I arrived at Magdas Hotel for an interview a couple of minutes early and was invited to have a seat at the hotel lounge, where the interview was to take place. I took my time to look around. It was a spacious and colourful room, illuminated by the bright November sun coming in through the huge windows. It looked more like a stylish café or an art space than a hotel bar, it felt cosy and different. After taking a closer look I started to realize the source of this distinctive character – so many things around me were not what they seem to be. The huge mirrors on the walls turned out to be the old doors, breakfast buffet was constructed of several sets of old lockers, and the 70s-style coffee table was from the actual 70s! Not only in the lounge but all over the hotel things were living their second lives.
Coming here I was already familiar with another peculiarity of this hotel, the one that takes a little longer to spot. It is the number of languages spoken by its staff, the variety of cuisines in the kitchen and the fact that for a lot of people who work here, it is their first job in Europe.
Two of the Magdas multinational team members agreed to tell me a little more about this unique place and share their insights into every-day life here – Sarah, hotel’s marketing manager, and Tarek – a cook at Magdas Restaurant.
TEDxDonauinsel (TD): There are some aspects that make Magdas Hotel to stand out – it offers employment opportunities for refugees and it implements a lot of circular economy ideas. What is it like to work in the place like this? Is it different compared to other work environments?
Tarek: It is only my second job in Austria, so it is not easy for me to compare. Magdas seems to function as any regular hotel, the only thing that I find different here is communication. It is very friendly and people are treated as equals. It is very important to me.
Sarah: I also think that Magdas functions in the same way like other hotels. It has to, if we want to stay in business (smiles). For me personally it’s important that we try to see a positive aspect in every situation and try to make the best out of it. For example, if we have a team member, who does not speak German, but speaks 5 other languages, we consider the 5 languages that he or she speaks to be more important than the one he or she does not. It is only a matter of attitude.
TD: Let’s talk about languages. Magdas’ team is exceptionally multilingual and multinational. How does communication processes work here?
Sarah: The main language is German. Of course, English and gestures sometimes are also helpful, but we mostly use German. This way even people who start here with very little knowledge of German can catch it faster. Tarek, for example, has made a huge progress since he joined us a few months ago.
Tarek: German is not easy, of course, but it is getting better. Five of us who are working in the kitchen come from five different countries – Syria, Afghanistan, Austria, Gambia, Turkey. German is what works the best for us. It is not that complicated, really.
TD: 5 different nationalities in the kitchen mean 5 different cuisines. How does that work?
Tarek: It is 5 different cuisines in one kitchen. Today we have Gambian Chicken.
TD: What about travellers who stay at Magdas? Who are they?
Sarah: The majority of people who stay here are not aware of the concept when they book a room. There are of course some who stay with us because they read about our ideas and they find it interesting or important. However, we understand that for our clients good service is the most important thing and our social responsibility ideas are only an add-on.
TD: For the final note, could you tell me more about the concept upcycling and reusing things? How did Magdas team come up with this idea?
Sarah: There is this saying in German – Aus der Not eine Tugend Machen (Eng. Make a virtue of necessity). We started Magdas with a very limited budget and there were so many things just lying around in this old building. Upcycling seemed like the only logical way to go. We did not want to compromise on comfort, so a lot of things came in new, however, we tried reusing and redesigning as much as possible. It was a really good exercise for creativity.
TD: Thank you for an interesting conversation, Tarek and Sarah!