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Berlin is a perfect place

Nabil Arbaain wears a red scarf and stand in front of a blooming bush

Nabil Arbaain and his wife found a new home in Neukölln

The composer and oud player, Nabil Arbaain, lives in the here and now. He doesn’t like to speak much about his time in Damascus and his journey to Germany, which led him through Lebanon, Turkey, Greece and Italy. His preparations for leaving his home country were very analytical.

He looked closely at the individual countries, researching their political and economic situations and what opportunities there are for refugees. Sweden, the Netherlands and Germany were at the top of his list. And after further talks with friends, acquaintances and relatives he was certain of the best destination for his future and his family: Germany.

Travelling by boat to freedom

His wife, the geologist and musician, Helen Meerkhan, obtained a study place in Portugal in 2014, but Nabil Arbaain was unable to get a visa to go with her. In Damascus, Beirut and Istanbul, he tried in vain to get into Europe legally. Travelling by boat was the only other option. With 37 other people he arrived by boat from Izmir to Greece on a starlit night. “I was happy. The boat took me to a freedom, which was just incredible”, says Arbaain.

Berlin, a perfect place for musicians

He came to Berlin in October 2015. He arrived, however, without his beloved musical instrument, his oud. The 34-year-old perfected his playing of the Arabian lute, which he says is the most popular musical instrument in Syria. He now had to settle for a guitar, given to him by a German friend. His first performance with the unusual instrument in a small theatre in Frankfurt on the Oder was a success. Shortly thereafter, his oud joined him from Turkey.

Since then, Nabil Arbaain has played whenever and wherever possible. Music is his life. He has played more than 50 concerts, solo and with mixed groups. Here, Western and oriental music influences flow together and create new soundscapes. “Berlin is a perfect place for a musician. In the countryside you haven’t really got a chance. Music is also a great bridge for integration.”

“Alkhaimeh”, the tent

In Berlin-Neukölln he has found a new home together with his wife, who has successfully finished her Master degree and already started her PhD study in Portugal from Berlin. He dreams of rebuilding his company “Alkhaimeh”, which means “The tent” in English. In Damascus, he had founded a company under this name which supported young musicians to become professional by offering rehearsal rooms and stages to perform their music and build a network.

He wants to do the same in Berlin. He intends to help the newcomer musicians to network with each other and make music cooperation with local artists in Berlin and all Germany in addition to provide rehearsals rooms and stages. “Alkhaimeh”, The tent, would also like to provide musical instruments, as many refugees have had to leave theirs behind on their journey to Germany. “Help is needed here. I would like to liaise between those who make music and those who like to listen to music or have a stage, however small it may be”, says Arbaain. The influences of new music, he continues, have opened doors that would never have been opened for the locals and the newcomer artists.

Learning German and harmonies

Nabil Arbaain, who speaks fluent English, is now learning German. In parallel, he is also learning to read harmonies in order to be able to express himself even better musically. He cannot imagine returning to Damascus now because there is no sound for the music when the sound of weapons rises. The problems and rifts are too deep. “I am fundamentally optimistic about the future of Syria, but not the near future.” He still hopes to see his family, relatives and friends, who have stayed in the old homeland, one day. But Nabil Arbaain, the composer and oud player, sees his personal future in the perfect location: Berlin.

Thomas Reckermann