Research trips

Mashhad and Frankfurt workshops from the Iranian side

These workshops were fantastic opportunities for students to meet their tandem partners in person for the first time and talk about what they experienced in the other country.

-        Frankfurt workshop

This workshop was held from 15th to 30th of November but in a different manner from the previous workshops. It was not a group workshop but an individual one. Students had to stay in quarantine for five days and they started their visits as soon as they got their negative tests in the 5th day.

o   Visit the Islamic center and the Frankfurt Dome

The view of the city and Main River from the top of the cathedral was really memorable after taking 326 steps upward! This visit aimed at providing the opportunity for an Islamic-Christian dialogue between students in a religious atmosphere. The discussions were mainly about the cultural and religious similarities and differences. The visit from the Islamic center with those Islamic symbols that are very close to those of Iranian Islamic centers was kind of nostalgic for the Iranian members. Translations of Islamic books to German and English are a good sign that people are going further than their countries' borders – at least in this aspect. It seems that people working in this center are surprisingly much more open in recognizing and respecting minorities than their Iranian counterparts.

o   Visit to two solidarity farms

The first visit was around the Dottenfelderhof in Bad Vibel which was really informative. It is an enormous farming complex including a bakery, a dairy, a candle workshop, some husbandries, a lot of farms, a professional seed storage and a big market bringing science and practice together. They produce organic products using the benefits of people's cooperation in a modern manner which is beneficial for both people and staff. The assemblage of various land uses in a huge farm let them use the benefits of each sector to support others. Husbandries' waste, for example, is a great fertilizer for the farms, while the farms' straw mixed with other nutrients is a nutritious fresh meal for animals. This complex is highly sustainable and environmentally sensitive. There is an international educational center that puts knowledge into practice and people from different countries have registered to study there.

The second visit was from a smaller farm in Oberrad which was not as big and complex as the previous one, but it was much more co-operational enjoying the financial help of people. This farm was a great pilot for Iran farms that are mostly small scattered pieces of land owned by different people. Such solidarity farms are compatible with Iranian farms' status quo. These farms, mainly suffer from the lack of enough financial backup to change their farming method into a more sustainable and organic one which comes at a huge cost. People who care about their health can invest a reasonable amount of money in such farms annually and get those healthy products they need in a weekly basis.

o   An Islamic- Christian dialogue

This meeting was held in the house of one of the German members (Johann Albrecht's mom's home) who invited Iranian students kindly. This meeting aimed at getting more familiar with religious rituals in Germany and conducting an interesting dialogue between several groups of people from various religious backgrounds. The hot and of course respectful discussion about people's beliefs in such a friendly atmosphere was a great opportunity for people to hear other opinions without prejudices.

o   Visit to two churches and taking part in their prayers

Attending a Catholic Church service with that wonderful music played during the worship is an unforgettable experience for Muslims. The main criteria of praying are very close in Islam and Christianity. A protestant church that was visited a few days later was very interesting because students were invited by a priest who is one of the project member's mothers (Ms. Albrecht). Reading some parts of the bible and visiting everywhere in the church is a unique experience that will not occur in Iran easily. Interestingly, some parts of the Bible are very close to Quran in their meaning and can bridge different concepts of Islam and Christianity.

o   Visit to nature museum of Senckenberg

There is a water ecosystems sector in the museum providing information about river and flood plain ecology and river ecosystems management. It is very informative for the ecology tandem working on water. It shows how water is threatened in different parts of the world and how climate changes affect aqua ecosystems. This visit aimed at conducting a conversation about the importance of river ecosystems and the international conflicts over them. Climate change and its multi-dimensional aspects seem to be a hot topic for future projects.

o   Visit to Palmengarten

Visit to the botanical garden of Palmengarten was an amazing experience of getting more familiar with different climates and their vegetation. A collection of numerous endangered plant species was alarming for almost everyone regardless of their profession and expertise. Almost everyone in the group visiting the garden agreed that climate change, water and air pollution, plants and more-than human animal species extinction are among the topics that should be included in each area of study in an interdisciplinary manner. In other words, people from every discipline should try to raise people's awareness about environmental issues. For Iranian students, it was really interesting that German students are such sensitive and careful about the environment. They hardly ever eat meat, don't drive private cars or use plastic bags. There was a great discussion in the garden about the huge improvements that can be caused by small personal changes particularly in terms of environmental issues.

o   Visit of the Goethe University of Frankfurt

Visiting the university campus, Library and rock art heritage aimed at experiencing a foreign university and academic atmosphere. The first differences between Iranian universities and the Goethe University that were detected at the entrance are that people (non-students) are allowed to enter the university campus (not the faculties) and the diversity of students' nationalities.

