The Mannheim Heritage of World Cultures – A Status Report

In August we reported for the first time on the unique Mannheim Project that was modeled on UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritage List, and that asked all local cultural groups to designate as living testimony to their culture – an object, a special place or a tradition – that is alive and vibrant in Mannheim. We’d like to look now again to ‘the city of squares’ and its multicultural population to see how things stand on the project at present.

Zu Gast beim Goethe Institut. Foto: Eveline Winkler
The Mannheim Heritage of World Cultures Project as guest at Goethe Institut Mannheim. Photo: Evelina Winkler

The Mannheim Heritage of World Cultures Project is now in full swing. A small team of culture professionals and students have located and spoken to more than 120 nationalities and cultures in the city. The many replies from enthusiasts on the Internet, at grocery stores of migrants, at mosques, cultural clubs and language schools, at events held at zeitraumexit and the Youth and Cultural Center FORUM, show that the idea has established itself and been welcomed in Mannheim. Its own urban heritage of world cultures – Mannheim as the first city worldwide with 160 centers of world culture!

In October, the project organized the first event of Heritage Soundsystem, a series of events in which immigrants perform music from their regions of origin and have discussions with the project leaders, Jan-Philipp Possmann and Matti Kunstek. A colorful and mixed group of culture lovers listened until one in the morning to the sounds of Gambia, Sweden and Japan, after which the evening transformed into a spontaneous dance session.

Already twice in October, the project invited different world regions together to the World Cultures Café, where over coffee, cake and tea the first vote was held on the proposals submitted to Mannheim’s Heritage List of World Cultures: Should it be the Afro-Shop or perhaps the Cameroon Community Hall instead? The Mannheim Kurpfalzbrücke, because it is reminiscent of the Bosporus Bridge, or the building where the first Turkish shop opened in the city center 40 years ago? Or should it be the traditional kerchief or headdress worn at the Albanian bridal dance? Two Gambian refugees designated their own friendship as their share, as the Gambian contribution to the culture of the city. But since then, both have relocated and are gone from Mannheim, now 200 kilometers apart from one another. So fragile is the Mannheim cultural heritage at times.

There are still many challenges to overcome and the path to the final announcement of the list is still a long one. How do we find not only good proposals, but also representatives to gather and then bundle the ideas? How do we assemble a representative number of migrants from each region to a scheduled voting date? And who might be forgotten in the process? The project is built with the help of a myriad of volunteers working in migrant clubs and among community groups who maintain close contact with their members. A great many students of ethnology from Heidelberg support the team’s work, also on a voluntary basis. Without their commitment an undertaking of this scale would be unthinkable.

During the visit of the Mannheim Heritage of World Cultures Project at Goethe- Institut there was an interesting interaction between the visitors. Photo: Evelina Winkler

On the 17th and 18th of November, the project was invited to the Goethe Institute of Mannheim and opened its project office as well, directly in the heart of multi-cultural Mannheim at the T-square between Indian, African and Arabic grocery stores.

By December, all 160 groups must have submitted their proposals and voted upon them. Time is now tight.

After this vote, preparations will begin for the grand committee show in the council chamber at city hall that has been set for the 20th and 21st of January. It’s to be a sort of reenactment of the annual UNESCO committee meeting, a playful version that models itself on their fine example. For two days in a row all of the cultural heritage will be presented to the public and reviewed by a specially selected committee made up of 21 residents of Mannheim, and then formally accepted to the list. The event will take place with the Mayor Peter Kurz present and under the patronage of the German Commission for UNESCO and will be streamed live on the Internet.

On the 21st of January when the list becomes viewable online, the project will have achieved its first objective. Afterwards, preparations will begin on the final exhibition that will open shortly after Europe Day in May 2017 in zeitraumexit in Mannheim Jungbusch and in the historical Arsenal of the Reiss Engelhorn Museum in the city center. The exhibition will be flanked by numerous city tours and events throughout Mannheim.

We’re Doing It will also continue to provide support for the Mannheim Heritage of World Cultures.

Photo on Facebook and Twitter: Charlotte Arens

Current Information on the project:

Translation: May Koot