BERLIN – The sprawling interior of the defunct Tempelhof aircraft hangars in south Berlin was where Syrian football trainer Ali Al Omar Al Mashlab, 29, first called home when he touched down in the German capital.
In 2015, at its peak capacity, Ali shared the space with 2,500 other refugees, mostly from Syria and Iraq.
Seven years on, one of the hangars has been transformed into a 6,000 square metre hub for refugees and locals to participate in free sports activities and classes. Named Hangar1, the project was started by non-governmental organisation Tentaja in 2017.
Hangar1 director Niki Lampadius, 40, said the idea was to have a space where refugees could socialise.
“The plan was to use sports as an easy gateway for refugees to engage with each other and make meaningful connections,” she added.
And in 2018, the space was opened to the local community so refugees could integrate better.
Now, Hangar1 sees approximately 4,000 visitors every month.
“We want everyone who comes by to feel comfortable and not feel conscious about their background, regardless of their citizenship status, gender identity and race,” Lampadius said.
Tentaja is also working on a project to gather donations for Ukrainians affected by Russia’s invasion. The initiative is called Spendenbrucke, which translates to “donation bridge”, draws parallels to Tempelhof Airport’s role during the 1948 Berlin Airlift, where supplies were delivered to people of west Berlin.
Now, part of Hangar1 has been repurposed as a temporary warehouse to store supplies and donations before they are shipped to Ukraine and key arrival locations like Tegel airport and Berlin central station.
Together with colleague and compatriot Abdulrahman Sammar, 28, Ali has been helping with managing logistics in the warehouse.
Both arrived in Germany in 2015 but first met at the state sports association, Landessportbund Berlin, where they were training for their coaching certification. The two reunited at Hangar1 by coincidence when Abdulrahman joined in 2019 as a taekwondo instructor, a year after Ali.
For Abdulrahman, working here allowed him to meet many who shared the same tongue in a foreign country. He conducts a weekly taekwondo class with students aged 16 to 24, including some from Afghanistan, Syria and Turkey.
“When I meet people from my country, I feel good speaking Arabic with them,” he said.
“Being a trainer here feels like everything I enjoy coming together. As a sportsman, having a large sports hall and being able to interact with different people is perfect.”