Taking up Social Responsibility – A “Learning Journey” to Berlin
Eight activists from Palestine, Iraq and Morocco mounted their bikes unabashed and explored Berlin’s central Kreuzberg district. Berlin is an important stop on the “Learning Journeys”, the central feature of the Cultural Innovators Network, a project started in June 2012.
It was their second day in the city and the weather surprised the participants with an unfamiliar 18 degrees Celsius. But the overcast sky did not stop their enthusiasm. The Cultural Innovators visited several initiatives that encourage citizen activism.
The topics revolved around personal responsibility in urban areas, active involvement in neighborhood planning , increasing “green energy” on the local level and a greater push for environmental activities in the concrete jungles of major cities.
One example of these topics in action was the “Kiezwandler SO36”, a project that plants and maintains fruit trees in public parks. The successful “Prinzessinnengärten” project has taken over a fallow land near the central Moritzplatz to plant tomatoes and potatoes. Knowing that investors might come one day and buy the land they plant everything in pots and sacks, so they can easily be moved. “The commune will probably sell the land, if an investor comes along and wants to buy the land. If they have to decide between us and them, they will choose the money,” suspects a volunteer at the project.
Space for Ideas
Things that work in Berlin might not be possible in the Middle East and North Africa. But all the participants of the “Learning Journey” agreed that people one both sides of the Mediterranean have to reclaim public spaces. Only this way they can achieve political transformation by way of individuals taking on more responsibility for the good of their country. And despite the differences between Germany and the Mediterranean – they can still inspire each other.
“We also use our nature, but not in an organized manner. For most people, security is the most pressing issue,” says Tarek B. from Palestine. “By now we have more stone and concrete in our cities than green. Construction projects always have priority because they bring in investment.
Adil O. from Morocco is convinced that only constant pressure on the government can help the environment. For example he hopes to work for this by promoting more environment education projects in schools
“After the revolution we had action groups that took care of public parks and beaches. But nowadays the military doesn’t allow this anymore,” deplores Zeyad S from Alexandria.
While the political and social conditions for an active civil society are different in all the participating countries of the project, “diversity is the key to more creativity and new ideas for social change,” says Daniel Stoevesandt, head of the Goethe-Institut Alexandria and coordinator of the Cultural Innovators Network.
The following days were packed with more Berlin exploration – this time one foot and with public transport thoughout. The participants visited educational institutions, alternative culture centers and foundations. The Cultural Innovators also saw the Youth Bank and traveled to Leipzig.
Amal N. from Palestine was amazed by the “Learning Journey”. For her, social exchange between Europe and the Middle East is important for the social, cultural and political development of both sides. “I really like that we got the change to see and meet different projects and people. Thereby you create personal bonds and your questions and ideas for projects in your own country get more concrete.”