Monday, July 02, 2012

sunrise behind the wall

It was around the time when the sun finally decided to come out, following days of windy harbour walks and wet swing performances; on the day where our German colleagues got us anticipating Germany's victory over Italy later in the evening, that we paid a visit to an inspiring community-run programme (Familiengarten/Aile Bahçesi) on Oranienstrasse 34-35. Next to what had already become a new habitat for some of us (SO36), in the heart of Kreuzberg was what was once merely a shelter and now turned into an institution that did not only provide space for the members of the Kreuzberg community and their children but also ran, through its foundation, teaching courses, legal consultancy, workshops, and providing space for people to meet one another, especially in an area of the city that is primarily populated by immigrants or immigrant-descent families. Ms. Neriman Kurt had given us a warm welcome, supplemented by the usual Turkish tea, brewed in an authentic semaver, and accompanied by cookies; and a long, and well-informed presentation about the foundations of their work, the wider environment and history of Kreuzberg, the initial support they had received from the authorities which waned after mid-1990’s and how they made it until today; still helping the resistance against the ongoing gentrification processes in the area, that we have accustomed to over the last years [it was interesting in that sense that, BMW Guggenheim Lab, that was forced out of Kreuzberg a few months ago due to major protests, had just opened in Prenzlauerberg, another area whose fate Kreuzberg may eventually follow, just before we had arrived in Berlin]. Without trying to read too much romanticism between the lines, I felt that Neriman Kurt’s eyes unveiled the layers of struggles she has gone through, probably personally, as well as institutionally as she shared it, while she had occasionally swapped her serious tone to a happier one that many people are accustomed to see Turkish people in. 

As she walked us through the playgrounds where she said Turkish kids, as well as German kids and kids from other nations and all communities would, from time to time, play together; also benefiting from the dense, urban environment within which the building was located, allowing for children’s loud noises [and Turkish kids can be loud!] to be overheard by others who would be tempted to join them, I started thinking about how much longer this place could resist the real-estate pressure that was inevitably going to keep increasing. I had missed the part, if there was one, about whether they owned the building in which they were located, which would not come as a surprise given the relative low-value of real-estate of the area before the Wall came down, but regardless I would have liked to hear about whether the respective municipalities/authorities had affordable housing provisions, rent controls, compulsory purchase or any other regulations that would be the counterpart what we have here in the UK, that could have effect on the future of the premises. At this moment, I found myself gazing back at the building which was once used as a textile manufacturing house (correct me if I am wrong), with some of its original features remain tact on the garden. The skies had almost totally cleared by now and it was turning out to be a beautiful afternoon.

The second of our community-run project visits was in Gesundbrunnen, near Wedding, Mitte. More specifically located in the Ackerstraße area, and therefore relatively better off than the more deprived neighbouring area of Brunnenstrasse, this project was run by a number of ladies led by Selda Karaçay who founded the “Brunnenkiezmütter” Project under the umbrella organization called Pfferwerk Stadtkultur as a centre for consultancy for mothers who live in the area on issues ranging from the development of their children, and of their education to learning their mother tongue and German, and to discipline without violence and other domestic affairs. Somewhat similar to Neriman Kurt, Ms. Selda Karaçay also obtained a somewhat reserved manner throughout her presentation that rarely but very sincerely broke into a laidback attitude, especially when she was trying to motivate the other ladies around her to present their experiences. 

The area in which the organization was located suffers from high unemployment rates (up to 20%), especially more severe for youth with immigrant backgrounds, and despite being well-linked through transport networks due to its locality, owing to its situation right near where the border once existed and the transformation of the urban grain, with high concentration of social housing buildings, the area has admittedly been isolated. Education seems to have been a major issue of concern where some school and day-care centres are predominantly minority-populated, and as we have learned from the project’s brochure, the local population contains a mix of people who speak diverse languages including Chechen, Arabic or Russian. Many of the local projects seem to have been geared towards provision of care for the young and assistant to their parents, including this particular one. When asked what some of the volunteer workers for the project felt as the most proud moments of their time spent here, a few of them, almost unanimously claim that the fact that they can help out people so that they do not suffer from the same kind of struggles that they went through when they first moved here a couple of decades ago is amongst the most rewarding feelings. Having grown up in a culture where the cliché phrase of “education first!” has almost lost its original meaning and at a time when Turkey’s primary education system is going through a complete overhaul, a subject we actually wanted to discuss with our German counterparts, especially since the new system is touted as having taken the German one as a benchmark, a project like Brunnenkiezmütter reminds us of how much successful integration and peaceful and progressive co-existence rely upon the successful and complete upbringing of the younger generations who feel included and contributing to the societies in which they live. 

I decide not to take the taxi back to the Academy with the others, and follow my instincts to find an alternative way back home, especially since the weather has now provided us with the greatest amount of sunshine and warmth and also because I would always prefer to take a walk if I can get to my final destination on time and I feel like I may be up to something unexpected. So, after a detour via Voltastraße because I initially wanted to get the S-Bahn from Gesundbrunnen, I decide to hit Brunnenstraße and keep going south until I hit the next round of S-Bahn. It is then I realise I am near the famous Bernauer Straße, where I somehow never made it to in any of my previous visits to Berlin. I walk down Mauerweg and pay tribute to those who brought down one of the most significant physical barriers that existed in the western world until very recently. Unfortunately, one wall comes up as another one goes down, somewhere in the world, as Eyal Weizman had also once noted, and there are only so many that we can work towards bringing down whilst humbly trying not to contribute to construction of new ones. It is in that regard, that while I was taking pictures around the monumental park, I felt like the sun was slowly rising, at times, behind other walls that the likes of Neriman Kurt or Selda Karaçay were trying to demolish without resorting to any form of violence.

No comments: