next station – trapped in a memory

In the film next station, Mohammad Alsheikh and Ahmed Bazarto talk about fleeing Syria and arriving in Germany. In an interview, the producers of the film talk about misunderstood integration, dealing with loneliness and how it feels to be trapped in a memory.

dunkler verlassener U-Bahnhof
Fotograf*in: Alex Rainer on unsplash


Emily: First, tell us something about the development history of “next station”. You didn’t have any experience in making films prior to this. Howd did you decide to make a film, then?

Mohammad: I wanted to do a master’s in Directing at Hamburg Media School, and in order to apply you need to shoot a movie. So, Ahmad and I pondered: how can we use this movie to convey a message? That is when we noted that many young people died in the last two years, and that is something that is weighing on us a lot.

Emily: What do you mean, many young people died?

Mohammad: Some young refugees die of Stress, because they cant get the right help, because they cant integrate themselves properly. They may attend Uni to study, but have no one to talk to, barely any friends, it’s not the way it was back home.

Ahmed: In the beginning we were surprised to hear that 22 year olds die from a heart attack, but then it started happening again and again…

Mohammad: It is very unusual for 20 people about our age. But if you live alone between four walls and only leave to go to work or to university, of course you become lonely, begin to live less healthy; you start to smoke more, for example. And this lifestyle in the end leads to a heart attack. But the trigger for that is loneliness.

Ahmed: What also astounds us is that integration is often only considered in an academic way. You are supposed to learn the language, work or study, and done. But you need support in other areas that are often invisible in the media.

Mohammad: We felt that the human side of intergration is often just ignored.

Emily: You just anticipated a question I was wanting to ask you anyway. Because I often feel like there is fundamental misunderstanding about Integration. Many Germans think that it’s enough to finish a B2-Class and to start working – integration done.

Mohammad: Refugees may leave their home, but home never leaves us. We are reminded of it simply by opening social media and seeing, a bomb landed here, a person was kidnapped there. We are grateful to be able to live here in peace, but that is something we still struggle with.

Ahmed: Mutual support is something we don’t see a lot, and to be honest, from the German side as well. For example, it is very difficult for Syrians to find an appartement. A lot of the time we are still one big question mark for Germany society. Some are overwhelmed in private interactions with us. They are scared to say the wrong thing or don’t know how to be more open. But if you know, for example, my downstairs neighbour is a refugee, you could just try to knock and ask if there is something you can help with.

Mohammad: about three months ago I was looking for an apartment. I didn’t hear back from anyone for months. Until I wrote to a Landlady and told her, I am not getting any answers because I am not from Germany. She was the only one to answer me, and she ended up giving me an apartment. I don’t understand it.

Emily: One quote from the movie that stuck with me is: “Trapped in a beautiful memory.” What do you mean with this quote?

Mohammad: If you lived in Damaskus before 2011, life was beautiful, incomparable to the time after…

Ahmed: …Yes, a lot of people have beautiful memories of Damaskus. And Syrians rarely traveled abroad. But know our home looks completely different. If I ask friends in Syria about other friends or acquantances they can only say: I don’t know.

Because everyone either left this place or died. Even if you manage to go back to Syria, you don’t return to the home you left. The people have changed, the buildings have changed, prices increased 1,500-fold. When someone tells me the price of an apple today in Syria it is completely unbelievable to me. That is why we Syrian refugees are trapped in a beautiful memory. We cannot again visit the place of our memories and relive that beautiful feeling. That was a very important topic in the movie: Should I return now or should I stay here?

Emily: In the movie you mention the view into the future. When was the first time you asked yourself: “What will be in 30 years? Will I still be in Germany by then?”

Mohammad: four years ago I met a man from Sudan who is in his fifties now and faces the same problem as Omar from the movie. Since this encounter I often ask myself: Can I keep living here if the situation stays as it is? Maybe I will be married someday and have a stable life, but can I stay here, still?

Ahmad: That is a question every refugee asks of themself. Some are officially Germans, have been naturalised, lead a company or study, but they cannot answer this question. Because when I’m here in Germany, I’m the Syrian. And in Syria I am the German. You don’t really belong anywhere. This leads to many people with migration background working all year long just so they can spend a month back home during Christmas season. They save all year long just to relive this beautiful memory.

Mohammad: Time passes so unbelievably fast here in Germany. I never felt that way in Syria. You have the same routine everyday and sometimes I ask myself how Germans can stand it.

