A Home in the Foreign Motherland

After the Arab Spring and the subsequent war in Syria, millions of people had to leave their country, spreading all over the world. Mohamed AlHambali is one of them, now owning a restaurant in Hamburg, St. Georg. Text and photos by Jelena Malkowski and Nada Abouelsaad.

The restaurant L’Amira lies in the middle of Steindamm in St. Georg. The old Savoy cinema, Turkish fast-food places, pawnshops and the blinking signs of gambling and prostitution are surrounding it. But once you step into the L’Amira – the Princess – you are in a different world.

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This is the restaurant of Mohamed and his family. Mohamed grew up in Syria, with 16 siblings and a father who had two wives: one from Lebanon and one from Germany. Even though his biological mother is Lebanese, he regards both as their mothers and all 16 other children as his siblings, never learning to make a difference.

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In the morning, few guests visit the restaurant. This is the time when Mohamed prepares the food. Two men are having breakfast – Syrian falafel, hummus, vegetables and black tea with cardamom. One after another, his father and restaurant staff join him. At these hours, only Arabic is spoken in L’Amira – Germans don’t eat falafel for breakfast. Mohamed is also reluctant to speak German. He says he is not so good at speaking German and tells us his story in Arabic.

Even though parents from three countries raised them, they all grew up in Syrian, speaking Syrian Arabic and eating Syrian food, never considering to move elsewhere. “I feel Syria is my home”, Mohamed says. He lived in Syria for 28 years of his life. Syria he became a pastry chef, he started to dream about opening his own restaurant. Sometimes they would visit Lebanon; visiting Germany was too complicated, so Mohamed never did.

Until 2015.

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When the war became worse in Syria, parts of his family left one after another: Mohamed’s older brother had moved to Germany in 2002 and just when he wanted to come back, it became too dangerous. Their father left Syria for good and joined his brother in Hamburg in 2010. The now 31 years old Mohamed joined them in 2015. By now there are nine of the brothers in Hamburg.

Whenever Mohammed misses his home, he wears his traditional Syrian clothing, or he cooks. In Syria, he worked as a pastry chef. And he remembers the way his mother used to cook for them at home. “Cooking and food is like my real life”, Mohamed says. His dream was opening a restaurant. But he did not think that would be in Germany.

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In the evenings, many of the guests in the restaurant, that Mohamed opened with this brothers, are German and then also Mohamed speaks German: He greets his guests, he walks around his restaurant, holding small talk in German. “I am happy I get to share information about Syria about its food, drinks and culture with the world”, he says.

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“Everyone misses their home”, Mohamed says when talking about Syria. But he also met his wife here and all his extended family is in Germany now. And he brought his passion for cooking and a little bit of his old home to Hamburg. Mohamed says: “When guests come to in the restaurant, I treat them as if they are my guests at home.”

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