Final Write-Up - Education and Community-Building: Kotti’s Impact on Kreuzberg
Education and Community-Building: Kotti’s Impact on Kreuzberg
Kotti e. V. is an organization that plays a multifaceted role in supporting the surrounding community. As UW students, we had the opportunity to see several of the avenues through which Kotti e. V. enriches Kreuzberg. Katie worked at a community center, where she shadowed counseling meetings, environmental planning presentations, and other community events. Bryan and Amanda both shadowed social workers at Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule and Nürtingen Grundschule, respectively. Bryan helped teach English and music classes, and Amanda observed community and staff meetings and also helped with English classes. Hannah worked in a Nürtingen Grundschule classroom and in a free after-school program called Schüllerhaus, where she played with children and informally taught them English through casual conversations. Despite our different placements within the Kotti e. V. organization, we found multiple similarities that help to define the Kreuzberg neighborhood around Kottbusser Tor.
One aspect of the Kotti community that we appreciated was its continual willingness to search for better solutions. Conversations about new policies involve those who are affected, whether it is through the student parliament at the primary schools or meetings with the Muslim community about Ramadan fasting for young students. Instead of implementing a plan completely based on theory, leaders seek input from the community, and we think this approach makes inclusion and community-building more sustainable. The neighborhood of Kotti celebrates its continuing diversity and its willingness to fight for it, as we see with Kotti & Co.’s successful work to keep rents affordable in the area. Together, the community is looking toward the future.
We individually interviewed members of the community around Kottbusser Tor in an attempt to analyze the various complexities of the neighborhood. These interactions yielded several overarching takeaways, namely a sense of the strongly family-oriented environment valued by residents. Counseling services are accessible for a diverse group of people, and Kotti e.V. is one of the only organizations that offers such services in Turkish. In addition to the children’s education, multicultural education for adults is also important. Religious organizations and community groups organize events for adults in the community to encourage tolerance and communication. There was also a surprising amount of coexistence between the traditional Turkish community and new businesses contributing to the area’s gentrification.
Despite our different community placements, we were all challenged by the language barrier. Without a solid shared language, communication with children and new Germans was particularly difficult. It also gave us new, personalized insight into insider-outsider theory and the ethics of community service work abroad. This language barrier gave us a small but impactful window into the challenges that non-German-speaking immigrants and refugees face in Berlin, as well as what non-English speakers face when moving to the United States.
Through our experiences we all learned that diversity, family, and education are important values for many residents of the Kotti neighborhood. Even though the area is changing, neighbors still feel that they have access to good schools, diverse communities, and organizations and individuals willing to offer support when needed. The community leaders’ willingness to seek input from those around them helps to make new policies that are sustainable and supplement less-than-ideal national and state policies. Though the area around Kottbusser Tor is gentrifying, we have witnessed an impressive amount of political activism in its wake, such as the squatting of public space done by Kotti & Co., community meetings on government participation and environmental planning, and school activities that elevate all voices in the community.
Bryan Hanner at Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule
The view of Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule from the bakery across the street
I had the pleasure of working with the primary school Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule just one block south of Kottbusser Tor at the center of Kotti in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Portions of its mission statement that are relevant to this writing include “Living together – learning together. We attach great importance to mutual respect for all school life. … Language promotion [and] integration … Partners in and around our neighborhood, who support our work, are welcome” (“Leitbild”, my trans.). I mostly observed and worked with the school’s social workers Daniel Best and Shadia Abou Hamdan, but I also helped teach two music and two English classes.
