As part of the five-year program “Cultural Agents for Creative Schools” established at the Refik Veseli School in Kreuzberg, Berlin, this project looked at the interface between the students, their own form of theatre and the museum as both a field of work and storage location for memory and identity. The starting point for this staging of space and action were two three-hour workshops in the Jewish Museum Berlin, attended by the class. The students then developed a theatrical, interactive tour of the school’s stage space, which was developed as part of the theatre project and opened to visitors at the end. The basis was the graphic novel “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan (published in German as “Ein neues Land”). A specially developed form of theatre was created in the classrooms, in which themes such as immigration, exile and foreignness were enacted collaboratively.
Museum AND school? The Laboratory for intermediate spaces is an artistic experimental arrangement between the Jewish Museum Berlin and the Refik Veseli School in Berlin-Kreuzberg, designed and implemented by sideviews:
In five productions, the pupils examined the interface between them and the museum as a field of work and a storage location for memory and identity. The young people devised theatrically interactive tours and their own theatrical forms on themes such as flight and exile. For example, the stage became a large table at which people with different political positions could sit, and ideas and practical experience of a conflict based on the Middle East conflict were negotiated. The five productions were made apparent in different forms of presentation, e.g. an exhibition, a performative-choral tour, a walk-through theatre space, a museum in the school, etc. The Schattenmuseum came into being as a consequence of this research.
What do you do if a school no longer works? When classes can hardly be taught anymore, teachers are frustrated, parents are dissatisfied and the atmosphere is tense? When students complain that they hardly learn anything, that they don’t feel they have a voice and that attacks are the order of the day? And if a great deal of the lessons are canceled due to illness?
sideviews was invited to set up an interdisciplinary project in order to intercept the substitution classes and to react flexibly in organizational terms to the constant changes. A large temporary workshop was opened over two months, accommodating different classes daily. The elementary school children examined their school culture by means of a variety of artistic methods. Seven artists from sideviews accompanied them, offering workshops as part of an open laboratory: theatrical improvisation, film, documentation, boxing, songwriting, rap, stage and costume design, model building, participatory spatial development, performance, fine arts, photography and dance choreography.
Themes were elaborated and further developed according to the needs of the children, beginning with the establishment of rules and a culture of discussion, through the exploration of sensitive points in everyday school life, to the development of a culture of communication and welcome. Eventually, common project goals were developed by means of discussions, interviews, performances, invitations and performative elements.
Participation, self-efficacy training and daily practice of empathy and a culture of debate promoted a democratic understanding in order to initiate changes step by step. The themes distilled pervaded all workshops in that they could then be processed on an artistic level and made tangible. Processes were continuously documented and made visible to the school public. The students were supported in small groups and were able to create a vision of their school based on their interests and needs. They dealt playfully and artistically with their culture of welcome. With possible uses and reinterpretations of classrooms. With rules, techniques and concentration through boxing. With their different languages. With self-presentation, improvisation, songwriting and poetry. With theatre scenes about everyday school life, as well as their presentation and evaluation. With dance and movement work as an artistic intervention and with rap.
The result was a pop-up café that also served as an “open house for artistic presentations”. Even pupils not involved in the project were able to show on stage what they could do. The café was set up in such a way that it could continue to be self-organized.
LivingTOgether was commissioned by the German Consulate General in Toronto.
The starting point was the fall of the Berlin Wall as an unfinished historical event. sideviews initiated a communication process between two groups of students in the cities of Toronto and Berlin. Separated by geography, language, and cultural experience, they shared issues of interaction and isolation. An internet platform was developed in advance on which the children from both cities could play a virtual game together. At the same time, they worked in theatre workshops on dealing with real and imaginary borders. The students developed strategies with regard to conflicts, obstacles and different levels of meaning that arise from the realities of living together. The Berlin Wall was treated simultaneously as fact, metaphor and current reality. The students were able to look at their own social situation and examine their certainties and prejudices through the contexts of others.
The working process culminated in an exhibition of personal objects in Toronto, which the students had chosen according to their emotional significance and to which they could tell a personal story. The narratives performed live formed the conclusion of the project.
A guest’s view by Antonia Weisz, town clerk for Junipark:
Form and Style
On this early evening in JUNIPARK it’s all about living utopias beyond the realms of fear. Children dream. “WELTweit…Unterwegs” (worldwide on the move) is the name of a musical installation performance with pupils in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades of Nürtingen elementary school, Kreuzberg, Berlin under the direction of Anja Scheffer, Dascha Kornysheva and DJ B.Side. Parents, teachers, neighbours and schoolmates have come to the performance – the grandstand is full. Dressed to the nines, the girls in elegant gowns, the boys in suits and ties they delineate utopian residential installations, undeterred by the fact that Berlin is a city of disappearing niches. Why not conquer the sky and build an air dome that doesn’t demand recourse to a land registry office? They even have an answer to the quote “Berlin is a metropolis in transition”. They invented a house that can walk – from one place to another, to where it’s safe, dry and sunny. And don’t complain that living space has become scarce and too expensive. They’d rather sing to us how to deal with it:
“You don’t need a high school diploma or a good figure, just tarps, nails and a piece of string. The cord is stretched, the tarpaulin’s up. The tent is ready, it’s no trick. Now it’s ready, your mobile tent, now you can live where you like.”
