Cultural scene

“We Are Romantics With Our Eyes Open”

Postkarte aus der Marxloh-Serie von Rainer Kzonsek; © Rainer KzonsekPostkarte aus der Marxloh-Serie von Rainer Kzonsek; © Rainer KzonsekThe district of Marxloh, situated in the north of Duisburg, is somewhat disparagingly called “Little Istanbul”. Almost two-thirds of the people living there have an immigrant background. At the moment however something is going on there that is quite rare for districts like that – a very creative parallel world is coming into being there. A visit to Halil Özet and the film and TV production company “P.Y.P.”.

Just before you walk into the offices of the film and TV production company of “P.Y.P.” in Marxloh, Duisburg, you cannot help but notice the company motto in large print above the door. It is a quote from a book by the author Camille de Toledo meaningfully entitled in German Goodbye Tristesse ( English title Superhip Jolipunk). “We are opening the world again – a world that was closed – and announce it as if it were a shop on the Champs Elysees. At last we are able to say loud and clear, without bursting out laughing, that – we are romantics with our eyes open.”

“I am a Marxloher”

Just a few steps away from there you will find Wesseler Straße, the main drag of the district of Marxloh, situated in the north of Duisburg. This street however does not have very much in common with the Champs Elysees, but nevertheless there is still a lot of scope for bold ideas for the future despite all the “tristesse”. For although things have been getting better in Marxloh over the past few years, there are still a lot of shops and apartments vacant. About 18,000 people live in this district disparagingly known as “Little Istanbul”. Almost two-thirds of them have an immigrant background. The unemployment rate at 19.8 per cent is way above average for this town that has been so severely hit already by structural change and in which one in every four pupils leaves school without any qualifications.

Halil Özet, who co-founded “P.Y.P.” with Rainer Kzonsek, grew up in Marxloh. His father came to Germany in the 1960s and worked in a Duisburg steel plant. The son, however, decided that he wanted to make films and travelled all over the world as a cameraman. After various spells in Essen and Cologne Özet came back to Duisburg in 2003 and brought his film and TV company with him. He did not return for business reasons, but because he, now 34 years old, wanted to get back to his roots. “I am not a Turk, I am not a German”, says Özet. “I am a Marxloher and I wanted to get to the bottom of why I, as a teenager, had a problem with Marxloh.”

A sanctuary for the creative

Halil Özet, © Rainer KzonsekAlong with a group of like-minded friends Özet therefore decided to modernise one of those old Hochbunkers (air-raid shelter towers left over from the war) and turn it into a “media shelter”, doing all the interior work himself as well. Today the old red-brick building is not only home to “P.Y.P.”, but also has rehearsal rooms for bands and a web-design agency. There are lots of these shelters in the creative districts of Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne, but in Marxloh, which has officially been classified as being in need of “social renewal”, a project of this kind seems like an urban foreign body at first glance.

Özet is, and always has been, aware that Marxloh has an extremely bad image. In contrast to many of the local reporters however it is in Marxloh in particular that the filmmaker sees the potential for setting up a creative “parallel world”. Along with a few other kindred spirits he views this stigmatisation as a chance to set free certain powers of creativity that are to be found in Marxloh. In order to draw more public attention to this dormant potential Özet and his comrades-in-arms, who he calls the “Collective”, have thought up a simple slogan that is an allusion to the famous German seal of approval – “Made in Marxloh”. The team working in the media shelter is motivated by an aim that might seem a little over-ambitious – to reinvent the media image of a whole district. They have made Marxloh films and brought out a series of postcards with the work of Rainer Kzonsek on them – also a child of the Ruhr. His photos show typical scenes and faces of Marxloh in vivid colours. In the meantime the local post offices have also added this series to their usual assortment. It was however Özet’s mother who financed this project. The district’s praises are also sung on organic cotton t-shirts with a bell printed on them along with the slogan – “Marxloh – enter at your own risk”.

Irony is an important stylistic device used in the image campaigns of the media shelter whose people have all been so well trained in the art of guerrilla marketing. Most of the projects are commissioned by the “Collective” itself. Halil Özet provides the funding from his cameraman work for TV productions. This is how they manage to stay in operation in order to work in the long term on things that will help Marxloh, Özet and the media shelter to prosper and flourish. Özet makes it quite clear that money is not the be-all and end-all for in economic terms the media shelter’s commitment in the realm of civil society is merely an additional business.

Contemporary educational stimulus for teenagers

Postkarte aus der Marxloh-Serie von Rainer Kzonsek; © Rainer KzonsekThe work the media shelter does is not just limited to image campaigns. It is also involved in more specific projects concerning the district and its development. If we are to believe Mustafa Tazeoglu, who also grew up in Marxloh like Özet and is also a member of the media shelter team, in the foreseeable future Marxloh is going to have an “Idea Store” nestling between its church and mosque. They took the idea from the shop with the same name in London that considerably upgraded the image of the socially deprived East End. The “Idea Store” has, alongside its DVDs and books, game consoles and internet access to help teenagers get over their fears of the unknown. “What we have to do is create a contemporary educational stimulus for the teenagers”, says 26-year-old Tazeoglu. “A modern set-up like that would make it much easier for young people to identify with Marxloh.” This large-scale project is of course still a vision for the future – for Marxloh however there can never be too many of them.

Andrej Klahn
is the editor of the cultural magazine “K.WEST – das Feuilleton für NRW”.

Translation: Paul McCarthy

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
January 2009

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