Much of what I saw in my time at Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule worked towards giving a foundation for the students to be able to communicate their own ideas, their personal stories of each event that makes up their identity. I saw the school providing to a changing student demographic foundational skills for expressing themselves in a respectful way. According to Best, 99% of the school's students have “migration backgrounds,” which is a significant increase from when Best started working there ten years ago. Despite the challenges of gaining German citizenship "in both the legal and the cultural sense" that make Kreuzberg a flawed "arrival city" for refugees and immigrants, the students and teachers at the school are working together to make the best of the situation (Saunders 246). I am reminded of the possibilities of intercultural stories and communication when thinking about Gorki’s production of Winterreise. Seven people and their director told their stories of becoming part of an ever-changing Germany within a polished production. The shared live experience of the show increased my empathy and understanding of immigrants and refugees, and the storytelling skill of those working on the show have allowed their story to be shared with thousands of people. I see Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule opening the doors to cultivate such skill. I believe these skills also help the students and staff build a “shared history,” in Dr. Viola Georgi’s words, of stories to work towards the school's goal of integration. The "shared history" provides a connection that their national and family histories may not provide within such a diverse student body (Georgi). The school is accomplishing this education through its staff, diversity of curriculum, and social programs.
One of the school’s strongest assets is its staff and their interactions with the students. In my time at the school, I found the mutual respect between the staff and students to be consistent with the school’s mission, which was reflected in the staff survey I conducted. One teacher wants to “convey values of Turkish culture for her students" ("Anonyme"). Another teacher wants to “convey to [her] pupils democratic values, such as tolerance, empathy, and a sense of fairness” and sees the multicultural neighborhood as a positive. A third teacher hopes to convey "knowledge of topics, social behavior, ways of learning, understand processes in the world, [and] important things for future professional life." Looking at these three surveys, the staff works to teach their students fundamental skills and values, including social skills. The staff members, at least the ones with whom I interacted, also embrace the different cultural presences in the community and among the students, so culture is not an ignored influence but rather a knowledge-base to inspire school.
The impact of this community-building is expanded by the staff’s willingness to make changes to improve their curriculum. In 2002, Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule performed an activity that separated the children into nationality groups (“Wir”). Even though the title "we craft a globe" hints at good intentions to showcase diversity and community, the activity marked those of Turkish decent and other nationalities as different from “German children” (“Wir”, my trans.). This kind of demarcation extends the outsider feeling of students who are non-European, immigrants, and/or refugees. Fast forward fifteen years and the school has a multicultural club that highlights individual backgrounds. In a project called “culture pyramid,” the social workers now define culture broadly to include any part of one's identity so it does not specifically have to do with countries of origin (Best). These recent activities still involve students' differences, but they focus on the commonality of facing borders and creating one's identity from them rather than the actual "symbolic or material constructions of difference" as which those borders function (Heide). By re-framing unique traits like ethnicity as connections to unite students and explore self-identity, the "receiving country or society" works toward "acceptance of cultural diversity" of these students and their families (Castles 32). The movement towards using borders constructively to build a community is inspiring. “View[ing it] as a continuous timeline” as Dr. Kristina Graff asked us to do, I was surprised that such an activity occurred in 2002 when the school now has so many efforts to be inclusive, and I think that is a tribute to the school’s dedication to improve. Dr. Graff also requested that my class ask of memorials, "What narrative is perpetuated through that landmark?," and I see the school asking a similar question more and more: what narrative is perpetuated by their school activities? These thoughts are particularly important as the student population continues to change. The school is taking responsibility for creating an education that serves their students and allows them to discover their own identities without strict boundaries.
The bustling Kottbusser Tor, Photo: DOA (Hackenbruch)
After the staff, the second element that stood out to me was the variety of the curriculum, specifically the music classes. A weekly percussion class is offered through a multi-school program run by a music professional named Alfred Mehnert ("Soziale"). He taught a traditional Tunisian song called “Sidi Mansour Yaba” to the students (“Saber”). He spoke to me about how this song was bought by a German-pop-music producer along with the house in which the sheet music was kept, and this producer used the melody in one of his songs. Although I could not verify that particular story, I believe the song was Boney M.’s hit “Ma Baker”, which borrows the traditional song’s melody (Boney). The class used different lyrics than the pop versions to reclaim the song as a traditional piece (Mehnert). This inclusion of music from different cultures that "[reflect] in its content the origins of the Berlin students" is a conscious, overarching effort Mehnert incorporates into other classes that he teaches too ("Soziale", my trans.). The students were playing on vibraphones and many different hand drums, one assigned to each student. They were not just preparing the song for a performance. I felt an unquantifiable energy and focus from the class, and I think the class goals, if not personal ones, helped the students take initiative to make their own version of the piece.
