Drive one and a half hours away from Akademie Schloss Solitude and you’ll find the creative headquarters and project space of die Anstoß, an interdisciplinary initiative from Karlsruhe. In addition to organizing exhibitions, readings, and concerts in their »ßpace,« a small room not far from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the members have the ambitious goal to shape their city by thinking about how urban development can be enriched by public interventions. Solituders Paula Kohlmann and Maren Pfeiffer met Benedikt Stoll, architect and founder of die Anstoß to talk with him about future visions for Karlsruhe, the power of connecting people, and the struggles he faces while working on a volunteer basis in a non-profit organization.
Paula Kohlmann/Maren Pfeiffer: You are one of 13 and counting people from die Anstoß, an initiative from Karlsruhe, that engages around questions of shaping your own city. What are your main ideas behind that? How is that related to your first project »Entwurf für Karlsruhe: Soziale Vision 2014«?
Benedikt Stoll: Karlsruhe is a city with various cultural and subcultural potential which has never really been used because of the lack of exchange between engaged people, creative initiatives, accredited institutions, public authorities and politics in both directions.
»Die Anstoß should become a platform and booster of self-initiated creative production and leisure without economic goals.«
– Benedikt Stoll
That’s why the main reason for the foundation of our association was, and still is, the interdisciplinary exchange in within our own team, with other initiatives and most importantly the city itself as creative, bureaucratic and political framework. From a single person’s interest to the team’s effort and network to the city as place to live we can all shape together, die Anstoß should become a platform and booster of self-initiated creative production and leisure without economic goals.
Our first project, »Karlsruhe braucht eine soziale Vision«, was a historical, social, and urban research and design project; it was meant as a theoretical and programmatic groundwork, to connect our cultural ambitions as initiatives with political statements and most importantly spatial suggestions for a new city centre in Karlsruhe.
PK/MP: Die Anstoß is an interdisciplinary initiative with people coming from a lot of different academic backgrounds. Where do you see a common interest, but also where do you see differences in your practices?
BS: It is actually not very easy to formulate our common interest as an independent association, but only to describe it broadly as »the motivation and aspiration to make a contribution to the current subcultural situation of Karlsruhe.« Moreover it is the belief to be able to make a difference instead of moaning about the lack of cultural activities. Our abstract idea of creating places for exchange and connecting different people, initiatives, and institutions becomes visible through our projects, which are the outcome of our various professional backgrounds. Die Anstoß, the juristical and creative framework and platform for every associate, gets defined through their actions and visible as a collective »brand«. Hence the main goal of our initiative stays open to all, but its appearance and body of work gets sharpened through our different interests.
PK/MP: Half a year ago you started to manage a central project room in Karlsruhe, called »ßpace« – what has changed with this space?
BS: After more than two years of die Anstoß, while we were continuously searching for a project space and had contact with different private and public proprietors, we finally were able to open our »ßpace« with support of the Fächer GmbH. Before that we felt that there was no trust and belief in us as a non-profit association to manage a project space and actually be an enrichment of the cultural diversity of Karlsruhe although no one denied our ideas. Even though there are quite a few project spaces, which mainly stay not visible for a broader public, there is still the question if a certain mentality and openness is existent in Karlsruhe, which would be essential to open a project space, which is actually supposed to be, and is designed as, public space.
»›ßpace‹ offers us a new infrastructure, which is next to our projects in public space and collaborations with other parties, the third main pillar of our association.«
– Benedikt Stoll
We were eventually and probably only able to open our »ßpace« because we have done projects in public space several times and cooperated directly with public authorities. Since then, our idea of being a platform and display for other subcultural initiatives and engaged people became more and more vivid and is now a basic part of our work. Additionally we can engage with new initiatives and institutions because we can provide our own place of exchange and have an informal meeting point in the city centre for ourselves. »ßpace« offers us a new infrastructure, which is next to our projects in public space and collaborations with other parties, the third main pillar of our association.
PK/MP: How do you organize within your group and how has this changed over the last years? What are your experiences with self-organization?
BS: Since our very first gathering in a local pub in Karlsruhe, we’ve been meeting almost once a week in a private place or in »ßpace« with the whole group. This has been vital to us and is the key to our internal exchange. Furthermore we keep updated and share ideas through e-mail and a common Facebook group.
Beside this basic organizational groundwork, it has become increasingly important to install new structures for comprehensive decision making and the distribution of tasks and responsibilities. The management of our expanding non-profit association and its associates is one of the most important aspects of our internal work to continuously create opportunities and collaborations for future projects.
»If you can identify yourself with the common goal and work of the association, it can also create a sort of freedom, which is probably not easy to obtain in a professional working environment.«
– Benedikt Stoll
Thereby we have been developing a new structure based on our capabilities and task fields to cope with the emerging efforts and inquiries. Every associate who wants to be an integral part of the core group of die Anstoß needs to fulfill at least one basic organizational task for our group to be permitted to our weekly decision makings. On top of that we have four board associates, who are coordinating our main task fields of public relations, projects, finance and management and present the association in the public. Next to that you can also be an ordinary associate, who is doing project-related contributions, or a supporting associate.
