Culture influences society and can generate political momentum. It bolsters cohesion within a democratic Europe and strengthens the European public sphere and civil society. And hasn’t Europe itself always been a cultural project, too? Based on these convictions, Germany made culture a central element of its Presidency of the Council of the EU – with a cultural programme that prized innovation over convention. It also had a sociopolitical focus and was based on the participation of people across Europe. The aim was to encourage a lively dialogue around topical European issues, allow people to experience Europe’s cultural diversity across borders, and breathe life into the European public sphere.
Alongside Earth Speakr, the Europe-wide artwork by the artist Olafur Eliasson, the cultural programme of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU also involved projects in collaboration with other partners, in particular the Goethe-Institut. The COVID-19 pandemic made it harder to carry out all of the projects planned. Some events had to be completely reorganised or rescheduled. But the cultural programme was still able to reach millions of Europeans.
Tell Me about Europe
What does Europe mean to us, and what should it mean? What connects us across borders? The project Tell Me about Europe brought together people from different generations to discuss these questions. The starting point was a collection of interviews with people who lived through the mid-1900s, recorded by young Europeans and compiled in the European Archive of Voices. Conversations were held not just in EU member states but also in other countries that share in European culture such as Albania, Norway and Russia. According to project leader Katrin Johns, “all of the discussions revealed the same common ground: our curiosity about one another and our very desire to constantly explore and discuss what we have in common.”
You can learn more about Tell me about Europe here: “Focus on culture”
Between August and December 2020, eleven artists from across Europe organised culinary encounters in private and public spaces in eleven cities, from Wrocław and Tallinn to Palermo, Madrid and Marseille. Some were held at the city harbour, others in museums or theatres. The focus of every event was on cuisine, hospitality and community. But not all of the participants were invited to sit down and eat. “Many of the artists interpreted cuisine more as a sort of laboratory where various ingredients are mixed to produce something new,” said curator Priya Basil. For the Europe's Kitchen event in Ljubljana, for example, the Italian artist Marinella Senatore cooked up a composition using the sounds of the city’s streets and people.
You can learn more about Europe's Kitchen here: “Focus on culture”
The small humanoid robot Gaia (pictured) travelled across Europe between April and November: from Rome via Milan and Bremen to Rotterdam and Glasgow. Along the way she stayed with programmers and artists such as Floris Maathuis from Groningen (pictured), who learned about the coexistence between humans and machines and taught Gaia new skills. Another robot explored Eastern Europe and new destinations will be added in 2021. The project Generation A=Algorithm used a range of approaches to investigate how artificial intelligence might influence European societies in the future. A climate hackathon brought together more than 250 people from 24 European countries to develop digital strategies for fighting climate change, while a good 19,500 people joined online “couch lessons” to talk to experts about artificial intelligence in areas such as music, health, language and democracy.
You can learn more about “Generation A=Algorithm” here: “Focus on Culture”
From Hannah Arendt to Jean-Paul Sartre to Asterix, the Disappearing Wall brought together quotes from European high culture and pop culture in an interactive installation. People from across Europe were invited to send in their favourite quotes. Six thousand in various languages were then printed on wooden blocks and assembled inside a plexiglass wall. The Disappearing Wall was exhibited in public squares in 17 European cities from August to November. It drew more than 70,000 visitors in total. After months of contact restrictions due to the pandemic, the discussions and the sense of community generated by the installation made for a particularly intense experience. Every visitor was allowed to take one of the printed blocks away with them. The wall became transparent, the barrier disappeared – just like the borders created by languages, cultures and attitudes within Europe.
You can learn more about The Disappearing Wall here: “Focus on Culture”
What’s the best climate-neutral way to travel through Europe? The Goethe-Institut’s #Oekoropa competition asked young people aged between 16 and 19 to come up with ideas. Thirty-five teams drafted plans for a sustainable trip to the three capitals of the trio Presidency – Lisbon, Ljubljana and Berlin – by bicycle, night-train, ferry, electric car or bus, or in some cases solely via the internet. Some of the participants want to offset the unavoidable emissions caused by their trips by volunteering with sustainable projects. The ten winning teams, including the Green Teens from the Greek city of Thessaloniki (picture), will go on tour in 2021.
You can learn more about #Oekoropa here: “Focus on Culture”
Faces of Europe
The German photographer Carsten Sander took to the road in his blue bus for a five-month tour of Europe. His mission was to shoot 1,000 portraits of people from all EU member states. He photographed Europeans of various ages from different ethnic and social backgrounds. Some of the sessions were planned well in advance while others arose from chance encounters. The result is a mosaic of European diversity. Sander’s verdict: “Europe is well on the way to growing together”. He presented his first set of photographs at exhibitions in five European cities during Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU. After Sander's tour is over, the portraits will be published in an illustrated book.
You can learn more about Faces of Europe here: “Focus on Culture”
Europe in Film
How do young people view our united Europe? What issues are important to them? That’s what the short film competition Europe in Film by Deutsche Filmakademie Produktion aimed to find out. Film students from German-speaking universities shot twelve short films which presented a touching and powerful but also critical image of Europe. The most common topics were borders, migration and European feminism. Four winning films were chosen in mid-December. The panel of judges selected Handbook for a Privileged European Woman (top left), Mother of Freedom (top right) and Götterdämmerung (Twilight of the Gods, bottom left), while Der Grenzer (The Border Guard, bottom right) won the public vote.
You can learn more about Europe in Film here: “Focus on Culture”
During Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU, tens of thousands of players took a virtual trip through Europe with the protagonists Lucas, Andreas, Frieda, Magdalena and Yanko in the online mobile game Pathways. The plot incorporates important European issues, from freedom of speech to youth unemployment to increasing prosperity in underdeveloped regions. The free augmented reality app was developed by the Art Directors Club, an advertising industry association and the Federal Foreign Office and is available in ten languages. It can be accessed until 2022.
You can learn more about Pathways here: “Focus on Culture”
How can a sense of European community be created? Through dialogue between individual Europeans – especially when they have differing points of view. On 13 December, the project Europe Talks organised by ZEIT ONLINE brought together more than 12,000 people from 34 European countries for one-on-one discussions. The conversation partners connected online to debate topical and controversial issues such as migration, climate change and the handling of the pandemic. Seventeen European media outlets participated in the project, which was funded by the Federal Foreign Office as part of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the EU.
You can learn more about Europe Talks here: “Focus on Culture”
A European, a revolutionary, a citizen of the world and a composer par excellence, Ludwig van Beethoven was born 250 years ago this year. The exhibition Hotel Beethoven at the Palais des Beaux-Arts (photo top left) in Brussels, which began in late October, is dedicated to the great European musician and shows how relevant he still is today. He has inspired artists from Joseph Beuys to Andy Warhol (photo top right); an adaptation of his opera Fidelio set amid the Black Lives Matter movement has been performed by US prison choirs (photo bottom right); and the Scottish artist Katie Paterson has posed the question: How would his Moonlight Sonata sound if I sent it to the moon and back? (photo bottom left). The exhibition is funded by the German Federal Government's Commissioner for Culture and Media and will run until 14 February 2021.
You can find more information on the cultural programme of Germany’s Presidency of the Council of the European Union here.