Another musical experience I had was helping the band, which rehearses after school for ninety minutes on Wednesdays. They were preparing the song “Astronaut” by the Berliner rapper Sido for their final assembly of the year (Ankeny). The style difference from "Sidi Mansour" is apparent in the type of instruments used: the band consists of keyboards, drums, bass, and guitar in a rock/pop style (“SIDO”). The song is popular judging from its seventy-nine million views on YouTube, and through performing it the students gain new insight on what makes a hit today. Together, these two songs I observed show a wide range of musical education that exposes them to contemporary-pop and traditional music. As far as my memory serves me, this stands in contrast to the music I learned in elementary school in the U.S., which mostly consisted of American folk and spirituals like “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Kumbaya”. At least in music, Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule is opening students up to multiple perspectives that can become part of the students’ identities.
Coming into the study abroad, I was the least familiar with the idea of social programs, both the classes and the individualized projects. I found that these programs play a critical role in giving students a voice. From my observations, the goals of the social programs are to encourage students to explore their own emotions, listen to the emotions of other students, and use nonviolent conflict resolution.
The plenitude of games in Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule social workers' office
The social workers' classes (social classes) are integrated directly into the students’ regular classes. The social workers come in, everyone forms a circle of chairs, and they start a discussion-based activity. The social workers discuss what each teacher wants the students to learn, and they try to incorporate those goals along with their own into the lessons. Daniel and Shadia make sure to ask many questions to start conversations and dig deeper into students’ responses, as well as encourage students to answer their peers’ questions. I think this strategy is well-suited for exploring feelings and conflicts because it makes the students literally and figuratively face each other and discuss personal, emotional topics we do not often sit down to explicitly discuss. They use a wide range of activities including drawing on a human outline where different emotions are felt, pairing negative feelings and needs, and the “culture pyramids” I mentioned earlier. Though I did not understand most of the discussion content, I felt that the variety in the activities kept the classes fresh and deeply engaged in thought. From personal experience and an interview with a kindergarten teacher from the Issaquah School District in Washington State, feelings and conflict resolution are primarily addressed when conflicts come up in the U.S. The teacher stated that some conflict-management training was provided for teachers but more was needed (Issaquah teacher). Multiple times, she mentioned the counselors' expertise in handling behavioral issues. However, since the counselors do not teach in the classes, their knowledge is mostly passed down to individuals in times of conflict, which is likely not conducive to learning as a group and is exclusive. This difference is reflected in the goals of Nürtingen Grundschule's (where I worked my first week in Berlin) social workers and the Issaquah School District counselors. The social workers hope to "[work] together with the children to develop nonviolent problem-solving strategies" for "prevention of violence, stigma, and escalation" ("Die Schulsozialarbeit"). On the other hand, the Issaquah School District does not mention prevention and focuses on what they offer rather than what they work on with the students ("Counseling"). In my opinion, having a preventative curriculum as at Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule included in everyone’s education improves all students’ ability to communicate their feelings and work together despite conflicts. Each student thus has a common skill set independent from what they learn at home to use when conflicts arise.
I observed more prevalent individualized projects for students in Kreuzberg than I have seen in the U.S. The social workers design activities specifically for a person or small group. Depending on the circumstance, activities may be one-time events or recurring. At Nürtingen Grundschule, a social worker would regularly prepare lunch with four students who were dealing with different issues. For instance, the lunch in which I participated included one boy who was working through aggression issues and three who were not. The idea behind this is to facilitate learning from other pupils and work through issues in an inclusive way (Nürtingen GS social worker). With additional thoughtfulness, if the students who were at lunch changed, the social worker reevaluated which students would best complement each other. This strongly contrasts the “special education” system in the U.S. where people with certain physical and/or mental disabilities get siphoned off into a different track than the rest of the students. In elementary school, I had a friend that was in “special ed”, and the school system indirectly encouraged me not to be friends with him and think that I did not want to be associated with that group of seemingly less successful students. I am glad to see that those boundaries are in some cases not created as strongly in Germany as they are in the U.S., although they still have a separate school for "disabled students" next to Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule (Best). Another example of individualized projects was a three-person workshop on aggression at Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule (Best). The workshop came up because I asked Daniel about the posters on the wall that seemed to be ratings. He said that each boy rated three things on a scale of zero to ten: how well they met their personal goal at the beginning of the workshop, how well they met it afterwards, and where they hoped to be in the future. Though I did not get to hear exactly how they worked on aggression, each boy improved by at least three points through the workshop and wanted to get even better. The projects at both schools demonstrate to me the staff’s dedication to each student. They are willing to create personalized classes and activities for the students on top of what is already in the curriculum. On our very first day at Kotti e. V., Neriman Kurt from the community center expressed that Kotti e. V.'s work involves "trying to meet people's needs, not writing at a desk" and is "very individual." The work at the primary schools precisely matches that view of Kotti e. V. as a whole.
My vlog from the day I had the lunch at Nürtingen Grundschule
The main building at Nürtingen Grundschule where lunch was held
These social programs promote self-understanding, nonviolent problem solving, and diversity in ways that the social workers are constantly adapting to meet the needs of students and match the goals of teachers. This translates to students forming their own stories, being able to deal with conflicts when they tell stories, and create unique identities lifted free, at least partially, from many borders such as nationality, race, and gender (Heide).
With the help of staff, curriculum, and social programs, Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule does a lot to support a diverse student body in exploring and celebrating who they are. This seems to be creating a safe space where students can be themselves and not see themselves in the light of "the migrant as a failed citizen" as is often ingrained in the nationally-centered Western world (Nail 3). They can find themselves and hopefully broaden the possibilities of identity. Of course, not all of what I saw or learned pertained directly to my above research. In fact, I was not even sure if I was going to be able to keep my proposed research topic of stories. I looked at many other topics including a lot of self-reflection.
Because of my experiences during this program, I have been changed in many ways. My four weeks in Berlin opened me up to communicating across lingual, generational, and cultural barriers. Talking anywhere from the soccer tournament to the school lunch room, I learned a great amount about individual people and Germany as a whole. People always tried to communicate when I started talking with them, so going forward I want to skip the hesitation and start more conversations. I also found a confidence to assertively contribute to classes when I could, striking a balance between respecting the school’s work and sharing my skills. For example, when Daniel would be giving one band member a note, I would quietly give another note at the same time instead of waiting for a better time or him to ask (given it was with Daniel's permission to give notes). I found this to often be a win-win situation in which I did not feel trapped inside my head and people appreciated what I offered. I want to apply this idea to other situations including balancing listening and speaking in conversations.
Having fun watching butterflies emerge from cocoons with a "Welcome" class for refugees
I also picked up many fundamental lessons about teaching and learning. Connected to the school’s mission for respect and integration, the social workers always focused on what they would do together with the students instead of what they hoped to instill as wise teachers upon the students. I want to move that mission forward in my own teaching whether it is in theatre, music, or community work. I am also inspired to focus more equally on supporting others and providing my own contributions, as Daniel and Shadia did in discussions with the students in class and band rehearsal. A final realization of mine is that I want to keep finding opportunities to immerse myself in languages other than English because when I was solely speaking German in classes at Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule I gained incredible amounts of cultural understanding on top of the language itself.
One complexity that affected me, and my classmates, was the time constraints, and I found that restriction to be especially important with the staff surveys. With various difficulties like people being sick or busy, I only managed to give out seven surveys and get three back. The three surveys limited the amount I could apply my results to the school as a whole. I also know I could have gotten more comfortable and conversational with the students if more time had been available. Lastly, I could have used more time to find moments for conversation since everyone only had specific times they could talk, such as when walking between classes. Another complexity was having my classmates working with Kotti e. V. at other locations instead of at the school. I think the independence was ultimately worth it, but with two of us at one location we could have collaborated more closely and shared more insights. I have many remaining questions: What do the current students, alumni, and their families think about the school and the usefulness of the education it provides? How do the many activities in the social classes work together? The staff and families meet biannually, but how else do staff and families communicate (Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule teacher)?
