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How it all began

The Poetry Project | Foto © Rottkay
Samiullah Rasouli | Photo: Rottkay

On journeys in Afghanistan, the initiator, SPIEGEL foreign correspondent Susanne Koelbl, repeatedly had the opportunity to experience the magic of poetry in Persian culture. In cooperation with Aarash D. Spanta, a lawyer and translator who grew up in Afghanistan, she invited young refugees to take part in a poetry workshop, at first for those from Farsi-speaking regions. As these new arrivals did not yet speak much German, support from a native speaker was the key to mutual understanding.

The focus was on minors who fled to Germany unaccompanied, i.e. on those who had to start a new life in a foreign country without friends and family. As it was mainly male youths who were sent on the long journey to Europe, the first writing group consisted entirely of young men: Ali Ahmade (15), Ghani Ataei (16), Mahdi Hashemi (16), Shahzamir Hataki (16), Kahel Kashmiri (15), Mohamad Mashghdost (18), Yasser Niksada (14) and Samiullah Rasouli (17).

They wrote poems about what happened to them on their flight. Nine months later, the young men published their moving texts in the Berlin anthology The Poetry Project – Allein nach Europa (The Poetry Project – Alone to Europe) and read them to a large audience at the 16th Berlin International Literature Festival. The enthusiastic response that they received encouraged them to continue.

Since then, dozens of writing groups have been established in various German cities, including Cologne, Frankfurt, Nuremberg and many others, and more and more young poets are presenting their work at readings and festivals.