Migration in Kassel - An international youth exchange
Marco Heuer, website of IJAB – Fachdienst für Internationale Jugendarbeit der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (special service for international youth work of the federal republic of Germany) :
Where do immigrants come from? Which conditions lead to emigration and migration? Which are the dreams and fears that drive them? Such, and more are the questions that 60 young Europeans dealt with when they attended an international youth exchange in Kassel.
The program was inspired by the initiative “Kommune goes International” by the JiVE.
Marco Heuer watched the program for one day – strolling through the city of Kassel.
It's a summery warm August’s forenoon on a Friday in Kassel. In front of the city museum, a young group is gathering for a very particular kind of a walk. Name of the topic: “Migration today”. Nobody has a clue what might happen in the next two and a half hours. Amongst the participants are Romanies from Istanbul, adolescents with migration background from Poland and England, and Denisa and Germo. Denisa and Germo are students, who sacrifice their holidays to voluntarily seek to understand what migration in Germany actually is like. The 21 year old Romanian woman from Cluj and the 23 year old Estonian man from Pärnu consciously decided to go to Kassel. They want to work on the topic migration for the next one and a half weeks. She decided to do that in a theater workshop, he chose a dancing workshop. Others attended Hip Hop and rap projects. At the end, they want to give a show together, to a yet unknown audience from Kassel, telling their personal, unique “Migration Stories”, as they experienced them, in their very own way. 60 young people from nine different countries.
Migration means curiosity
“Why are Turks still coming to Germany anyways, despite many of them were already murdered by neo-nazis?” asks Germo. The question is not meant to sound provocative, but curious, puzzled, expressing his lack of understanding. The reason might be that immigration is rather irrelevant in Estonia. Ayse Gülec, however, is not willing to give hasty answers. The German pedagogue with Turkish roots came up with the city stroll. “Migration is always also a process of transformation, so keep your eyes open”, says Ayse, directing the group. From the Jewish Aschrott-fountain, destroyed 1939 by the Nazis, re-erected 1987 as a memorial, to a language school in an area of the city called “Am Stern”, which is densely populated by immigrants.
German and integration lessons are being offered. Ali Dogan is the man in charge for everything. He earns his money as a lecturer, but helps his foreign students on a voluntary basis with finding an apartment, or accompanies them to government office visits.
Germo is astonished by the diversity of activities offered in the school. The young Estonian asks questions. Many questions. More than all the other participants. Legislation on immigration, an integration test for foreigners with questions, that are unsolvable for many Germans – all that is unknown territory for him. Here, in a city with more than 40% immigrants and more than 150 nationalities. “You have to know the possibilities in the system, or you cannot benefit from them”, comments Ayse briefly.
The group starts moving again. Next station: Osman Kocabay's alteration. “25 years anniversary” is written on a sign in the store window.
“Seeing this makes me happy” says Ayshe cheerfully. Ayse sees Osman as a paramount example for successful integration. If he liked it better in Turkey, the Romanian Denisa inquires. “Not me”, answers Osman, “but my parents wanted to go back to Istanbul in 1984. But they failed to start a new living there. They came back to Kassel after six years.”
Inspired by "Kommune goes International"
In the cultural center “Dock 4”, Karl-Heinz Stark is designing the last details of the seminar the group will attend for the next days. He coordinates projects for international youth exchanges of the “Kommunales Jugendbildungswerk Kassel KJBW” (municipal youth education office).
Particularly this youth exchange appeals to him in a special way. The co-operational partners - “Kulturzentrum Schlachthof” and “KulturNetz Kassel e. V.” feel the same way for the project.
“We managed – thanks to our valuable connections – to organize many international projects in Kassel. “Kommune goes international”, however, was the “kick-off” that gave us a significant motivational boost.”, assures Stark and talks about a great challenge. “If you want to create a show, working on drama scenes, texts and choreographies, with an internationally mixed group with totally different social preconditions, you are facing a challenge that is not going to run by itself. Luckily, we are accompanied by professional dancing and acting experts, who help us in the artistic workshops.”
Stark has worked hard to have all nine countries taking part in the end. “The Turkish adolescents got their visa just the day before the day of departure. The authorities were anxious that the unemployed Romanies might stay in Germany”, the coordinator of the project tells me, shaking his head, “fortunately, we were finally able to convince the German consulate in Istanbul”.
Sensitization for neighbourhood
Denisa and Germo arrive at the "Holländische Straße 83” during their stroll. They stop in front of a grocery. "It happened here”, says city guide Ayse. "Here, the Turk Halit Yozgat was shot on April 6th 2006 by neo-nazis. Formerly, there was an internet café.” NSU – almost none of the foreigners has heard of it. Everybody, in contrary, has heard of neo-nazis. They are shocked. Many of them are older than Yozgat was, when he was murdered. "21, just as old as me”, murmurs Denisa and ceases. She is not the only one.
Telling and documenting stories
The previous evening in front of the big hall of the Dock 4. The young Europeans exchange their migration experiences, draw arrows on a big world map and weave webs from continent to continent. A German participant talks about his great grandparents, who migrated to Russia 150 years ago, because of unemployment. And about his parents, who migrated back to Germany 20 years ago, for the same reason. A young woman, who lives in Italy for many years, describes her desperate attempt to get an Italian passport from the local authorities. As a child, she emigrated from Iran, but she will not get a passport. Karl-Heinz Stark listens to all of their stories. “We want to learn from, and with each other”, he says. “With our artistic workshops, we want to make migration and emigration emotionally accessible.”
