Detail from the comic 'Temple of refuge'

TEMPLE OF REFUGE: ­'A Better World for Everyone'

In 2016, Sartep Namiq fled from Iraqi Kurdistan to Berlin. In a utopian comic book, realised together with cyberpunk legend Bruce Sterling and a new star of the German comic scene Felix Mertikat, Namiq processes his experiences as a refugee and in the Tempelhof emergency shelter. The comic depicts an alternate reality, a picture of a better world.

Sartep, the protagonist of the story, is an artist. Fleeing from his home country, he records his own experiences and stories people tell him in drawings he creates on his smartphone. He and his friend get separated just as they reach Tempelhof, the miserable emergency shelter located beyond the walls of a futuristic Berlin. Left to fend for himself in the slum, he experiences violence and rejection, but also solidarity and new friendship. Then something unbelievable happens. His drawings suddenly become reality – fleeting strokes turn into physical objects, houses, cars, tools, and in the blink of an eye, a new, fantastic city emerges, making the dream of a better world for everyone within reach.

Detail from the comic 'Temple of refuge'
'TEMPLE OF REFUGE', page 56 and 57, © Illustration Felix Mertikat, Courtesy Felix Mertikat/Die Gesellschaft der Neuen Auftraggeber

In his own life, Sartep Namiq hoped for a better future in Berlin, too. For 12 months he lived with 900 other people in a hangar at the former Tempelhof airport. Life in the emergency shelter was unbearable, and neither he nor anyone else knew what would happen to them from one day to the next.

It was there that he got to know Alexander Koch, the director of the organisation 'Neuen Auftraggeber', or 'New Patrons' in English. Koch talked to refugees to find out how they could benefit from the organisation's model. The non-profit supports people in realising projects that are intended to make a difference in their environment. 
Over the course of several conversations, Namiq developed an idea for a comic where the Tempelhof shelter is transformed into a fantastic city and a place of refuge for everyone. 

Portrait of Sartep Namiq
Sartep Namiq came to Berlin from Kurdistan/Iraq in 2016 and is the commissioner of the comic 'Temple of Refuge', © Photo: Victoria Tomaschko
Detail from the comic 'Temple of refuge'
'TEMPLE OF REFUGE', page 70, © Illustration Felix Mertikat, Courtesy Felix Mertikat/Die Gesellschaft der Neuen Auftraggeber

The story encourages readers to take a different perspective, to really see their fellow human beings and to break down possible prejudices they may have against refugees. For Namiq, it was important to make the story as accessible as possible. This meant making the comic work without words so that people speaking any language could understand the story regardless of their background or education.

Namiq sought a vision, a science fiction story involving everyone working together to create a better world, a world in which everyone's dreams, desires and abilities develop freely without hindrances. And so, the comic 'Temple of Refuge', commissioned by Sartep Namiq, emerged.

Creating a Better World Together

Over the course of four years, many people were involved in making this idea a reality. The 'New Patrons' brought Namiq together with Bruce Sterling, internationally renowned as one of the founders of cyberpunk literature.
With the help of two other authors, the story continued to develop, ultimately becoming a comic book illustrated by graphic artist Felix Mertikat. Over more than 80 pages and entirely without words, the story shows what the world could be like: a creative, respectful and non-violent life of togetherness.

Detail from the comic 'Temple of refuge'
'TEMPLE OF REFUGE', page 5, © Illustration Felix Mertikat, Courtesy Felix Mertikat/Die Gesellschaft der Neuen Auftraggeber

For Namiq, his own world has also become a different place. He has settled into his life in Germany with his own flat, a job in a restaurant, and as a new Berlin resident, he is socially engaged in his community. The project has also opened many new doors for him.



'Everyone Can Understand the Book – All Over the World'

Excerpts from 'The journey is not over when you arrive." An Interview with Sartep Namiq and Alexander Koch

Interview: Denhart v. Harling with the assistance of interpreter Razwan Anwar Mohamed

Alexander, for the 'New Patrons' organisation, 'Temple of Refuge' is a special project. You offer citizens the opportunity to commission artistic projects that are intended to make a difference in society. How did Sartep's assignment come about?

Alexander Koch: We initially talked to eight young men from Iraqi Kurdistan. Over several weeks, we met outside in parks and talked about the situation in the Tempelhof temporary emergency shelter, where life in the huge, cold hangars was hard, and about what could be done. One day Sartep came to the park alone. After 12 months in the emergency shelter, the others had lost the conviction to think about the future in any way. But Sartep said to me, 'I am here! I want to undertake a project, doing it for everyone who no longer has the strength to do so. I am an optimist and we have to do something.' And so Sartep became the project commissioner.

Alexander Koch und Sartep Namiq mit den Comicbüchern
Alexander Koch & Sartep Namiq with the comic books, © Photo: Victoria Tomaschko

If, with my story, I can reach five people out of a hundred who are prejudiced against people like me, that would be a great success.

Sartep, why did you choose a comic format to tell the story?

Sartep Namiq: I have been around, and everywhere I went I saw that people were constantly using their mobile phones, were always online. Time flies by and people usually do not just relax with a book. They read on the side, reading on their mobile phones, in social networks. That is why I wanted the story to be a comic book and make as much as possible understood in a small amount of space. When people look at the comic book, they should be able to grasp the story quickly and understand it immediately. That is why it was also important to me that the comic work without words. The pictures convey the story so instantaneously and the layout is so clear that it can hardly be misunderstand, even if someone cannot read at all. Everyone can understand the book – all over the world, without the boundaries that language sometimes sets. This is important.

Who did you have in mind? Who is your audience?

Namiq: The comic is meant for the general public, for everyone. But in particular, I created it for non-refugees. Displaced persons have already gone down this path; their experiences are comparable to mine. For them, such thoughts and feelings are nothing new. The comic is more for people who have no experience being displaced and who may even be hostile towards refugees. If, with my story, I can reach five people out of a hundred who are prejudiced against people like me, that would be a great success.

Artists and Contributors

  • Commissioned by Sartep Namiq
  • Story: Christopher Tauber, Matthias Zuber, based on an idea by Bruce Sterling
  • Illustration: Felix Mertikat
  • Colour: Jacob Müller
  • Mediation and direction: Alexander Koch
  • Co-mediation: Natasha Aruri, Soran Ahmet
  • Project management: Julia Jung, Karola Matschke
  • 'Die Gesellschaft der Neuen Auftraggeber' team: Boushra Adi, Kathrin Aichele, Anna Freedman, Stefanie Kinsky, David Magnus, Clara Schulze, Henriette Sölter
  • Press relations: Denhart von Harling
  • Press relations MENA region: Rasha Wahab
  • Website: Artur Neufeld
  • Translations: Boushra Adi, Ruzgar Buski, Gerrit Jackson, Ayaz Kado, Julia Kuniß, Günter Orth
  • Interpreter: Razwan Anwar Mohamed