Earwitnesses: Memories of non-places

What (non-places) do people encounter during flight? How do they experience being placeless? And how do these non-places affect people’s lives?

Until they “arrive” somewhere, refugees must spend time in places that make no reference to traditional thought patterns or to history. Railway stations, ships, airports and motorways are examples of these “non-places”. This workshop encourages young participants to bring statements by interviewees in the Archive of Refuge to life by applying creative techniques.

The emphasis here is on auditory perception and personal reflections. Using portable audio devices and/or mobile phones, the participants record sounds and feed these into a collage. The products can be made accessible to the public via platforms such as Soundcloud.


2-3 days à 4 hours 


15 years and over 


refugee routes, arrival in Germany, non-places, remembering, memory culture, sound collage


  • active listening to the acoustic environment (soundscape)
  • sound recordings/sound sketching 
  • audio production with Audacity


  • 5 portable recording devices (batteries + SD cards)
  • 5 laptops with Audacity editing software installed
  • 5 headsets
  • 5 headset enhancers (optional)
  • stereo-paired computer/speakers for listening together


Creative Commons Lizenzvertrag
This educational content is licensed under a Creative Commons Namensnennung 4.0 International Lizenz.

You can use, adapt and republish this educational material as you wish as long as you indicate the names of those who created it as follows:

CC-BY 4.0 medialepfade.org; Aleksandar Vejnovic, Katrin Hünemörder, Dr Christine Kolbe, Daniel Seitz, Eva Hasel, Birte Frische, Christine Lordong, Sika Dede Puhlmann, Mohammed Habibullah Scheikani

Bridge to the Archive of Refuge

The sound collages created here are prompted by things the interviewees have said. In the course of the workshop, with reference to the Archive of Refuge, attention is focused on the following questions: What non-places do refugees encounter during their flight? How do they experience being placeless? And how do these non-places affect these people’s lives?

The choice of interviews is left to workshop participants.

Video sequences


Hungarian Romani, came to Germany in 2015



equal treatment by teachers, discrimination at school, anti-Roma racism – 31:40 – 41:00

situation for Roma in Hungary – 58:00 – 1:06:22

privilege and poverty, skin colour – 1:15:34 – 1:19

choosing Berlin – 1:23:15 – 1:30

Regina Werbert-Lehmann

Escaped from East to West Germany, summer 1989


demonstrating and freedom of opinion – 42:00 – 47:40

motives for escape and ideas about living in the West – 1:06 – 1:15

items in luggage, planning – 1:17 – 1:25:18

first BigMac, first BILD-Zeitung, setting out to escape 1:33 – 1:39

escape – 1:40 – 1:52:11

accepting help – 1:56:40 – 1:59:20

arrival in West Berlin (from Köpenick to Schöneberg) – 2:00 – 2:09:10

happiness and self-determination – 2:11:15 – 2:13:20




escape from the Soviet Union (Ukraine) – 53:05 – 1:13:30

journey to East Berlin – 45:55 – 47:32

journey to West Berlin – 50:47 – 53.30

application for asylum and move to Bavaria – 1:01:45 – 1:03:20

commuting between Berlin and Bavaria – 1:05:30 – 1:10:06

return to Berlin – 1:13:16 – 1:14:25

Lucía Muriel

Migration from Colombia to the GDR, later to West Berlin


voyage to Germany, arrival in the GDR; childhood and racism in the GDR –  15:19 – 30:40

command of German and discrimination at university – 1:07:40 – 1:10:25

identity, belonging, term “migrant background” – 2:01:21 – 2:07:28

Gudrun Lintzel

Displaced from Grünberg in Silesia to Germany in 1945, then escaped from East to West Germany


illegal journey to Stuttgart – 28:49 – 41:24

borders, journey and checks – 1:08:58 – 1:13:37

Learning sites | face-to-face + online

This sound workshop is aimed, among others, at schools, libraries, associations and youth clubs. The time frame and spatial framework can be adjusted to meet needs. The recommended time frame is three days à 4 hours.

The workshop is designed for participants who are present in person; a purely online workshop may be feasible if the participants can master the recording function on their smartphones and are used to working independently. Sound editing with Audacity does not function on a collaborative basis. A shared cloud should be used to collect and present sound sketches.

Educational objectives and practical options

The workshop uses creative media practice to complement learning about migration and refugees, especially in schools. Participants also strengthen their social skills, such as group communication and deriving reflections from an artistic exploration of the subject.

Detailed description of the workshop/module 

A refugee’s journey usually takes in a number of different places. Before they “arrive”, people must spend time in places that make no reference to traditional thought patterns or to history. Between the place from which they are escaping and the place where they will arrive, people are accompanied by placelessness. Railways stations, ships, airports and motorways are examples for places of transit or non-places. A non-place is a construct coined by the French anthropologist Marc Augé. It designates an absence of place, making it harder for people to build references around it. Although the concept is now widely known, questions can be asked about the way non-places are perceived, such as: Can a non-place generate a sense of home? Does a non-place always result in loneliness? Do non-places have their own identity or do they depend on the subjective perceptions of individuals? These questions acknowledge new references and permit people to fill places that have no history of their own with personal meanings.

