A bridge between nations
The city prepares for an influx of German culture and educational events as part of the annual German Week.
Published: April 13, 2011 (Issue # 1651)
The Bavarian film ‘Picco’ follows the story of Kevin, an inmate in a prison for young offenders.
Every April, Germany traditionally comes closer to St. Petersburg, but for one week only. During the annual German Week, those interested in exploring this country should prepare to immerse themselves in German culture, lifestyle and language via the rich and diverse program, which ranges from classical music concerts to classic German beer tasting.
The tradition of holding German Week in the city dates back to 2003, and each year has held something special in store for visitors. This year, the week has a distinctive green color to it: Many of the events are dedicated to ecology. This issue is an urgent one for Russia, as according to research conducted by the Levada Center, despite the country’s numerous ecological problems, only 5 percent of its citizens consider environmental problems to be the most important facing the country, and only 17 and 13 percent, respectively, would not mind higher prices and taxes being imposed if they would improve the situation.
Germany is famous around the world for the example its citizens set in living a more eco-friendly lifestyle. The exhibition “Ecology, design, synergy” at Loft Project Etazhi will introduce visitors to the basics of ecological building, showcasing projects that show how living conditions can be improved and natural resources saved using new technologies in architecture. Accompanying conferences and debates dedicated to different environmental issues such as climate change and ecological farming will attempt to convince St. Petersburg businessmen and residents of all the benefits that an environment-oriented way of life can bring.
The primary focus of German Week is on sharing experience between the two countries. One of the conferences is dedicated to a problem that is all too topical for Russia — corruption. Germany’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Guido Westerwelle, and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov recently decided to develop bilateral initiatives in this sphere as part of a joint project titled “Partnership for modernization.”
Continuing this theme, the city’s Derzhavin memorial museum will host an exhibition titled “Derzhavin. Poet and Statesman Fighting Corruption,” relating the role of Gavrila Derzhavin in Russia’s political life during the era of Catherine the Great. The teacher of Alexander Pushkin, Derzhavin considered his civil service to be more important than anything else, and was unmerciful in his war on bribery. The exhibits include paintings, antique books and rare documents highlighting little-known episodes of the poet’s life.
The vocal group Basta from Cologne will perform as part of the event.
Dual education will be the topic of another interesting discussion in the context of the Russian government’s recent attempts to reform the education system. The term “dual education” refers to when students study at two places simultaneously, learning theoretical and general subjects at school or college, and acquiring practical skills at plants and factories. As a country that is badly in need of working men, Russia could undoubtedly learn from German experience, and finally overcome the stereotype with which less studious children are threatened: “If you study badly, you’d go to a PTU (a Russian vocational-technical school).”
The culture section of the week is no less rich in events. The week opens with a concert by Die 4 Hinterberger Musikanten (Four Hinterberg Musicians), whose music is described as a fusion of traditional German melodies with folk and jazz. Professional and amateur theatrical performances will be put on for both children and adults.
On April 14, the city’s Goethe center of German culture will play host to an intriguing photography exhibition and accompanying debate titled “Voices of Freedom.” Visitors will have the opportunity to learn about the lives of dissidents in the Soviet Union and East Germany and even ask former dissidents questions during the debate. One of the German participants is Harald Hauswald, a photographer from the former German Democratic Republic who, as the authors of the “Overcoming Dictatorship” blog put it, “remained true to his artistic principles of depicting the country and its citizens in its actual condition.”
The partner of this year’s German Week is the state of Bavaria, famous not only for its beer, which will be available for tasting during the week, but also for its film studios. Founded in 1919, Bavaria Film has served as a working set for the legendary directors John Huston, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Aldrich and Wim Wenders. This year, directors Philip Koch and Meike Kordes are bringing two recent works to St. Petersburg: “Picco” and “Poll Diaries.”
Both films tell the story of two teenagers and their journey from innocence to knowledge, though in very different circumstances.
‘Poll Diaries’ is set in the days before the outbreak of World War I.
The word “picco” is a nickname for a newcomer in a youth prison. Upon finding himself in jail, Kevin has to establish his role in the cruel world of young criminals, where people are either aggressors or victims, there are no exceptions and the only way to survive is to become brutal and merge with the crowd. Based on a true story, the film seems to tell just one of many real stories, drawing the audience’s attention to the problem of teenage violence and failures in the justice system.
“Poll Diaries,” on the contrary, carries viewers away to the seemingly calm days of the pre-World War I era. After experiencing a wealth of adventures during just one summer, 14-year-old Oda realizes she is no longer a child. But the film is not only the story of Oda growing up. The pre-war tension in the air is masterly rendered by Kordes. “The film sumptuously captures a very particular moment in time just before the outbreak of World War I, a particular place in rural Estonia, and the very special people who lived through that doomed moment,” wrote a reviewer from the Hollywood Reporter.
German Week runs from April 13 to 21. For a full timetable of events,