“An Interface In Every Respect”
Performance artist, Michael Kurzwelly, considers the Brandenburg town of Frankfurt an der Oder and the neighbouring Polish town of Słubice across the border to be one single town which he likes to call “Słubfurt”. Check out this interview with him to find out why he finds “Słubfurt” so appealing.
Mr Kurzwelly, you have been living in Frankfurt since 1998?
Well, let’s be more precise and say I have been living in “Słubfurt” – and I really must say I love living there. Originally I come from Bonn in the Rhineland and then I lived in Poznań in Poland for eight years. I really feel at home in this “in-between zone”. Frankfurt/Słubice is the ideal place to live in two cultures at the same time.
Germany’s two famous professional boxers, Henry Maske and Axel Schulz, come from Frankfurt an der Oder. What, for you, are the hard-hitting arguments to convince people to visit the town?
Michael Kurzwelly | Photo (detail): © Henry-Martin Klemt Anybody looking for a quaint little town with half-timbered houses and old monuments is not really going to get their money’s worth. What we do have, however, is two cultures living side by side in the smallest space. You only have take a five-minute walk across the town’s bridge and you are in Poland. Since the Second World War Frankfurt has lived with all kinds of disruptions. Visitors to the town are clearly confronted with this historical turbulence, which of course is very exciting. Apart from that the town has glorious natural surroundings. The Oder really is a beautiful river – and it has not been straightened like the Rhine, for example. Then there is the Oderbruch wetland region along the Oder’s banks which is perfect for hiking.
Speaking of the Rhine – you are a Rhinelander and they are considered to be implacably happy souls. Have you then, as a Rhinelander, noticed any differences in the mentalities?
When Rhinelanders first come across Brandenburgers, they often think they are a little awkward and grumpy.
What then is an absolute must for every visitor to the town?
St. Mary’s Church. When I first saw it shortly after the Wall came down, it had no roof , there were trees growing inside it and kestrels were flying around. In the meantime this impressive building has been renovated and is used as a socio-cultural centre. One of the highlights is the leaded windows which were returned from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Many visitors do in fact come above all to see these medieval church windows, but the whole atmosphere of the church is simply splendid. Incidentally, it originally had two towers, but one collapsed, because the famous architect, Schinkel, had made a mistake in his calculations.
So things went awry back then, but what makes the town so successful today?
The secret of the town’s success today is the fact that it is an interface between Germany and Poland. When I first started envisaging Frankfurt and Słubice together as one town back in 1998, everybody thought I was stark raving mad. Today there is a bus route that connects both parts of “Słubfurt”. And there is also a cooperation centre that is run by two teams of employees, one from Frankfurt’s town council and one from Słubice’s. The marketing for the towns is also done on a joint level.
Of course, the Viadrina European University also plays a major role. Even back in the days when Poland was not a member of the EU, it built bridges. At the moment they are working in collaboration with the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań to establish a joint faculty in the Collegium Polonicum.
What is your favourite place in the town?
At the moment it is the Brückenplatz. It is a piece of inner-city wasteland, located right next to the bridge between Frankfurt and Słubice. Since 2013 we have been using it as a square where the residents, asylum seekers and people from different cultures can come together and actively shape it into what they want it to be. There is, however, a Swiss investor who wants to build a huge shopping mall on it.
Is there a season in which it is particularly worth visiting the town?
It is always nice when the sun is shining. It can, however, also be very nice in winter, when the Oder is frozen and the ice floes start piling up.
The writer, Heinrich von Kleist, was born in Frankfurt an der Oder. What does the town do to promote the memory of its famous son?
For example, there is the Kleist Museum, which is housed in a former garrison school. It has a very modern exhibition. And once a year there is the Kleist Festival with all kinds of events. Kleist, of course, as we all know, was a somewhat edgy artist. In contrast to Weimar with its sons, Goethe and Schiller, the masses do not make a pilgrimage to Frankfurt to pay homage to Kleist. Personally I am in fact against using artists as marketing instruments for towns and cities. The geopolitical situation should be the decisive factor when it come to marketing a town or a city.
Where can visitors get a good overall view of the town in its entirety?
There is a very nice restaurant on the 24th floor of the Oderturm (Oder Tower). Otherwise – and this is free of charge – you can climb onto the roof of the Collegium Polonicum. It is not quite as high, but the view from there over the surrounding countryside is very impressive.
The German performance artist, Michael Kurzwelly, was born on 27th April in 1963 in Darmstadt, he grew up in Bonn and studied painting at the Alanus University in Alfter, near Bonn. Since 1998 he has been living in Frankfurt (Oder). Within the scope of his art he has developed the strategy of interpreting space anew. An example of this reality construction is also his “Słubfurt” project that has gained international recognition.