The group who worked at Kotti e. V. made a map of Kotti and Kreuzberg’s strengths, and the highlights convey a common theme of defending education, identity, and diversity. In my eyes, some of the most important strengths of the community are the schools and parks available for children and families. All the strengths I have mentioned in my research contribute to making schools like Nürtingen Grundschule and Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule vital to the community. After seeing many actively used parks in the neighborhood, I specifically researched Bӧcklerpark. It is not only an open space for families to spend their free time, but also has a youth center called Statthaus Bӧcklerpark that hosts events, provides an indoor recreational space, and teaches workshops (“Statthaus”). Such programs that go beyond the physical park help make parks central community spaces.
A screenshot of the Kotti e. V. group's "Community Asset Map" on Google Maps
Walking near Bӧcklerpark at the beginning of the program
An organization and restaurant called Südblock that provides employment and events, such as "Being queer in South Africa", for the LGBTQ+ community and other groups stands directly south of Kottbusser Tor ("Being queer"). Its role as a central meeting place for Kotti & Co. and the community at large highlights the community’s acceptance of its own diversity (Kaltenborn).
Kotti & Co’s “gecekondu” that has been partaking in public squatting for years, representing solidarity against rising rents at Kottbusser Tor (Kaltenborn).
Südblock, across the street from Kotti & Co (“Südblock”).
The graffiti also marks a community that is proud of its identity. Historically, graffiti in the neighborhood has been a communication method for those left out of the mainstream narrative and whose opinions are "not represented well enough in public" (Sozi36 qtd. in Sara). For Kreuzberger graffiti/street artist Sozi36, his work is "an invitation and encouragement for communication." Yet today, the tourism that the now-famous graffiti brings to the area is contributing to gentrification, increasing rents and driving artists out of the community. Now, painting over graffiti is an act of asserting authority over what the community's artists want to communicate, which artists did to two popular pieces across the street from our class's hostel (Henke). The artists in this community are willing to fight to stay there, be heard, and maintain the area’s diversity. These many elements demonstrate to me that those living in Kreuzberg are putting students, families, and their diversity as top priorities that they support through activism and innovation.
“One of the two murals in Kreuzberg by Italian artist Blu. Photograph: JR” (Henke)
“During the erasure of the murals. Photograph: Lutz Henke” (Henke)
The covered graffiti: July 2017
The graffiti still painted on a bar across the street
In my look at personal identity, stories, and Kreuzberg, I think much is to be learned from the Kreuzberger community’s actions to be inclusive and collaborative. The fact that improvement continues in the education system is inspiring for those who continue to search for opportunities to improve no matter how good or bad things seem. Heartfelt thanks go to Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule and Nürtingen Grundschule for welcoming me and giving me the opportunity to get to know their schools’ personal sides.
Ankeny, Jason and Rich Wilson. “Artists / Sido.” Billboard, 2017, www.billboard.com/artist/279274/sido/biography. Accessed 7 July 2017.
"Anonyme Umfrage." Results translated by Maneula Mangold, Bryan Hanner, and Zofia Toth. Anonymous Survey. July 2017, Bryan Hanner Personal Collection, Seattle.
"Being queer in South Africa @ aquarium am 26.7.17." Südblock. www.suedblock.org/wp/2017/being-queer-in-south-africa-aquarium-am-26-7-17/. Accessed 29 July 2017.
Best, Daniel. Personal Interviews. 28 June to 13 July 2017.
Boney M. “Ma Baker.” YouTube, uploaded by apurodolor, 9 Sept. 2007, www.youtube.com/watch?v=oR6eKmqSEa0.
Castles, Stephen and Mark J. Miller. The Age of Migration. Macmillian, 1993.
"Counseling Services." Issaquah School District 411. www.issaquah.wednet.edu/family/career. Accessed 29 July 2017.
"Die Schulsozialarbeit an der Nürtingen GS stellt sich vor." Nürtingen-Grundschule Berlin. www.nuertingen-grundschule.de/schulweb/schulsozialarbeit/die-schulsozialarbeit-an-der-nuertingen-gs-stellt-sich-vor.html. Accessed 29 July 2017.
