The European encounter and participation project “Laboratory Europe“, initiated and organised by the Office for Peace Culture of the City of Osnabrück, shaped the understanding of a European community of values among participants, cooperation partners and visitors alike.

The joint creative work of more than 50 participants from 16 continental European countries took place in five so-called laboratories, which had the character of workshops. They recreated the atmosphere of a laboratory in which research is done, something is shared, something new is created and cultures flourish. Laboratories in the fields of art, history, performance, music and media & games were offered. The participants dealt with European values and the challenges facing Europe, with questions of individual or public security, with the history and present of Europe and developed perspectives for a future Europe. As part of the joint project of the cities of Münster and Osnabrück, “Peace.Europe”, “Lab Europe” was supported by the federal minister for Culture and Media, the Felicitas and Werner Egerland Foundation and the State of Lower Saxony.

Professional partners like the Theater Osnabrück, the Kunsthalle Osnabrück or the Institute for Music at the University of Applied Sciences Osnabrück managed the laboratories. Communication with the participants was conducted in English. In addition to the various artistic disciplines, the five laboratories had individual titles that provided the thematic orientation framework for the creative work. A visit to the twin city of Münster gave this work additional inspiration. After a reception in the Peace Hall, the young people went on a discovery tour to places of peace in Münster. They then visited the exhibition “Peace. From Antiquity to the Present” in the LWL Museum of Art and Culture, where they were warmly welcomed by Dr. Hermann Arnhold/Museum Director.

Besuch im LWL Museum in Münster (Foto: Rena Ronge)

Diversity in five laboratories

The participants of the History Laboratory, who come from 12 different European countries, were asked in advance to bring personal objects from their home countries that have a symbolic or direct connection with the title “War and Peace in European History”. They discussed these during the project days, visited exhibitions and memorials, and finally developed their own exhibition in the Akzisehaus from the knowledge gained and the objects they brought with them.

In the Performance Laboratory, the participants from Italy, Romania, Turkey and Germany devoted themselves to the title “The Listeners” and, in a long-term performance from early in the morning until late at night, conveyed the significance of listening for the peace process and for the success of dialogue and communication. The participative performance took place in the historic Peace Hall of the Osnabrück Town Hall, where 370 years ago the protracted negotiations that ended the Thirty Years’ War and led to the conclusion of the Peace of Westphalia were held.

Under the title “Memory Culture – Songs from the KZ Theresienstadt”, compositions from the concentration camp in which people from all over Europe were imprisoned and died were rehearsed in the Music Laboratory. Almost the entire Jewish cultural elite was gathered in Theresienstadt, including numerous composers. The songs, which testify that the people in the concentration camps wanted to survive, were finally presented by young musicians from all over Europe at a place of remembrance, the Felix-Nussbaum-Haus, as part of a Wandelkonzert.

In the Art Laboratory, the participants from Germany, Greece, Azerbaijan and Spain, under the title “Safety first”, artistically dealt with the subject of security in Europe. In view of the great debates about refugees and isolation, global issues such as terror or climate change, this has taken on a new relevance, the dimensions of which have been interpreted playfully but also very seriously by the artists.

The participants of the Digital Media & Games Laboratory from Italy and Greece developed a short film entitled “Being European” as well as online games dealing with the idea of a common European identity. This did not omit the possibility of the end of political Europe and thus of a common European identity: A resurgence of nationalism and an increasing danger of armed conflict. The short film “Error 404 – Europe not found” takes up this dystopia by sketching the gradual process of dividing Europe in time-lapse.

Foto: Angela von Brill

Impressive results at the Cultural Festival Night

The participants had seven days to realise individual or joint projects in their laboratories. During the annual Osnabrück Cultural Festival Night, the results of the five laboratories were presented to a large audience. The presentation venues were situated within immediate proximity. The impressive and touching concerts in the Felix-Nussbaum-Haus were followed by a visit to the exhibition of the Laboratory History in the neighbouring Akzisehaus. The special feature that the owners of the pieces were present and could tell their stories about war and peace themselves made this history exhibition so exciting.

The colourful and multimedia exhibition of the Art and Media & Games Laboratories in the Kunstraum hase29 aroused the curiosity of many passers-by who were actually on their way to the market square in front of the Town Hall. The photographs, paintings, video and room installations, short films as well as a crossover between performance and installation were particularly well received by the young audience and prompted spontaneous visitors to reflect on their personal sense of security and the question of a European identity.

In the Peace Hall of the Town Hall, many visitors of the Cultural Festival Night gathered in search of peace and distance from the hustle and bustle of lights, noise and crowds in front of the Town Hall. Here they could enter the Peace Hall one by one, and in the quiet atmosphere tell the listeners what was on their minds. Thus, the message of “The Listeners” could be perceived by the visitors.

Friedenssaal Münster (Foto: Angela von Brill)

A role model for peace culture and unity in Europe

As the tension among the young Europeans eased during the Cultural Festival Night on 25 August and the satisfaction with their successful projects and the confirmation by positive feedback gave way, the participants realized more and more that they would be back in their respective home countries in less than a day and that a reunion was uncertain. But already during the project days many new friendships had been formed, which will persist even across national borders through social media. In addition, the project has motivated some of the young Europeans to initiate their own encounter projects in their home countries, modelled after Labor Europa. Dr. Uwe Koch, coordinator of the European Year of Cultural Heritage in Germany, has also attested this pioneering character to the “Laboratory Europe” project.

All participants agree on one thing when they think of the ten exciting and creative days in Osnabrück: Something new has emerged from this European laboratory and it is something that unites them for the future.