region. We ate and talked around the fire long into the night. The week went very quickly, unfortunately. I could have spent four weeks with everyone. Learning something new all the time and not giving up in the face of problems were enormously important for me when it came to arriving in Germany and feeling at home.
You and your brothers and sisters were also in Berlin for the presentation of the sculpture. How was that for you?
People were already coming from Berlin to the forge during the project and its assembly stage and we had close contacts and lots of good discussions with them. I was very proud that my brothers and sisters and I were allowed to travel to Berlin. We saw, visited and ate with all the locals who had visited us in Habitzheim. We also saw the city and gained some insight into German history. That was a great finale and we’re all very happy that the sculpture is now in Berlin.
What’s next for you now?
At the moment, I’m completing an introductory qualification as an IT specialist at a company in Darmstadt. That will take me up to the end of August 2017 when I hope to start training as an IT specialist. I’m still waiting for an interview at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and hope to be able to stay in Germany and build a future for myself here. I’d like to continue living in Habitzheim, as I enjoy the small village atmosphere and I have got to know lots of people, nice people, and I feel good here. A new project with all the newcomers and Habitzheimer locals would also be good!
Tamim Masood has since found an apprenticeship although his asylum application has still not been confirmed.