In the fall of 2015, the terminal building of the decommissioned Tempelhof Airport—one of the biggest infrastructure projects of the Nazi regime—became an emergency refugee shelter. Meetings between residents of the shelter and New Patrons mediators began in the spring of 2016, and the conversation turned to the needs of these new Berliners hoping to receive official refugee status. One of them, a young Iraqi Kurd named Sartep Namiq, took the initiative and commissioned an art project that would help foster a more positive public perception of refugees. He wanted a comic book, a popular and widely accessible format, that would represent them not as supplicants but as creative and progressive individuals ready to contribute to a better community for everyone.
The mediators put Namiq in touch with the American writer Bruce Sterling, a pioneer of cyberpunk literature. He was commissioned to develop a speculative vision of the future based on the reality of the refugee shelter in Tempelhof. Sterling wrote an initial script for a comic book without words that would speak to people all over the world, drafting a future in which a new city is built with breathtaking speed, a community embodying the desires, dreams, and abilities of everyone involved. The plot stars Namiq as its hero.
Namiq then commissioned the German visual artist Felix Mertikat to realize the comic book. Under Mertikat’s guidance and in consultation with the mediators, additional authors helped flesh out the book’s story; so did other refugees, who contributed their individual perspectives. The project incorporated fresh insights and evolved. The comic book is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2019. Thanks to cooperation agreements with publishers, media in the refugees’ countries of origin, and refugee aid organizations, the book will be distributed to broad audiences.
The plot: in this science fiction story, Tempelhof Airport emerges as the center of the world, a place of refuge for all those who no longer have a place anywhere else—and for the many who unexpectedly join them to be part of what is happening. In the course of a single day, from dawn until sunset, the airfield is transformed into a place full of imagination, magic, and creative energy. Thanks to Sartep, the book’s young hero, who devises a way to make the desires and dreams of Tempelhof’s denizens a reality, a new city rises out of nowhere, a polity that promises a better life for everyone. Thousands of people stream toward the airfield from all directions to witness the extraordinary event and help weave a new urban fabric.
The comic book is the remarkable story of a refugee and newly minted Berliner. It bridges the gulf between natives and new arrivals, between “us” and “the others,” and shows that with a little imagination we can see the world from a very different angle: we can envision a world in which everyone is seen and heard, in which we find support and empowerment, a community of individuals who develop their particular abilities for the common good.