Volunteers from the audience are invited to demonstrate that many people can fit in their dancing tent. With irony, chutzpah and the courage to question themselves and everything else, they are completely serious about it. Right in there. They showcase their construction manual as a top speed monologue. They make reference to materials that determine not only the form but also the spirit of their work: They revitalize objects, reinvigorate fabrics that already had a past life, advocate the use of curtains for their constructions, as then everyone can come in – rather than doors that can always lock someone in or out. Extremely enthusiastic about design, to which they propose the taking of initiative in their own right in a critical examination of their financial options. They all work under the motto: Speedy construction in pocket money format.
As they say in their song:
Come and be creative with us, for the world is not only negative, we search like detectives for a space, and build houses for almost nothing, pockets stuffed with rip-ties, and an eye on the design. Like the phoenix from the ashes emerges a house for happiness.
In any event, one thing is clear: personal commitment cannot be bought. A playground and a dream of life. And they really get down to business at the ensuing congress, entitled: Detect vacant lots and use them professionally. The meeting is made up of high-ranking specialists: a cleaning specialist who likes to tidy up, an expert for people with a fear of heights, an improvisation expert in polystyrene construction, a professor specializing in building in balloons and Zeppelins because the sky is still free. Even a caretaker who used to be an architect is invited. He chases away moles to create spaces underground. On the side, he now runs a mole spaetzle restaurant in Munich. Urgh, that sounds at once both disgusting and tasty. Anyhow, this evening I encounter sorely needed experts. Not so much because their house building ideas could actually be implemented, but because they make us dream:
Life can be that simple. That does you good. And the choir sings it to us once more:
Children must not disappear, no, we’re settling here,
overcoming all borders, just doing it ourselves.
At the end, the audience is called upon to develop their own visions and not to sort every thought into right or wrong immediately. Ironically, a show house catalogue is provided as a creative aid. In addition, built into the scaffolding, there are two more show houses to view. To give us adults a helping hand. That makes me confident. The young Berliners have fantasies and we, the audience, are thrilled. I see faces filled with hope. And yes, it’s true: the world is not only negative, even in these politically worrying times around the world. Imagination is good for everyone.
The theatre profile of the Refik-Veseli-School came into being between 2013 and 2019 as part of the cultural agents program for creative schools. Three theatre productions were developed each year over the three year period in cooperation with sideviews: with a 7th grade class over four weeks and with 8th and 9th grade classes over two weeks respectively. The students composed both the content and also their own form of theatre. Profiling started in 2013 with the pilot, “Why is it so hard to talk about love?”. Each topic was formulated in exchange with the teachers and worked out and developed together with the students, e.g. dealing with the name of the school.
The Labor für ZwischenRäume (laboratory for intermediate spaces) was created in 2016: sideviews, the Refik Veseli School theatre profile and the Jewish Museum Berlin (JMB) investigated the cooperation between school and museum. In different approaches, themes of the JMB, e.g. Golem, The Arrival and the Liebeskind architecture were explored through theatre, performance, choir, and installation and these processes were presented in an exhibition, a performance & choral tour, a walk-through stage space, a museum in the school, etc. A total of 17 productions were created as part of the theatre profile. The process is an example of the opportunity for cultural development within a school environment.
Who obeys totally uncool school rules that nobody understands? 75 students rewrite their school rules to convey the basic rules of living and learning together in a language and aesthetics that the students can understand.
Together with sideviews, students in grades 7-9. developed the film project “RESPECT!”, including the soundtrack. The result was six episodes on the topics of punctuality, conflicts, responsibility, behavior, school climate and discrimination, in the formats of feature films, commercials and reports. These were presented at a premiere in the Eiszeit Cinema in Kreuzberg, Berlin.
The film was the springboard for the theatre profile of the Refik Veseli School, which started in February 2013 with the pilot “Why is it so hard to talk about love?”.
Auf der Mauer auf der Lauer – History and Art by Children for Children was a long-term project on the subject of a divided city at the Nürtingen elementary school in Kreuzberg, Berlin. It was split into three project phases between November 2009 and July 2010 with 100 children from grades 1-6.
In the first few months, the children went through an interview workshop and visited the Berlin Wall Memorial along the East Side Gallery. In addition, video interviews were conducted with contemporary witnesses from West and East who lived near the Wall, each with different experiences. The second phase consisted of a 3-week play workshop in the school, in which the knowledge acquired from the interview workshop about life in East and West could was internalized through play in a creative setting. The starting point was a wall made of 150 packing cases dividing the school auditorium into two distinct zones: “Blauland” and “Orangania” on one side or the other of which the children reacted to rules similar to those in East and West Berlin. They missed their best friends, wrote letters to each other, built musical instruments to communicate with one another, graffitied the “wall” in Orangania, invented smuggling and secret agent games as well as spoken chants and song texts, thereby chronologically and artistically delineating the history of division and unification. To conclude, the wall was collectively torn down in a slow-motion choreography.
The third phase took place in the pavilion of the Wall Memorial at Bernauer Street: the presentation of the wall project. The packing case wall,”Orangania” and “Blauland” were recreated in the space where, accompanied by the artists, the pupils developed, curated and implemented the concept for the exhibition and developed the catalogue. In between interviewing the visitors they wrote, read, painted, scanned, laid out and built. For a week, from morning to evening, the primary school students enthusiastically exhibited their work to the tourists of the world, the press and school classes from other school, presenting the project in German, English, Turkish, Spanish, Danish and Swedish. All visitors were invited to play.
Radio report by Frauke Thiele: Auf der Mauer. A feature by rbb Kulturradio.