FvF Mixtape #153: Driving Iran with Lena Heiss - Friends of Friends / Freunde von Freunden (FvF)

FvF Mixtape #153: Driving Iran with Lena Heiss


Friends of Friends’ very own Lena Heiss—who presents The Sooner Now Podcast—curates our latest mixtape in light of her recent journey to Iran. The tracklist is accompanied by the intimate photographs she took to document the everyday realities of the people she met along the way.

  • Can you tell us a bit about yourself and where your interest in travel comes from?

    I was born and raised in Munich, but I moved to Paris during my bachelor’s degree to study theater. Since then I have been fascinated with new places, foreign cultures, culinary delights, sounds, smells, and landscapes. These interests have led me to live and work in Shanghai, explore Australia and New Zealand, and backpack through Asia. Over the last few years I haven’t wanted to fly as much, so I have been exploring the beauty of Europe in my camper van.

  • How long have you lived in Berlin?

    I have been living and working in Berlin for the past two years. I’m currently completing my Masters in European Ethnology at the Humboldt University alongside working as a German Editor at Friends of Friends, particularly focusing on The Sooner Now, our collaborative project with MINI. Both my studies and my work at FvF give me opportunities to explore cultural phenomena and trends that affect our urban environment, whether this is by presenting podcasts exploring urban futures or curating art exhibitions.

Working men in Yazd.
A man selling Nan-e Shirin (a sweet yeast bread infused with saffron) in Yazd.

“There is a great need to redefine the image that Western society has cultivated of Iran in the media.”

  • When did you go to Iran? And how long for?

    I visited Iran in September, 2019. Sticking to my resolution to fly as little as possible, I took the Transasia Express from Ankara to Tabriz. Upon arrival myself, my best friend Sophia, and Masoud (a friend of my aunt’s who lives in Iran) traveled around the country for three weeks. Masoud is the same age as me, and he took great care to show us the versatility of his country. Through him, we were able to immerse ourselves in the country’s culture from day one. We were invited to house parties and ate in hidden restaurants. An absolute highlight was our stay in Fuladshahr with Masoud’s aunt and uncle. After a short time, we became part of the family. We cooked, played, and danced together. After three days it was hard to say goodbye.

  • What did you learn about Iran while you were there? Was there anything that surprised you?

    Two key aspects of Iranian society had a lasting influence on our journey through the country. The first was Taarof, an unwritten code of etiquette that underpins the coexistence of the entire society, and the second was the hijab, which, as an obligatory piece of clothing and greatly influences the lives of Iranian women. During my time in Iran, I was researching an academic project as part of my Masters and conducted interviews with various locals in order to understand how these two aspects of Iranian culture are perceived. I also used analog photography to document my travels. When I was back in Berlin, I used these images to put on an exhibition titled What the Taarof to share my experiences and research. There is a great need to redefine the image that Western society has cultivated of Iran in the media. The country’s younger generation in particular longs for international exchange and conversation.

“This picture was captured during a tea break we took en route between Tehran and Isfahan.”
“This is a local market that I would go to everyday when we were in Yazd. They sold the best melons!”
  • “This is Maroush’s aunt Shanaz pictured with her daughter Masha and grandson Rohan.”
  • “In Fuldshahr, we stayed with Maroush’s aunt and uncle Shanaz and Javad. We would dance every night.”
  • “This is Samira, Shanaz and Javad’s daughter in law.”
  • “Masha and Leyla are the beautiful, and warm-hearted daughters of Shanaz and Javad.”
  • How did you select the songs for your mixtape?

    Our journey was characterized by long car journeys through cities, over mountains, and through the desert. The music we played during these drives played an important role. During conversations about love, longing, politics, and religion we constantly exchanged our favorite tracks and artists. The songs in my playlist reflect themes that many of the Iranians I met were preoccupied with: the battle between tradition and modernity, love, and longing.

Alongside her studies in European Ethnology at Berlin’s Humboldt University, Lena Heiss is an Editor at Friends of Friends. She works predominantly on The Sooner Now, our editorial and podcast collaboration with MINI exploring urban futures. In her spare time, she loves to travel, her most recent trip being to Iran.

If you’d like to read other Friends of Friends stories from Iran, check out our interview with Tehran-based curator Lili Golestan, or Negar Yaghmaian’s photo essay capturing the everyday realities of Iranian women struggling for independence. Or why not have a listen to the rest of our Mixtape Section, which includes interviews and playlists curated by international creatives such as Ariel Orah and Lie Ning.

Text: Emily May
Photography: Lena Heiss