Ahmed: Life in Syria was much easier. When I went out in the evening there was always a café or restaurant right outside my door, shops are often open 24 hours. There are children everywhere playing football or teenagers that are just sitting together, having coffee and chatting. When I was bored in Syria I would just step outside and I would find someone who felt the same. There people work to live, here in Germany it is the other way around.

Emily: You say that you would like to see more support from both sides – Germans and Syrians. What kind of support would you like to see more of?

Mohammad: I work here and have German friends, but there are many Syrians that have no connection to German society at all. This is where Syrian refugees could found small organisations or societies that lend psychological support to others…

Ahmed: I think that while organisations are helpful, in the end it is up to the people themselves. It’s up to the people that, for example, invite their refugee neighbours to their hom, take them to watch football, or many other things. To be honest, we don’t expect a solution from the government, but rather count on the openness of society. I often see jokes on TikTok about how difficult it is to make friends in Germany. We can understand that very well.

Emily: Loneliness is a central topic in next station. Do you feel that loneliness is talked about among refugees?.

Ahmed: Everyone has the problem with loneliness for the following reasons: When you come to Germany from Syria you really have to work hard the first three years, because you have to start life from zero again. That’s where the loneliness comes from: instead of finding friends, many have to work a second job on the weekend to support themselves or their family in Syria. In addition, many refugees are sent to villages where they cannot connect with society. And their Syrian friends are scattered all over Germany. So you get lonesome very quickly.

Emily: Would there be a need for more mental health services specifically for refugees?

Ahmed: Yes, definitely, that is very much missing. I know that Germans also have to wait several months for an appointment with a psychologist or psychiatrist. So this problem doesn’t only affect us Syrians, but all of society

But it’s possible to start small with a hotline where you can get help in Arabic if you have any problems. Or as a bigger project every city would need a counselling centre where refugees can receive psychological support. There are a lot of counselling centres that people can turn to if they are looking for work or support in the asylum process. But there is a total lack of mental health services.

Emily: Did you develop any strategies yourself in order to cope with loneliness?

Mohammed: I try not to keep to myself. Sometimes you need that, of course, but you should not spend too much time allein. And talking to real people, your parents, for example. Not just to the internet.

Ahmed: Yes, a lot of people talk on the phone with friends in Germany or with the parents to feel less alone. And you always find someone who has the same problems. For example, we often play cards together, or always try to do something on Sundays: Going out for breakfast, going for a walk, visiting each other. It doesn’t have to be anything big; the main thing is to spend time together. And hobbies can help too. For example, I met friends through a judo club, which also gave me access to German society.


Mohammad: Yes, you have to push yourself. It doesn’t happen by itself.

Emily: When I watched the movie I thought about an article our editor-in-chief Hussam once wrote. There he says that to him, integration means no longer being afraid to die here. I wondered if you could relate to this sentence…

Mohammad: Oh, that is a very difficult topic.

Ahmed: I myself know people who lived in Germany for 50 years and died here, too. Still, they wished to be buried in their home country. But when it comes to Integration, that means to me: To be able to see yourself as a part of society completely. I think sometimes people in Germany try very hard to define integration – instead of simply working for integration.

Mohammad: That is the case unfortunately. And many Syrians that have been naturalised and are “officially” Germans are still regarded as foreigners.

Ahmed: For many, integration is our task. But the truth is: Integration has two sides. We have to respect the culture, abide by the rules and look after ourselves. But the other side must also accept us.

Emily: And it must be made possible for refugees to take care of themselves, right? Because you can’t do that when obtaining training or work is made so extremely difficult…

Ahmed: Yes! „Next station” could be realised because the AGIJ e.V. and the employees of social services have given us a chance. In the end, it’s about this openness: giving someone a chance, or just hiring them

Almost every success story of a refugee in Germany is half based on the fact that the person received a chance or help from someone. In fact, many pensioners in Germany do that. It is often forgotten, but pensioners have worked almost as much as the government: They have given German lessons in asylum shelters, helped to fill out applications or come along to offices.

Emily: At the very end, do you want to tell us something about your new film project? I heard there is already something in planning…

Mohammmad:  We cannot reveal all too much but our new movie will probably be released next year in April. It will be approximately 15 minutes long and it will be  about guilt. And it will be even sadder than next station. ((He grins)

Ahmed: We try to use our movies to shine a light on things that aren’t seen enough. The topic of guilt is difficult and heavy but it is important to talk about it.

And that’s a lot of work. We even applied for a semester off to be able to shoot the next film. It’s so much work, but it’s very fun

Emily: Thank you for your time!





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