August 13th, 2016, Artheater, Cologne
As part of his Journeys project, musician and documentary filmer Jim Kroft went to Lesvos and Idomeni at the beginning of this year to see the European refugee crisis with his own eyes, instead of relying on information from the news. Together with photographer Bastian Fischer, he turned from observer to volunteer on the shores of Lesvos where every helping hand was needed. Back home in Berlin, he recorded an album of songs about the experience and started a project to fund a boat for the Spanish organization Proem Aid that ended with a concert in Berlin in April. As can be read on his Facebook page, the boat has been built by now.
Now, after months of going through the material from his trip, he embarked on a multi-media tour, sharing movies, stories and songs. I saw him in Cologne. It was a wonderful evening with moving songs, touching movies and heartfelt words that brought everyone in the audience closer to understanding what it means to be a refugee or a volunteer.
Jim Kroft’s performance followed an outline from his and Bastian’s journey to the volunteers working on site in Lesvos and Idomeni to the Refugees and their stories. We saw 5 short films on these topics intercut with songs and personal words. There was also room for some discussion with the audience during the concert, the break and afterwards.
In the beginning, Jim described his outset on the journey to Lesvos and his doubts regarding what he, a musician, might contribute there. He felt OK about traveling as a documentary filmer but wasn’t sure about bringing his guitar and only did it after Bastian pushed him to do so. Only after he arrived there he realized how important art can be as a medium for communication, stress relief, light in dark times or an act of defiance. This was only one of many insights he shared with us during the course of the evening. Everything he said was personal, the stories came from the heart and where words failed him, his music told the rest of the story.
Most of the songs Jim played were the ones he has written after returning home from his trip, among them a brand new one, all of them talking about his experience on the journey, about the people he met there, the things he has seen as well as the bigger picture. Together with the movies they gave everyone in the rooms a taste of hope, despair and every feeling in-between. I cried several times that night, overwhelmed by the emotions the stories invoked. Yet, I also laughed heartily at times. Learning that there are multiple sides to the story was an important lesson to take home. Even more important was learning that there is always something that can be done, and it does not mean each one of us has to go to a foreign country and work as a volunteer. As Jim put it “The worst thing you can tell yourself is that there is nothing you can do”.
The audience that night was a mixture of Jim Kroft fans and people interested in the topic of refugees in one way or another. Some because they were refugees themselves, and others because they work with refugees on a daily basis. I like to believe that all of us wanted to learn more about the situation at the heart of the crisis in the countries where many refugees first arrive, and I hope they everyone in the room walked away knowing a little bit more and maybe even feeling empowered. Yet this didn’t happen because Jim tried to be a teacher that night. All he did was share his experience and try to connect with us as he did with the refugees and volunteers he met on his journey. He talked about different points of view on this crisis, about terrorism and fear, but equally much about hopes and dreams, not only the hopes and dreams of those who arrive on Europe’s shores on a daily basis like safety or a better life for their children, but hopes of a world where people share kindness and love instead of spreading hate. There are days when I need people like Jim Kroft to remind me that daring to love and striving to make connections is what makes us human.