I cannot live without my roots but I like to grow higher to reach more sun and more wind
By Shadi Khalil
My feeling about visiting Germany - it's something else in my second report because I feel I went deeper into this new world. Now I see the subject from more than one angle. I think more about the connections between me and the other people - even inside my own country - , how to understand them and try to feel the same what they feel. Maybe like this you can understand better their reaction. And you can understand why they have some ideas which look strange to me. To travel far from your country - you have the chance to sit more with yourself and see what you did before in another way. In some cases you say to yourself: It was wrong what I did. This problem should be solved in another way. You should use all of your senses to understand and to avoid mistakes. Anyway, the past is just gone, but it's good to learn for the future. But we should safe the past in our memory because it's an important step in our life.
In my work inside the historical rooms I also have to protect the past, but it's another kind of past. It's the past of a whole culture, not only of a single person. And this is what I have been doing now for 6 years. I always discover a different world in this old culture which is more than 200 years old, and I go deeper and deeper falling in love with the details. This world should be protected to let other people enjoy what I discovered. Inside these rooms we have painted wood which you still feel breathing, talking to you, and showing you the secrets of the people in these old times. These rooms have a soul, a lot of details and a lot of colours which are in harmony showing us how the old painters gave birth to beautiful rooms using few materials in a clever way to reach various colours and surfaces. This design idea - it belongs to people lived before us having another kind of life, another atmosphere, taste, and belief. All these things change by the time. This art has a deep soul which we cannot copy today.
Visiting the past is complicated because the people who lived inside are already gone. It is like a foreign country without people. Visiting Germany was much easier: The foreign country is still present and I could meet the people to have clear ideas about what they are thinking, believing, and feeling. I was lucky to be able to do so. I did not need to guess or imagine about anything, I just knocked on the doors. I could see and understand: Human beings are the same everywhere, if we just give respect to the others and understand the difference before we make a judgement.
During my trip I have seen unknown corners in the world and in myself with more light. For example as I visited the Academy of Fine Arts in Dresden where you can study historical painting techniques. I was surprised as I saw that they teach the same technique which I have already used in my restoration work - just by my feeling for colours. Here I could understand more how the painters used the old pigments and how they applied the paints in layers to reach amazing surfaces. They used for example white, red and brown paint layers up of each other, but your eyes see bluish grey shades because of a physical phenomenon. It was great to discover some secrets of the old painters. I was very happy to see that because it can be possible to go deeper into this study to use it in restoration. Visiting Prof. Ivo Mohrmann's work space I forgot myself until he reminded me to go to have lunch. The deep understanding of the old painters is an important part of my professional restoration work. At the Academy of Fine Arts there is also a scientific laboratory for identification of pigments and binding media. I learnt a lot about the surfaces of the rooms by using high magnification microscope and examination of cross-sections in which you can see all the paint layers. You can see which paint they used first and how thick they applied the colours. I was surprised how thin gold leaf is. It means the cleaning treatment of these surfaces should be very careful. To learn more about the scientific research would be important for my work because we do not have this technical equipment in Syria.
It was amazing to visit Dresden's painting gallery "Old Masters" and stay there many hours with widely open eyes filled sometimes with tears. I was deeply touched by Rafael's Madonna Sistina. The place and the entire building is perfectly chosen and designed for this famous painting: When you are in the door to the first room, you can already see the painting on the central place of the wall in the last room - through a long line of open doors. When you walk from one room to the next you can see the painting closer and closer until you are in the last room in front of her down of her feet. Another deep impression left Corregios' painting "Holy Night" on which the light is coming from Jesus to Mary's face. The light is very important in our life, and if it's in our face, we don't feel the darkness anymore. I was very touched by all these beautiful paintings, and from another side I was touched by sensitive people I met in Dresden. You feel very comfortable between them, as if you have known them for a long time. Like Rosemarie Albrecht who visited me in my work. After her visit in my museum she invited me to her house and surprised me by her kindness and help for me and the Dresden Damascus room. I invited her to visit Damascus and she prepared a great answer which goes through your heart. She said: "I am too old to travel to Damascus, but I will donate the same money which I would spend for the travel for the restoration of the Dresden Damascus room." And she gave 2000 EUR to continue the restoration project. I met more people like her during my Dresden stay which is great luck for me - like all the people working in the museum, who supported me a lot. They liked the restoration work I did and I hope that I can come back to continue the work.
The work in the Ajami room in Dresden was successful because I could contribute a significant step restoring two wall closet doors which will complete the second wall of the Damascene room. Beside the practical restoration work I copied an original panel of these doors using the historical painting materials like blue glass powder, old mineral pigments and copper leaf.
In the last week I was very happy to visit the Damascene room in Potsdam again. The idea was to make some tests for cleaning and varnish removal to let the owners understand how the room will look like after the restoration. The surface is so dark that it's quite impossible to imagine the original bright and friendly colours. The owner loved this room from the beginning, and he felt its oriental soul. But after the tests he was very much surprised about the heart touching beauty. During the dinner he told his wife how much he was impressed by the nice colours we found. In the morning I was surprised, because she visited the room already in the night. She couldn?t wait until the next day. The original colours which are soft and bright in the same time surprised her, reminding her of children's dresses. It?s amazing, because she understood the design idea of the Ajami rooms using colours which open the heart. I was very happy because they understand the soul of the room which is usually hard to explain. I said good bye to this nice family, and I hope to meet them again.
My last day in Dresden was the "day of open monuments" in Dresden. Many visitors came to enjoy the room with us, asking a lot of questions about the details, were surprised from the magical Arabic art. It was great for me to see so many people interested in monuments. Furthermore they were interested in the way Arabs are living, how we sit and how we use these rooms. As I showed them how we sit in these rooms they said: You look like a Pasha! They mostly know about Arabs from the tales of 1001 nights. The whole situation reminds them of pictures from the Sultan's palace where they sit on carpets and cushions in nicely decorated rooms, gold everywhere, big dishes filled with fruits in every colour, and beautiful dancers moving from one corner to another. The whole situation gives the idea of a Pasha's life from which is nothing left today except the way of sitting.
The interest of Europeans in oriental life and art is already some hundred years old as the "collection fever" of Far and Near Eastern art shows. The famous Saxon king August the Strong was mad about this kind of art and tried to collect as much as he could. Still today one can see in Dresden?s museums high numbers of oriental carpets, porcelain, two impressive "Turkish tents", arms and jewellery.
It was raining a lot in the last day as I left Germany. The sky was crying and sad, and also me, I was sad, because I left this beautiful country with its amazing nature and nice people and with a lot of new things in my life. It was the first time I discovered it. It was my first trip out of my country far from my family, but I did not have time to miss anything. All my time was full of discoveries, learning, deep understanding - a completely new world, which I also love. And I'm still confused about that. I love the new world I discovered in Germany but I also still love my old world. I cannot live without my roots, but I like to grow higher to reach more sun and more wind.
I hope this story will have more chapters?
Freiberuflicher Restaurator, Damaskus
Shadi Khalil, Freiberuflicher Restaurator, Damaskus
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Museum für Völkerkunde Dresden