All in all our structure has changed and grown over the last couple of months due to our growing number of associates, emerging tasks through bigger projects and collaboration, and the management of »ßpace«.
It is not always easy to find consent, but it is personally always a very instructive and challenging process to work in an interdisciplinary group. Especially in a non-profit association everyone is basically not obligated to do anything, but engaged to do as much as one is committed to. This is a very unstable basis. Nevertheless, if you can identify yourself with the common goal and work of the association, it can also create a sort of freedom, which is probably not easy to obtain in a professional working environment. In general, our ambition was that if you take responsibilities you can also make the decisions (in context of the overall goals of the association and its core group).
PK/MP: With the symposium »StadtGestalten« you brought together various initiatives to talk about their structure and working methods. Why do you think it is important to speak publicly and frankly about the process of such self-organized groups?
BS: Right from the beginning on there were people who had a completely different perception of our group, our structure, and, especially, of the daily work we actually do during the time when we are not hosting an event for a couple of days. It was very interesting for me to see that there was and probably still is a huge discrepancy between our public perception and the way we essentially experience our work.
»The impact that we have, by shaping our living, and also working, conditions to our needs, is crucial for the cities’ socioeconomic and cultural development.«
– Benedikt Stoll
On the one hand we’ve had to fight the opinion that working for free is absolutely alright while we are providing an open infrastructure and platform for young and unknown artists and engaged people, which are almost costless (compared to accredited institutions and current working conditions). On the other hand, we often made people surprised that we were all a bunch of students in the first months after the foundation was founded and sometimes organized big projects with only a two or three associates and very limited budget.
Furthermore I wanted to share this particular understanding of creative and often un- or underpaid work with other initiatives from different cities in Baden-Württemberg to promote and support the (sub-)cultural scene in our cities. The impact that we have, by shaping our living, and also working, conditions to our needs, is crucial for their socioeconomic and cultural development, which is an increasingly important aspect of cities worth living in.
PK/MP: What came out of the discussion?
BS: The »StadtGestalten« symposium started with very different and inspiring presentations of seven initiatives with cultural, socioeconomic, political and artistic backgrounds. All speakers were asked to primarily talk about their structure and working process. It was interesting to see how every initiative responded differently to this invocation. The postulated task to talk about internal difficulties and personal problems in one’s initiative did not feel very comfortable nor usual for some speakers. The classical project-related presentation just felt too buttoned-up and most answered very technically. But after the seven short presentations, the discussion opened up a new, more personal – sometimes funny, sometimes serious – and most of all idealistic exchange of thoughts and insights.
»The ambition to take action and design one’s and other’s living and working environment – as idealistic as it might be – was the connecting link between all initiatives.«
– Benedikt Stoll
In the beginning Beata Anna Schmutz and Sarah-Lina Mantler of the performance collective RAMPIG from Mannheim spoke about the difficulties and chances of intense research and art projects on site in a collective. Susan Funk and Hannah Cooke of the Feministic Working Collective (FAK) from Karlsruhe spoke about their body of work on gender equality and gave an insight of their project-related work without hierarchies and described how much fun actually becomes a driving force or not. The Wollwerk, a knitting team of three generations, was represented by Antonia Nitsch and Rebecca Hoffmann – who are part of the worldwide existing socio-entrepreneurial network enactus, which is a tremendous financial and know-how backup.
Doris Mayer and Jaro Eiermann of Each1Teach1, a bottom-up project with refugees from Heidelberg, talked about how too many plans and well calculated schedules are very often a nice way to present projects to public authorities, but ultimately do not really matter anymore if it comes to actions. Further, the managers Fabian Eck and Sophie Burger of Die Kurbel – Karlsruhes Kinogenossenschaft (Cinema Cooperative) revealed their motivation behind different forms of cinema as cooperative institution, creative initiative in in-between spaces or meeting point for activists, artists and refugees. As the last but one speakers, Paula and Louis Kohlmann as well as Lukas Oberem of LOTTE project space in Stuttgart, were reporting from their ambition to organize an unconventional art platform in cooperation with different cultural players of the city as sponsors with the obligation to provide their curatorial program for one whole year. Finally, I was talking about the beginnings of our association and how far a structural revolution, teamwork workshops, the idea of branding and direct communication with different public authorities at the same time were crucial for our development.
All in all, I personally enjoyed the very positive and energetic atmosphere just the same as the discussions about general financial dependencies or worries and also programmatic and idealistic issues around the topic of the role of young creatives shaping or even gentrifying cities. Even though a lot of participating initiatives and speakers had their first appearance in »ßpace«, our common grounds acknowledged and particularly engaged everyone’s desire for change. The ambition to take action and design one’s and other’s living and working environment – as idealistic as it might be – was the connecting link between all initiatives.