This post does not necessarily have anything to do with technology – except perhaps in the sense that if the people in question were a little better connected, they might be more mindful of the pitfalls in their roles. Oh yes, and then there is the platform that organizers could use to inform about their events without the bottlenecks of the newspapers, but which would need a much more active outreach. So again: the internet.
But let’s start at the beginning.
I live in Rostock now. In one of the poorest districts in the poorest state. For me, it was still a good decision to move here from London: good air, nice apartments, everything works, housing cooperatives, which you can only dream of abroad, bike paths to the sea, not to forget the sudden appreciation for having doctors and therapists on my doorstep. When someone visits us, they usually find it very nice and are actually surprised that these neighbourhoods have such a bad reputation.
Of course, I’m spoiled by London’s mixed and balanced communities strategy – in reality, it has the effect that in every postal code there is a mix of all income and social groups. And so there are no postcodes that are better than the others. You can find every kind of people in every postcode.
That’s not the case in Germany. Social groups are geographically separated, by policy.
Here I am in the area of the Precariat, formerly consumerist working class (before 1990 an apartment here in Schmarl was a status symbol, let’s not talk about that.) There was a big brain drain, followed by a lot of poverty and loneliness. Now there is funding available to deal with these problem areas (of course not at the level of urban planning).
On Thursday I was the first time at an event here in my district Schmarl, which was organised with funding for solving these problems. Here is my report.
It’s a Thursday night at the Wossidlo Club, a corner bar with historic roots (40 years counts as history here, more is not available) – and also the last of these Plattenbau corner bars that has survived as community space. There are four participants present. I’m the only one who actually lives in Schmarl. Others are from the organisations that want to help the poor Plattenbau natives. Someone else is here because he has an opinion. And the operator of the local pub, who does not live or work here, but runs the pub on the condition to do something for community cohesion.
Shortly after the local housing association bought the old corner pub, cleaned it up a bit and then offered it to the community as a venue for new ideas, I went there and talked about knitting afternoons. However, it is a smoker’s pub, and their had to open the windows first. That was a no from me.
It would be nice to have a venue for the 20-50 age group that is not in unemployment centers or retirement homes. That’s why my idea with the Funky Music Nights in a very strange rustic place – but I’ve learned now that irony does not work here.
While we are still waiting for the actual organiser, we have already started a lively introductory round. When the organiser finally arrives, he could just listen to us, but he stands and starts talking. A second negative point: the complete absence of the actual target audience is not mentioned.
When at some point another discussion emerges. The attendee from BIWAQ talks about the neighbourhood as a place where everything is terrible and unsafe, and for the first time, I stand up for it.
Because I live here, I talk to the locals, and I know that it’s not the way it looks to those who only know it from media reports and occasionally driving past. Sure, I also felt different at first – after all, I had been away for 29 years. But I am not afraid to walk alone at night. I haven’t had any bad experiences since I’ve been here and when we went out for lunch with a friend who’s obviously not from here, everything was fine too. And (of course I’m jinxing it now) I have sometimes forgotten to lock my bike, and it was still there. Things just work. But if the people who are better at making themselves heard (and who also get the funding) keep telling the locals how bad it is here, and the locals believe them – isn’t that the exact opposite of what is needed?
There are very successful people here, there are so many who have interesting stories. But if you do not live here and come here for a few minutes to tell the poor people what’s what, you will not meet them.
For me personally, it is still a steep learning curve to be here. Those who want to do their kind, but uninvited, helping are those I would consider my people. In London, I counted people like Tessy Britton among my friends. Tessy founded Participatory City and is very successful in this field. I would also rather live in the KTV (the part of Rostock that’s most like Berlin.) But then last weekend I was at the KTV’s annual Open Air Festival, and obviously they were not my people.
Is this the Middle Class Anxiety that Grayson Perry mentions in the second part of his series on taste and class?
‘We are all very good people and we only want the best, we are the Greens and those who want to do everything socially for the better, but if you weigh a few pounds too much, you can not have the right clothes or you can not get the right tan unfortunately you can not belong to us. ‘ And maybe with this attitude, which does not allow any difference, you can not actually listen to people and thus not solve their problems?
Hold on just a moment. Am I starting to feel at home here?
I know exactly what that is like when you’ve just spent about ten minutes somewhere, taken a look at the situation and know exactly what’s best for the poor people there. (Please forgive me, Nigeria.)
And now I know how it feels to be on the other side.
Further reading on that subject:
When I talked about this evening at home, the question then was how to do it differently. And yes, my first step is still to build a community of adults and organise events. And many, many conversations with interesting people – as an event, podcast or just personally.
Whether something is ever going to work in this ironically cool place remains to be seen.