Throughout Germany, young people with and without a refugee background met regularly with workshop leaders and translators to write poetry. In all, around 750 writers got together and wrote thousands of poems. The idea came from project founder Susanne Koelbl, who repeatedly experienced the power of poetry during her work as a SPIEGEL foreign correspondent in countries such as Afghanistan and Iran. She encountered poetry in all kinds of everyday situations, whether in a cab or over dinner, and was able to give space to emotions that would otherwise not find expression. Berlin artist Rottkay provided photography and visual design for the project, while Theresa Rüger took on organizational and literary management.

We really live in a kind of bubble here. It simply does us good to engage with these desperate situations. This, I think, is to receive a great gift.

—Herbert Grönemeyer

The young poets wrote in their native languages about subjects that affect us all. About what they’ve experienced, their expectations, how they imagine their future to be. About foreignness and longing, about hope and love, and contemporary politics.

Their works were presented at the end of each workshop day, with the whole group working together to find the best-fitting translation for a particular passage, word, or term. These were wonderful moments of mutual recognition which we hoped to bring to the public. The poems that were drafted in our workshops were presented at readings and festivals, in magazines, radio reports, in plays and in films, so that the ongoing intercultural dialogue could include as many people as possible even beyond the project’s duration.

The first volume of poetry was published along with the opening of the international literature festival berlin in 2016. The texts published there were awarded the Else Lasker-Schüler Poetry Prize in 2018. A print edition of these texts in four languages is now available from our online shop under the title Allein nach Europa (Fled to Europe alone). In 2019, our poets Rojin Namer and Shahzamir Hataki received the THEO (Berlin-Brandenburg Prize for Young Literature) in the categories Poetry and Multilingual. Rojin has also won several awards at the lyrix (national competition for young poetry). She won a monthly competition in 2019 and won the annual competition for 2020; in 2022 and 2023 she joined the prize jury. At the end of the project, a comprehensive anthology was published under the title Ich wollte bleiben. Ich ging. (I wanted to stay. I left.) which is also available in our shop.

Roses for the readers at the International Literature Festival Berlin.
Roses for the readers at the International Literature Festival Berlin.
Image: © Rottkay