Monday, July 30, 2012

A week in Berlin

Just got back from a fascinating week in Berlin, courtesy of the EU's Grundtvig Programme, who funded me to do what they call "In-Service Training" with an organisation called the Comparative Research Network, looking at interculturalism and cross-community dialogue.  CRN is an academic set-up, largely run by geographers, but the workshop was very practical, indeed very theatrical, in its approach, and pointed some really useful ways of making use of theoretical ideas around cultural exchange.  Just the sort of thing we've been looking to develop in the community engagement side of the company.

Take the image above.  The feet belong to a Turkish woman, a first-generation migrant to Berlin, who lives in the Kreuzberg area of the city.  This is a hugely diverse part of the city, far from the conventional tourist trail, and it seemed strange to be led around in a tour group.  But the viewpoint and ideas of a local guide from a particular community enabled us to see the area very differently.  There is history everywhere you look...  even in Berlin's equivalent of Tottenham.  The little bronze plaques at her feet are miniature memorials to Jewish people taken to the concentration camps by the Nazis.  There are many of them along Karl-Marx-strasse.  She showed us her mosque, which is a converted Christian Free Church, a school where 90% of the pupils are from immigrant backgrounds, shop windows with clothes for Turkish weddings and circumcisions.  The city from inside.  A beautiful cultural reversal.

On the last day of the workshop, after presenting what we do to the rest of a very cross-disciplinary group, I found myself talking animatedly about how exciting it had been to take part in a workshop so specifically rooted in the city.  One year ago, I said, only a few yards from the Wood Green office, my own city had been in flames.  We have to address this disjuncture between living somewhere and regarding it as home.  We have to find ways for people to validate their London neighbourhoods as cultural spaces in which they are at home.  I still have to process the ideas from the workshop fully - but my sense is that they may point some exciting ways forward.

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