Georgi, Viola B. “History Learning, Memory and Migration.” Berlin Study Abroad UW Honors, University of Washington and Humboldt University, 26 June 2017, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany. Lecture.
Graff, Kristina. "Berlin: Spatialized Hierarchies - Historic (Dis) Continuities." Berlin Study Abroad UW Honors, University of Washington and Humboldt University, 19 June 2017, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany. Lecture.
Hackenbruch, Felix. “Neues Kreuzberger Zentrum soll für 60 Millionen Euro verkauft warden.” Der Tagesspiegel, 24 March 2017. www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/kottbusser-tor-neues-kreuzberger-zentrum-soll-fuer-60-millionen-euro-verkauft-werden/19569540.html. Accessed 17 July 2017.
Heide, Markus. "Migration in German Film." Berlin Study Abroad UW Honors, University of Washington and Humboldt University, 3 July 2017, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany. Lecture.
Henke, Lutz. “Why we painted over Berlin’s most famous graffiti.” The Guardian, 19 Dec. 2014. www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/dec/19/why-we-painted-over-berlin-graffiti-kreuzberg-murals. Accessed 17 July 2017.
Issaquah School District teacher (name omitted for privacy). Personal interview. 9 July 2017.
Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule teacher (name omitted for privacy). Personal interview, 5 July 2017.
Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule teacher (name omitted for privacy). Personal interview, 5 July 2017.
Kaltenborn, Sandy. Berlin Study Abroad UW Honors, University of Washington, 28 June 2017, Kottbusser Tor, Berlin, Germany. Informal lecture.
Kurt, Neriman. Translated by Monique Messique-Müller. Group/personal interview. 20 June 2017.
“Leitbild.” Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule, 17 March 2005, www.jng.cidsnet.de/unsere-schule/schulprogramm/pdf/Leitbild.pdf. Accessed 17 July 2017.
Mehnert, Alfred. Personal interview, 5 July 2017.
Nail, Thomas. The Figure of the Migrant. Stanford University Press, 2015.
Nürtingen Grundschule social worker (name omitted for privacy). Personal interview. 21 June 2017.
“Saber El Rebai - Sidi Mansour / صابر الرباعي - سيدي منصور,” uploaded by Saber El Rebai, 27 Feb. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1dcmKIIVGw.
Sara. "Interview: What does graffiti & street artist Sozi36 want from Kreuzberg?" Finding Berlin, 27 January 2017, http://www.findingberlin.com/what-does-graffiti-and-street-artist-sozi36-want-from-kreuzberg/. Accessed 29 July 2017.
Saunders, Doug. Arrival City. Windmill Books, 2011.
“SIDO - Astronaut (feat. Andreas Bourani) OFFICIAL VIDEO.” YouTube, uploaded by Sido, 3 Sept. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPFLAjmWCtk.
"Soziale Projekte | Education." alfred mehnert. alfredmehnert.jimdo.com/soziale-projekte-education/. Accessed 29 July 2017.
“Statthaus Bӧcklerpark.” Kreuzberger Musikalische Aiction e. V., 2013, kma-ev.de/index.php?id=13. Accessed 17 July 2017.
“Südblock.” Foursquare, 2017, foursquare.com/v/s%C3%BCdblock/4cfaf32d084f5481b26c7e09. Accessed 17 July 2017.
Winterreise. By Yael Ronen and Exil Ensemble, directed by Yael Ronen, performances by Exil Ensemble, GORKI, 2 July 2017, Maxim Gorki Theatre, Berlin.
“Wir bastein einen Globus.” Jens-Nydahl-Grundschule, Sept. 2002, www.jng.cidsnet.de/archiv/globus/html/ergebnis.html#. Accessed 17 July 2017.
Sentences for the Publication's Conclusion
The personal interactions we have had on this journey leave me with a clearer image of the activism, perseverance, and hope in Berlin. I feel like each connection has made a little home for me in the city.
Possible Picture for Book Cover (temporary architecture at Die Gärtnerei):
Possible Photo for Introduction (Seattle in Berlin: Molecule or "Cheese" Man):
Possible Photo for Conclusion (Brandenburg Gate: light and understanding coming from behind the history and the complexities of Berlin):