Frankfurt and Mashhad workshop from German side
- Frankfurt workshop
The Iranian students' visit to Frankfurt took place from 15th to 30th November 2021. It was – as all of the exchange – shaped by the pandemic in many ways: The globally inequal distribution of vaccines was enhanced by the sanctions against Iran which limited the access of Iranians to vaccines that are accepted in Germany. Thus, some of the participants had to enter a five-day quarantine before they were allowed to leave their accommodation, which shortened their time in Frankfurt immensely. So, the exchange started in a small group of two German students and one Iranian student who was already fully vaccinated with vaccines accepted in Germany.
o Visit to Darmstadt
On the first day of the exchange, we took a trip to Darmstadt: After a tasty vegan meal at one of the participant's homes, we visited an antiquarian bookshop and discussed several historic books with the shopowner. After that, we looked at the Orangerie and at the Jewish cemetery of Darmstadt. The plates at the cemetery's entry offered an entry point into a discussion about antisemitism and the Holocaust in Germany.
o Frankfurter Hauptfriedhof: Visiting Adorno's and Schopenhauer's graves
One of the students had the wish to visit the graves of social scientists that form part of his sociology studies. Interestingly, the graves of these important historic figures were not located in a designated area or signposted for visitors. In comparison to the graves of Ferdousi and Shajarian which were visited during the Mashhad trip, these were relatively small and unremarkable. While talking about this difference, the assumption came up that visiting the graves of historic figures might generally be of less importance in Germany than in Iran.
The fact that Iranian sociology studies incorporate literature and theories from European scholars but not vice versa sparked discussions about the academic relations between the Global North and the Global South: The German students found that their knowledge about Iranian researchers is unfortunately very limited as their study programmes are mostly based on readings by researchers based in countries of the Global North. On the other hand, many Iranian sociology students know of German social theorists and their core thoughts. This is due to their curricula and personal interest.
o Sightseeing in the City Centre
On the first day on which all of the students were able to end their quarantine, we took a sightseeing tour in Frankfurt's city centre. We visited some of the most famous places Frankfurt has to offer such as the Alte Oper, Zeil and Römer. Afterwards we went to the Center of Islamic Culture in Frankfurt (Rödelheim(
o Visit of the German Trade Union Confederation Youth Club (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund - DGB – Jugendclub)
Another day, one of the Frankfurt students who has connections to people working in the German Trade Union Confederation Youth Club (DGB Jugendclub) took some of the Iranian students there for a visit. Union work in Germany, the differences in school curricula as well as systemic racism were topics talked about.
o Visit to Friedenskirche Gallus
The students met one of the participant's mother on their day of arrival as she had organised their accommodation. During this brief meeting, many questions regarding Christianity, Christian religious practice and gender and religion emerged. Therefore, a visit to her church, the Friedenskirche Gallus, was organised. She guided us through the church and gave an insight into her religious convictions and her job as a pastor. She elaborated on the long process of feminist struggles that allowed women to become pastors in the Protestant Church. Here the role of critical thinking and historicization in theology were also talked about.
o Visit to Heidelberg
On one of the last days two of the Iranian students and one of the Frankfurt students went on a day trip to Heidelberg. The historic architecture and history of the city allowed for interesting discussions. Due to the corona pandemic, the city center was sparsely crowded and actually quite empty. This was a nice alternative to the bustling streets of Frankfurt during the Christmas season.
o SoLaWi (Solidarische Landwirtschaft) Maingrün
On the last day of the trip, those students who hadn't left yet visited the ecological, solidarity-based farm “SoLaWi Maingrün" in Frankfurt Oberrad. The farmer shared how her work on the farm started, what motivated her and how she works in a way that is not profit-oriented and ecologically sustainable. This was interesting to students of both social and natural sciences as it can serve as an example of innovative social cooperation and of overcoming exploitative human-nature relations.