In the course of the workshop, with reference to the Archive of Refuge, attention is focused on the following questions: What non-places do refugees encounter during their flight? How do they experience being placeless? And how do these non-places affect people’s lives?

Rough structure 

1  Introduction to the workshop (What are the aims? Why are we doing it? Why is your contribution to or exploration of the theme important?)

2  Introduction to the Archive of Refuge and non-places

3  Introduction to sound (2-3 listening exercises)

4  Forming groups, watching video sequences together, group discussions (working on sound sketches)

5  After brief instructions about using the portable recording devices and about recording techniques, the participants groups make their first recordings.

6  Listening to recordings together

7  Brief introduction to Audacity (splitting sound tracks, sound editing, exporting sound collages)

8  Production of sound collages in Audacity

9  Export of finished sound collages as wav or mp3

10 Uploading sound collages onto Soundcloud

Detailed schedule – Day 1

Part 1: Archive of Refuge

Presentation and exploration of the Archive of Refuge (15 min)

Task 1 (45 min): What do you think when you hear the following terms/questions?

What parts of the story really caught your attention and why?

How are decisions made about what goes into history books?

What do you associate with the term “migration”?

What do you associate with the term “refugee”?

Share thoughts about places of transit and non-places

Task 2 (50 min): Choose a video and take 20 minutes to look at it. Answer the following questions:

Who is the person being interviewed?

Was there anything in their story that particularly interested you? If so, what?

Part 2: (120 min) Working with sound / recording

Joint listening exercises (see Listening exercises)

Formation of groups (recommended: max. three people per group)

Production of sound sketches in groups (see Sound sketches)

Instruction in the use of recording devices

Recording of sounds

Day 2

Part 3: Working with sound / Audacity (180 min)

Introduction to Audacity (see Introduction to Audacity)

Production of sound collages on Audacity (see Design options)

Export sound collages as mp3 or wav

Listening together

Upload sound collages to Soundcloud

Listening exercises

Short exercises are recommended to enhance sensitivity to sounds and listening.

Exercise 1 – Questions:

Question 1: What was the first sound you heard this morning?

Question 2: Are there things you find “lovely” to look at but “nasty” to hear”? Are there things you find “nasty” to look at but “lovely” to hear?

Exercise 2 – Listening together (1 min) and exchange (5 min)

The participants spend one minute concentrating on listening to their surroundings. Then they should discuss the following questions with each other: What did you hear? What sounds did you perceive as the loudest and the quietest?

Exercise 3 (Alternative to Exercise 2) – Sound walk [in German](15 min)

A sound walk is a listening walk during which participants attune their ears actively to their acoustic environment, the soundscape. The rules for a listening walk are as follows:

participants should try not to talk during the walk;

all technical devices such as mobile phones should be avoided;

if the group is big, people should keep their distance from each other (about 1.5 metres apart).

Every sound walk should be followed by a short exchange of experience, supported by questions:

What was the acoustic experience like?

What did you hear?

What sounds did you perceive as the loudest and the quietest?

Were there any harmonious and/or discordant sounds?

What did you think of the spatial acoustics? (Point out that different materials reflect sound differently.)

Sound sketches

Before the participants begin recording sounds, each group should create a rough sound sketch. It provides orientation and sets out an approximate plan for the sounds/noises to be recorded.

Tools: paper (A4 or bigger), pens

Useful tips:

> How does the interviewee describe memories, impressions and emotions that might be associated with the concept of non-places?

> What defining terms are used in describing that memory (e.g. silence, noise, uncertainty, fear, loneliness, home etc.)?

> What sounds/noises might illustrate these associations?

> Don’t forget: A voice can also be used as an element in the sound collage.

Introduction to Audacity

The brief introduction should make it as easy as possible to start using Audacity and provide some initial orientation:

Open Audacity 

Name and save your project

Generate tracks, import audio files and check out functions (solo, mute, gain, pan)

Tools: select, align

Edit and crossfade (fade in /fade out) 

Note: A manual explaining the software is available online

Design options

Sound collage can create a powerful dramatic framework with just a few tricks. Although the workshop will encourage participants to experiment with sound, the following “tools” are helpful:

Volume: Well-chosen volume settings for specific sounds can generate effects such as depth, e.g. if a sound is to seem distant, the volume can simply be lowered. If the sound is to be dominant or feel close-at-hand, it can be raised.


Stereophony can add a “spatial” dimension to a sound collage. It means that the sound comes not only from the centre, but also from the left or right. Different sounds can be skilfully distributed along the stereophonic structure to lend “depth” to the collage. Tip: Fine editing can also make a sound move (e.g. from left to right). Audio software often has a pan slider to create this movement automatically.


One dramatic device is to set up a relationship between sounds, e.g. quiet sounds/loud sounds, harmony (birdsong)/noise (motorway), short sounds/long sounds, distant sounds/close sounds, etc.


Although sounds have different physical sources, some sounds have similar structures, rhythms and shapes. Interesting soundscapes can be created by establishing a relationship between these, such as by superimposing several different sounds.