The value of migration
Lunch break in the canteen of the university of Kassel. Resting, exchanging. Also Germo and Denisa start talking. "I didn't expect migration to be of such importance in Kassel”, says Germo. "Without foreign immigrants, it might be impossible to eat out in the city after 22 o' clock. And getting a cab would certainly be more difficult.” Denisa agrees. "And I'd never thought that immigrants could cause such a positive atmosphere in a city like Kassel. And seeing that living together here with the Germans works out so well for them, in general, makes me especially happy.”
In the afternoon, Denisa and Germo attend their workshops for the first time. Germo is going to work on a dancing project, Denisa will try her talent as an actress – together with other adolescents from seven different countries. They are not going to have much leisure time. "But I have expected this”, says Germo, and makes a gesture that signals: "No problem at all”. Because in one point all the participants agree: an international dancing and drama project means so much fun that working feels like leisure time.
Project for the 1100 year anniversary of the city of Kassel
This international drama and dancing project “Migration Stories – people on the move” is an official anniversary project for the 1100 year anniversary of the city of Kassel. The project was organized and executed by the “Kommunales Jugendbildungswerk Kassel”, the “Kulturnetz Kasssel e. V.”, the “Kulturzentrum Schlachthof e. V.”, the “Kinder- und Jugendförderung der Stadt Kassel”
In cooperation with: Forum Poznan, Progetto Giovani Padova, LEIMU Rovaniemi, LDHR Cluj-Napoca, Sulukule cultural center Istanbul, Hoxton Hall Youth Arts London, Raeküla Pärnu and Jóvenes de Intercambio Estella.
The workshops were led by:
Pamela Hering, Tanzwerkstatt Kassel (Dancing)
Bettina Paletta, Tanzendes Theater Wolfsburg (Dancing)
Michael Neuwirth, free producer from Berlin (Acting)
Markus Hühn, Projekt Purpur Kassel (Acting)
Tim Taylor Kassel (Rap)
Sultan Tunc, Berlin and Istanbul (Rap and singing)
Participating Groups: Cluj (Romania), Estella (Spain), Istanbul (Turkey), London (UK), Padova (Italy), Pärnu (Estonia), Poznan (Poland), Rovaniemi (Finland), Kassel (Germany)
“Migration Stories was financially supported by JUGEND IN AKTION, Kasseler Sparkasse, Kasseler Verkehrsgesellschaft, Kali & Salz and the Well-being Stiftung Kassel.
Impressions of a participant
Participating the international youth exchange program “Migration Stories – people on the move”, from August 7th – August 18th 2013, was definitely a good decision. Already the ice breaking games on the first day showed, that many communicative, open minded and curious adolescents from interesting countries were guest in Kassel, and most of them were seemingly pleased by the offerings of the city. I, personally was excited and curious to meet people from countries that I never visited and whose language sounded very unfamiliar to me – for example from Finland or Estonia. But of course it was also very interesting to meet young people in my age who live in a metropolis like London, or in Spain, which I know as a popular destination for vacations.
Luckily, most of them spoke English rather well, so getting to talk was not a problem.
Most importantly, it was authentic to hear the opinion of young people on recent events in their homeland, like unemployment in Spain, or the protests in Turkey. Getting a first hand report, personally, is much more moving than a newspaper article. I think that such an encounter of great cultural diversity expanded my horizon concerning different cultures and habits.
Furthermore, I have rarely experienced such a coherence within a group.
Major reason for this coherence was of course that a show awaited us at the end of the project. Everyone wanted to show their best, but despite all, I was surprised by the joy and the social interaction within the group.
In my dancing workshop, the physical aspect was the major challenge. But despite occasional exhaustion or muscle soreness, the project leaders never showed signs of impatience, but were always friendly and very motivated. When a participant happened to be unenthusiastic, he or she would be cheered up by the vast energy and motivation of the others, including spontaneous dancing acts, or unscheduled lessons in Finnish, Estonia, or Spanish dancing styles. This created a very enjoyable atmosphere, and might be impossible in a regular German dancing lesson.
I was genuinely surprised by the high importance of the workshops, because I did not expect it to be like that. Furthermore, I am of the opinion that the kind of workshops was chosen very well, because dancing, acting, and singing can enhance the possibilities of communication when speech is not sufficient.
Despite the different languages, I found it way easier and more casual to get to know the foreigners than it would have been the case with many young Germans. Nevertheless, I found it difficult to get an overview over such a big, and sometimes confused, group. Thus, I stayed with the people from my workshop group most of the time.
The topic “migration” seemed interesting to me, because it is very recent and relevant. It is a topic that everyone can relate to and share his or her opinion. Especially in a time of increasing globalization and intercultural exchange and unfortunately also of racism, exclusion and hostility towards immigrants, I find it extraordinary important to deal with this topic thoroughly as an adolescent.
I have thought about this topic, but experiencing in a special way (e.g. role plays, exchange, etc) how many immigrants have to live, and what kind of a past led to their lives – that is something totally different and in a much more personal way.
The show was most astonishing to me, in which we presented ourselves united as a whole. That was very touching. Looking back at the preconditions, the short time and the communication problems, shows just how much motivation, ambition and commitment every single one was required to have to create such a nice performance. This is something I experienced rather rarely, working in youth groups. Everyone was involved, everyone was important, everyone could show their best.
In the end, I am of the opinion that the exchange was a positive experience for me, and that it made me more open-minded and self-assured in dealings with people of different cultures.
I would like to attend another youth exchange, especially if another country is hosting it. Moreover, I can recommend youth exchanges to other young people, as they enhance and strengthen one's social skills.