1914 – 2014: Look back – think forward

Posted on 27. June 2014

by Lotta Schneidemesser

lotta-schneidemesser-modifiedHave you ever wondered what it is like to live in a theatre? To experience it during the day time, to walk around its rooms and along its corridors, which are usually exclusively reserved for the people working in theatre? To have a coffee in an old room that seems to belong in a different time, and imagine yourself right there, forgetting that you actually live in the 21st century? To behold an old, beautiful building that has seen the history of a city and reflects the cultural and literary life of a certain time period?  Because I have. And for few days in May, I was able to do so.

From May 7 until May 11, I attended the History Campus at the Maxim Gorki theatre in Berlin, a building with a very rich and illustrious history. The History Campus provided a forum for over 400 young people from all across Europe to look back and discuss WWI, the effects that it still has on our European society in 2014 and the way it is commemorated in various European countries. The participants were able to take part in different kinds of workshops – 22 in total –, which included theatre, creative writing and film. They could also join a supporting program that included watching theatre plays, attending the opening of a photo exhibition, dance workshops and much more. The uniqueness and importance of the History Campus was also recognized by different politicians and the German Civil Society. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, came to speak at the opening ceremony while the Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier invited participants of the History Campus to an open panel discussion in the Museum of German History.

The History Campus in Berlin was a very unique experience for me. I have been at some Summer Academies and Conferences before, but this was the first time that I participated in an event with 400 other motivated, young people from 40 different countries, who are also interested in history and politics and especially in WWI and its effects on Europe.

During the History Campus, it became once again very clear to me how important it is for us, as the younger generation of Europe, to meet, to exchange ideas, to participate in discussions together and to become aware of the many things that unite us and that, united, we can work on actively creating a future for Europe. This is exactly what happened at the History Campus: by spending four days together in the Maxim Gorki Theatre – where most of the workshops and the overall programme took place – and by working together in 22 workshops that offered many different possibilities of approaching the topic of WWI and its consequences, we had the chance to get to know one another, to talk to each other – and to realize that we have many things in common.
During these four days, I talked to people from many different countries, including Ukraine, Russia, the Balkan States, and many more. For me, as someone who has never been to these countries before, it was very startling to discover that our opinions and perspectives are unfortunately very often influenced by our national media. Therefore, it was refreshing to see that many of the young Ukrainians, Russians, Serbs, Bosnians, etc. were very critical about what is happening in the Eastern part of Europe right now.

I was also pleased to learn a lot about WWI and how it is perceived in other European countries as this topic was not of any major importance in my history lessons at school (we covered it in about two weeks and then spent the following four years on the Weimar Republic and WWII). Through workshops that offered very different approaches, such as theatre, filming, creative writing, the creation of memorials or a role play, everyone had the opportunity to choose an approach that was interesting to him or her and to work together on innovative ideas on how to create a new culture of remembrance for WWI, and on what it means for us today, and in what way it shaped the Europe we currently live in.

The motto of the History Campus was “Look back – think forward” – and I think that this sums up perfectly why we need historical memory and why an event like the History Campus is so important: without looking back, we will not be able to understand why certain things in the past happened the way they did, and we will not be able to create new visions for the future.

The History Campus offered us young Europeans a chance to look back through many different perspectives, and encouraged us to exchange ideas, and to enter into a discussion –  about the past and, more importantly, about the future we want to live in.