Munich, Germany 2013

In January, 2013 The Institute received a grant to create play programming for two refugee centers in Munich, Germany. One of the centers, The Bayernekaserne Center, is one of the most notorious detention centers in Germany for recently arrived illegal immigrants. On the site of an old army barracks, the center is a make-shift, fenced-in complex that house a vastly fluctuating number of detainees. In the spring of 2013 it swelled to unbearable numbers, prompting a hunger strike by teenage residents in protest of their living conditions.

We arrived to a more hospitable, yet still unfavorable living environment, and quickly set to work recruiting participants, which was not hard given there was little to do. We started out playing a number of newish games: basketball, frisbee golf, American football, and handball. During the second session, we had enough players to set up an ultimate frisbee game; soon after someone stepped on the frisbee and shattered it. As I went to get another, a Somali kid threw the Ameircan football into the mix and we had invented our first game. As we continued to come out and play this game, soon named Malaka, a nod to the ubiquitous Greek curse that many of the kids had picked up while migrating through Greece, a small community started. People were generally excited to play this game every time, though many of them thought it was American football. We had to keep on explaining that it was invented here. People got better; teams developed strategies, more points were scored. More importantly, when we played, the oppressive environs of the camp, the separation of ethnicities, the uncertainty of each detainees future, temporarily vanished. Moods raised, people intermingled, and we had great opportunities to have meaningful conversations in the midst of this playful atmosphere. Playing these games created a level playing field where people were participating only because of their desire to play, therefore they interacted with each other arbitrarily yet naturally, without hierarchy or motive. It is in these situations where social engagement flourishes.

Sessions at the Bayernkaserke center

We held a culminating event at a local football club called New Sport Day. We invited the general community to the grounds to view the work that the guys had put in developing this sport. For the big game of Malaka we debuted two new teams, conceived and designed by two Afghani brothers who were unfortunately transferred a week before the game and were never able to see their designs realized. When the players came into the locker rooms and found these uniforms waiting for them, they were unbelievably excited; for so long they have been treated as invisible citizens, now their roles were reversed, they were on display, the main focus of attention, if only for a couple of hours. They took advantage, playing their hearts out in front of a small yet rowdy late August crowd, who were generally impressed with their ability and creativity. While the Move Project did not solve any major problems, or directly address the adversity and hardship that many of these kids face on a daily basis, it did confirm a truth: when people play they are happy, and people need to be happy, to have hope, in order to deal with others, and to survive.

The Performance of Malaka at ESV Football Club Munchen, 8.24.13