- Mashhad workshop
o In early December 2022, the second half of the student exchange was put into action with the arrival of four students from Frankfurt. A few days after the Iranian team returned from their stay in Frankfurt, the majority of the German students landed at Mashhad International Airport after a one-day delay - due to the cancellation of the flight from Frankfurt to Istanbul - and moved to the the nationally renowned Darwishi Hotel. The hotel is located on the pulsating main artery of the Imam Reza Boulevard leading to the heart of the city of 8 million people - the Holy Imam Reza Shrine.
o After a short night, the German students were already warmly welcomed by three friends of the Iranian side. Together they walked down the boulevard, following the footsteps of thousands of other pilgrims from all over the world. Then, for the first time, they could see the enormous complex of the shrine, around which the second largest city in Iran was built. An architectural showpiece with a worldwide appeal. After a first imposing exploration walk, we went to the magnificent museum of the shrine, but their exhibition also shows other objects or rare marine animals. During the entire visit to the shrine, masks were mandatory due to the Corona Pandemic.
o Also in the next days the reunited German-Iranian team visited the shrine, at prayer or normal visiting hours. Directly at the edge of the shrine is the hamam of the Mahdi Gholi Beig, which in the meantime no longer serves the purpose of ablution, but houses the anthropological museum of Mashhad. The students were able to marvel at the fact that hamams were, and in a few places still are, important centers of encounter and everyday exchange. The class relations among hamam visitors during the Qajar dynasty were also explained to the visitors. Thus, the elite of the time did not want to come into contact with the ordinary people during their stay at the hamam because, according to the elitist pretext, they would not "get along." Here there were similar points of contact with current elitist discourses.
o Also adjacent to the Holy Shrine, in a southerly direction, is the traditional Bazaar Reza. Again and again, the German students were able to look over the shoulders of traditional bazaaris as they advertised their wares, to examine the old bazaar stalls (/hodschre/) - and in particular found what they were looking for with the famous Mashhadi Saffran. During these purchases, languages and origins mingled in an almost impenetrable density; the smells of dried fruit, perfume, cardamom and saffron. And with the visit of a modern shopping mall, there was also the strong contrast program in this diverse big city.
o Visiting historic houses of formerly rich Persian merchants such as the house of Daroogheh gave the students a sense of a life of luxury in ancient times and impressive architectural skills. Not only in terms of time, but also in terms of milieu, the visit to a neighborhood where mainly Afghan refugees live was a clear contrast. Here we enjoyed the informative exchange with the staff of a non-governmental organization and the good food in an Afghan restaurant. The staff member, himself an Afghan born in Iran and with a precarious residence permit, explained the difficulties Afghan refugees face in Iran. In his report about forced illegality and precarious residence titles, there were many parallels to the situation of (Afghan) refugees also in Germany regarding the devastating situation in refugee homes, deportations and state repression. Unfortunately, there are similarities between the two countries in terms of the treatment of (Afghan) refugees and repressive policies in this regard. This can also be related to institutional racism.
o Mashhad's natural environment has also been used time and again for respite from the metropolitan hustle and bustle. Mashhad is located on a plain in the arid state of Khorasan-Razavi. Individual forays through a large park, Park-e Mellat, were followed by excursions into the hills of Torghabe, a popular weekend destination. Some students also visited Khorshid Mountain Park and marveled at the sheer size of the city from lofty heights. After some students departed, a shrunken German-Iranian team drove to the village of Kang via the stop of the man-made lake of Chalidarre. No cars drove through the narrow streets, the villagers did not wear the same clothes as the townspeople and spoke a different dialect. They loaded donkeys, which then slogged the loads up steep slopes.
o In full team strength, only a handful of days remained due to the earlier departure of individuals. One of these few days was used quite non-stop for a visit to Ferdowsi University in Mashad. Six individual places and their people were on the program. Here the intercultural exchange was also carried into academic spheres. Among other things, the German-Iranian team enjoyed a guided tour of the university museum, the central library and the planetarium. Before that, they were guided through the university's own center for organic agricultural products. Transferred to the Frankfurt university landscape, bread sold by Goethe University is a mind-boggling idea - all the more interesting to observe in Mashhad. At the end of the day, the project coordinator and two Iranian supervisors took stock and looked into the future of possible further cooperation.
o At the end of the stay, only a few of the participants had the opportunity to visit Nischapur and the tomb of the famous Persian poet Khayyam. The same applies to the splendor of the tomb of the Persian poet Ferdowsi on the outskirts of Mashhad with an adjacent museum about his famous "King's Book" (/shahname/). The country's musical icon, Mohammad-Reza Shajarian, is also buried here. At the end of their stay, the remaining DAAD participants attended a comedic play about the US Gold Rush in Farsi.
o The exchange among the Mashhad and Frankfurt students after one and a half years of online contact was overall a great enrichment.