Last week I was fortunate to take part in the culmination of weeks of research on the impact of the first world war across Europe, a trip to Berlin to share our findings and learn about how other cities were affected to push the memory of the first world war, and take steps to learn from it.
The scope of the project at that point was completely unknown to me, up until the venue was flooded with like minded enthusiasts, teams of researchers, groups of animators and actors, film makers and journalists all there to contribute to a huge project! By the kind contributions of the Federal Agency for Civic Education /bpb Körber Foundation and Robert Bosch Stiftung, 400 hundred of us were assembled from all over europe, all with the aim of tackling the war from as many angles as possible with the motto “look back, think forward.”
After 8 hours of train travel consisting mainly of sleeping and translating survey data we were given speeches by the theatre owners, an Author and Angela Merkel before taking a break for dinner and watching an abstract musical performance following some of the ways the war affected people.
The enthusiasm of the first day set the stage for the rest of the week as the event progressed, I was fortunate enough to see Violin performances fighting against music as having inherent patriotic value, the musical hit “Gefährten” (War Horse) as well as seeing a multitude of short performances and talks.
All of these things however were secondary to the main event, the work. My work involved collecting a general consensus of the impact of the war by the other participants of the project, getting varied responses was one of the most interesting parts of the data, for some the war gave birth to their country of origin, for others it meant shame and senseless destruction. For some the first world war felt completely overshadowed by the second war, in education and national memory, whilst for others the scars of the first war marked their homes even today.
Having such a varied response from different countries left a unique impression for me, how could countries so close by, all together now in the European Union learn such different things, feel such different things about the war after so long? Why is the first world war so unknown and will it’s lessons be remembered now that the last person with living memory has died? These questions stitched our work together as we sought to ground them into answers through our research. In the end the combined research from Paris, Warsaw, Freiburg and Dundee mixed with the survey data from the project yielded general findings for each country, as well as an overall consensus that this war was the first of it’s kind a “total” war, one that set Europe on fire and set the course of the past 100 years.
Most importantly throughout the whole experience however for me, was meeting the amazing people who took part in the experience, never before had I met so many enthusiastic and motivated people, people I wouldn’t forget, people from places I knew nothing about, people who shaped the whole event. This post is for those people, for everyone who took part and made the experience as rich as it was, because without them, the event would have been a shadow of what it was. I suppose I can’t thank everyone individually but I want this post to give them the credit they deserve, including the organisers.
Stay tuned to see the results, for now enjoy a post event video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mW4kVyvMx94