The Camp Chronicles at the Museum Friedland as a Starting Point for Conversations

As Samah Al Jundi-Pfaff, the museum education staff member, explained to me, museums in her home country Syria as well as in the countries of origin of the transit camp’s inhabitants are a testimony of the past, something old and historical, that has few correlations to one’s own life.

In the past, I had a similar approach to chronicles. To me, they documented history, made historical changes and continuities visible and explained connections. I only considered them current and relevant to me, to the extent that they e.g. explain our current situation, such as political tendencies and social structures, through the documentation of the past.

During the guided tour “with other eyes” with Samah Al Jundi-Pfaff, she granted visitors of the museum insight into the type of tours she offers for refugees staying in the Friedland Transit Camp while they wait for their transfer. Through this, I was able to learn of and appreciate a different type of potential the chronicles possess: Their role as a mediator and concurrently, their ability to connect people through conversation and relationship, and to develop an outlook.

During these guided tours, the museum educator invites refugees to use the chronicles as a base to think about their own families’ photo albums e.g. albums created after a wedding. Then they talk about family relationships, what has changed, what they have lost; but also, what new things have developed, about Friedland and their future. Even though these are often no happy stories, Samah Al Jundi-Pfaff strives to appreciate the individual people and to let them have a chance to share their unique stories. She sees herself as a sort of social worker helping the camp inhabitants talk about their experiences, processing them a little further and creating a sense of community. For her a specific notion is always present, and she tries to convey this during her guided tours: “Salamstan, Friedland (literally peace-land), is a land of peace, let us celebrate the peace, let us live in the moment and enjoy it.”

My aha-effect in terms of the chronicle is therefore likely to be compared to the experiences and feelings that, as Samah described, refugees experience when they realize that the museum also has something to do with their lives, that it is newly constituted every day through their stories. On this afternoon I was fascinated by the unknown perspectives and – to me – hidden potentials of the chronicles. They can also be the starting point for conversations that give rise to positive feelings and attitudes, and they are not just related to the past, but clarify current references, they can influence perspectives, emotions and attitudes, and thus our future.

Serena Müller