Visiting the library, the Iranian team was fascinated by the great collection of Iranian books and movies that some of them are obliged to be released in Iran.

The archive of hand-made rock art heritage was really surprising. The most attention-grabbing fact is that human communities find meaning in their communication with other people that seem to be inherited from our ancestors.

o   Meeting with supervisors and professors in Frankfurt

Meeting Professor Dr. Hardenberg, Dr. Najmabadi, Professor Dr. Gopfert, and Dr. Kuba (in Darmstadt) was arranged in tiny groups of maximum three people. These fruitful meetings were held to talk about probable questions about the status quo of the project, suggestions and criticisms, and the future potentials for new projects.

o   Sightseeing in the city

Wandering around the city and visiting streets, riverbank, houses, bridges and even shops were all wonderful experiences that you liked to close your eyes and capture each scene in your mind. Clean air, cloudy sky, efficient public transportation and rare traffic jams were all new for people travelling from Mashhad, Isfahan and Tehran the most polluted, crowded and sunny cities of Iran. The experience of taking a covid-19 test a day to enter the university, museums and even restaurants was sometimes limiting, but necessary. But the joy from being on such an exciting adventure outweighed the difficulties. Tasting German cuisine was a surprising experience that dived Iranians into the ocean of tasty sweets and pastries!

o   Visit to Ada Kantine project

This visit arranged by Mark Schoder and his friend Niko was of great importance especially for Mohammad working on charity in the Good life project. The Ada Kantine group distributes vegetarian food among poor people and tries to provide a good and safe space for them.

-        Mashhad workshop

This workshop held from December 9th to 20th, 2021. Different German members left Mashhad on different days.

o   Bazar Reza and old bazars in the historical fabric of Mashhad

Traditional places such as the old Bazar Reza, Bazar Sarshour and Abbas Gholi Khan were very attractive for the visitors. For the Frankfurt students travelling from Germany, it seemed to be very interesting. In particular, its cosmopolitan atmosphere with lots of Mashhadi salemen, clerks and many visitors from different parts of Iran and also from Arabic countries in their special costumes was a good experience.

o   Ferdowsi University of Mashhad

This was a dense visit with six stops in one day. It was planned to visit the central library, Hazrat-e Zahra mosque, museum, FUM bio-product/agriculture center, planetarium, and Faculty of letters and humanities. This visit aimed at a great cultural exchange in an academic atmosphere. Students had plenty of time to talk about a wide range of topics in small groups of two or three and at the end there was a good opportunity to talk about the future projects in a big group including Dr. Rahmati, Dr. Ghandeharion, and Dr. Asgharpour.

o   Nature

Mashhad is located in an arid plain so there is not a wide range of nature spots to visit. Khorshid Mountain and Torghabeh are among the nature resorts people usually visit. Mountain climbing and a nice view of the city from the tip of the mountain was very interesting but Torghabe with lots of restaurants and shops with its over-crowded access road seemed to be a rather odd, but still interesting “nature" experience for the  German members.
Chalidarre and Kang village were also visited. Kang is an old village built in a traditional manner and has a unique view of the mountains nearby – an impressive and pure historical spot near Mashhad.

o   Modern malls

This visit aimed at showing two completely different fabrics of Mashhad as a religious city that as it was supposed earlier could not grab German members' attention as much as the traditional Bazars.

o   The Gold Rush theatre

Unfortunately, just one of the German members who is good at Farsi could go to this performance. It was a show about the current situation of Iran but in form of an old famous movie. It was a comedy and was a good cultural experience in a city, that has not a widespread theatre audience.

o   Ferdowsi Tomb

It was planned to visit this outstanding feature with all German members but unfortunately because of the short available time, just one of them could visit it. It was a great chance to visit the tomb of the most famous poet of Iran and visit the wall arts telling his poems stories. There is a great museum showing lots of handmade crafts that remained from many years ago that are all kind of relevant to Shahname and Ferdowsi.
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.

​Relevant links

The link of the project in Ferdowsi University of Mashhad (FUM)

The link of the project in Isfahan University