An interview with Christine Grewe, Head of the Osnabrück Peace Office, on mediation through encounter.

In 2015, the town halls of Münster and Osnabrück were awarded the European Heritage Seal. Already then, the idea of participating in the 2018 European Year of Cultural Heritage with the theme Peace.Europe began to emerge.

The aim of the Year of Cultural Heritage is “to reach the heirs of the heritage” and thus young people. For Osnabrück, the Office for Peace Culture took on this task and began thinking about a concept very early on. Now the work on the planned project is in full swing.

Photo: Christine Grewe, Head of “Peace Office” Osnabrück. Picture credits: Angela von Brill.

I went to Osnabrück and met Christine Grewe, the head of the Osnabrück “Peace Office”. She explains her project “Lab Europe” to me. “We want to bring together young people from all European countries. Europe is colorful and diverse, and the sentiments of its citizens vary greatly from one country to another. Some see Europe as a shelter for freedom and democracy, others feel threatened by the power of economically strong countries and struggle for their own identity. Europeans within the EU have a different European vision than Europeans who are not yet part of the EU. The aim of our project is the exchange of these perspectives.”

But what is the best way to ensure this exchange between the participants? Christine Grewe and her team are convinced that collaborative project work is the best way for an intensive encounter. Lab Europe therefore comprises various subprojects in the context of which the topic of peace in Europe can be worked on. There are five genres: “Performance/Theatre”, “Visual Arts”, “History”, “Media/Games” and “Music”. These have set themselves various topics that they would like to elaborate. For example, the “Music” section will perform a song cycle that was written in the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The visual arts section is dedicated to “Safety first”, while “Performance/Theatre” is all about listening.

“It is important to me that the young people develop something together that they are proud of and that they can celebrate in the end,” said the head of the Office for Peace Culture. We sit in the sun in a café in front of the town hall and have been talking for quite a while now. Born in Osnabrück, Germany, she speaks enthusiastically about her city, and I can understand that very well: A cozy little old town surrounds us, plenty of lovely shops and a lot of bars and restaurants. Like Münster, Osnabrück is a university town that is strongly influenced by its students. As in Münster, the old town of Osnabrück was destroyed completely during the Second World War. In both cities the historical buildings were rebuilt. The respective town halls were even given back the original furniture from the past, because a clever town keeper had stored it safely in a salt-pick. In Münster and Osnabrück the memories of the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 dominate and give the cities their profile.

“Osnabrueck is a city of peace,” reports Christine Grewe. This is THE outstanding feature of our city. Therefore, this topic is always present and of great importance to all citizens. The sympathetic historian and political scientist talks about the many projects and events that the city has already experienced in recent years on the subject of peace. She remembers particularly well the 350th anniversary celebrations in 1998, when almost all the royal houses of Europe and the Vatican were present to commemorate the peace agreement, which was tenaciously negotiated in Osnabrück and Münster at the time. The Office for Peace Culture was founded three years later.

Christine Grewe, mother of three children, attaches particular importance to the topic of “youth encounter”. “For example, we are the only city in Germany to have youth ambassadors. These are young people who are sent by our partner cities for a year to campaign for their country and region. This exchange, which of course also takes place in reverse, is an enlightenment for Osnabrück.”

Back to the European laboratory: A few months ago, participants were recruited by means of an open call on various international platforms and networks. “We received about 80 applications, almost all of which were highly qualified. However, since we have certain requirements depending on the genre (for example, we could not accept too many pianists for the “music” area) and only limited financial means, there are now a total of 51 participants who have received a confirmation,” explains Grewe.

Photo: The Peace Hall in Osnabrück City Hall. Picture credits: Angela von Brill

The participants will come from 19 nations and spend ten days in Osnabrück. During the day they work on their respective projects, in the evenings there are joint activities. Christine Grewe hopes that Lab Europe will develop according to her ideas: “I very much hope that a lot of bonds will be built between the more than 50 young people and also with the citizens of the city. I can already see the final picture before my eyes and I am very optimistic that my ideas will come true”.

The conclusion of the project will coincide with the Cultural Night on August 25, 2018. On this day, the participants will present their results and hopefully many of the expected 35,000 visitors will marvel at them. The day before, there will be a preview at which the managing director of the German National Committee for the Preservation of Monuments, Dr. Uwe Koch, who is coordinating the German Cultural Heritage Year on behalf of the Minister of State for Culture, will be a guest.

At the end of our conversation, Christine Grewe sits back and blinks in the sun: “I am sure that Lab Europe will be an unforgettable experience for everyone involved. And hopefully they will spread the word.” I agree with her in my thoughts. The day in Osnabrück was full of remarkable impressions for me. It will certainly not be any different for the young people.