Carolyn Hassan, Director of Knowle West Media Centre, and Mark Leach from Bristol City Council’s Sustainability Team, were invited to attend the Climate Culture Cities symposium in Hannover this September by Janika Millan (Twining Officer within Städtepartnerschaften der Kulturbüro-Landeshauptstadt, City of Hannover.
The event started with the representatives from Hannover’s twin cities meeting up for a tour of the city. Led by Cathérine Bartholomé, a freelance events organiser newly specialising in environmental events, we saw the City Hall (including incredible views from the roof), the “Wandergarten” project (a mobile urban gardening project) and the Parking Day event, which started in the US, where people pay up a whole day into a parking meter but then use the space for greening the city with plants, food, space to relax etc.
Our tour was just a few hours but we saw the beautiful, compact and highly walkable streets thronging with life and cafes and bars, green roofed bus stops and the beautiful lakes and landscaping that make Hannover such a pleasant city to live in and a good twin for Bristol! Set against this, the shock of the post war model of the city, the sheer, breath-taking scale of the destruction wrought by allied bombing, silenced our small crowd of tourists for some time and will not be easily forgotten.
We finished the day with a meal on the Friday night. Blantyre (southern Malawi), Poznan (North East Poland) and Rouen (Normandy, France) were all represented and the meal achieved its aim – people coming together to work achieve so much more when they have had a chance to mingle over a meal.
The Saturday was the full conference day with over 140 participants. There were some inspiring speakers. The conference achieved that fine balance between academic and theoretical content together with content based on practical experience. Adrienne Goehler was received with reverence by the audience and certainly brought intellectual weight to the day. Having cantered through the history of art & climate change from New York City in 1972 to Shanghai to Richard Box to Michael Saug, she then showed many artists that anyone interested in the interrelationship between arts and environment (or climate change or indeed science in a wider context) would do well to check out, including Hermann Josef Hack, Ursula Schulz-Dornburg, Gustavo Romano, Antal Lakner and Néle Azevedo before leaving us with her clarion call that “Beauty is a central part of sustainability.”
Thomas Sprenger presented the Pantry project from myvillages.com as it were a work of art in itself – which to be fair it was. He told us of a time when Berlin had 187 beer breweries and a lot of cows and goats, and his list of the harvest they had grown was almost poetic (mushrooms, plums, green walnuts and lavender) and finished off with a warning: never try making your own sunflower oil.
A number of people within Bristol City Council were working on the greening of Bristol festivals. This has had to stop now due to cuts, so the tools we learned about from Janek Müller, curator of the Federal Cultural Foundation could be really useful to Bristol http://www.ueber-lebenskunst.org/downloads/uelk_leitfaden_01_de.pdf – we just need to find the money for someone to translate it!
And Elizabeth Chikoya’s account of how arts and crafts can bring financial, health and environmental benefits to women in the poorer parts of Malawian cities through the WITEE project seemed to be universally appreciated probably in part because of the scale of what had been achieved against a vivid description of the constraints the project faced. In the light of current work in Bristol it was particularly interesting to learn how the work helps with increasing resilience and preparedness for droughts, floods, crop failure and so on.
We even touched on the German’s famous rejection of nuclear and how they will meet their carbon targets – their Energiewende. While there wasn’t time for a scientific explanation in this conference, I left in little doubt they will find a way.
The conference used visual minutes as well as written word minutes, providing a different set of memories and thoughts to take away from the event:
Transition Hannover provided the most incredible lunchtime experience. The food was delicious, probably because the vegetarian menu was made mostly from locally grown and high quality food.
But, being Transition Towns, they had also transformed the big square outside the Kustlerhaus, cafe tables, a cornucopia of stalls, flowers and herb plants growing in planters, the whole place decorated and a beautiful space to eat in.
There was a brief moment of shock when the organisers asked, very nicely, if Bristol wouldn’t mind presenting to the full conference of 140 rather than our peers from the twin cities the next day. However, enthusiastic about the opportunity to share some of the wonderful work of Bristol’s grassroots and agencies, we agreed and seemed to interest the audience, with lots of questions afterwards.
Sunday was a much cosier event altogether with just 20 people; the twin city representatives together with half a dozen Hannover based experts in various aspects of the conference subject matter. We gathered in a warm, light, airy studio shared by three local artists with the task of producing ideas for future collaborative work, ultimately leading to a new project between the partner cities. Some fairly intensive work yielded a good harvest of ideas, with food growing the subject area coming out as of the most common interest amongst the participant cities.
Throughout the weekend the hospitality of our hosts was exemplary and we hope that we can return this at some point. The oldest vegetarian restaurant in Germany served food so good even a hardened meat eater would not miss the “Fleisch” and we even got to taste beer or two while discussing how to use our learnings from the conference informally with our twin city representatives.
Finally the professionalism and skills of the interpreters cannot go unmentioned; sitting with earphones in listening to speeches given in German but coming to us in very good English at the same speed it was impossible not to spend a little time considering the skill of not only listening, translating and speaking at the same time but doing so with some complex concepts and very issue-specific words and phrases being used at the same time!
We are now working with Hannover on a proposal for further funding to see how art can be used to spread the incredible wealth of sustainable food projects in Bristol and the other cities, potentially with Knowle West Media Centre’s University of Local Knowledge playing a pivotal role as a uniquely powerful tool for communication and engagement.