Project Germany: The past, the present, and peace

Festival works to involve young people in issues facing Germany, world

by Rita Forbes and Valerie German

Musicians perform at an open-air youth festival on  the outskirts of Munich.
Musicians perform at an open-air youth festival on
the outskirts of Munich. The event hoped to raise
political awareness among youth and combat fascism
and racism.

An open-air youth festival on the outskirts of Munich, with the promise of anti-fascist political seminars and music, drew us like flies to honey. After 40 minutes on a slow regional train, we arrived in the tiny village of Dorfen. A series of hand-painted signs directed us down a long gravel road to what looked like a cow pasture, dotted closely with tents.

After paying our entrance fee of 10 euros and receiving a yellow wristband in return, we headed past the shower tent and the big stage, where tech people were setting up for the first band, to the information point, where we were invited to sit in on an organizational meeting before exploring the events taking place.

At the meeting, roughly 20 members of the Jugendzentrum Dorfen, all outfitted in black shirts with orange logos, sat in a circle on wooden benches. This crew of young people had chosen not to fit in. Dreadlocks, piercings and tattoos were the norm. But what stood out was not their appearance. It was their attentiveness to the work at hand. Cooperation, not horseplay, was the name of the game. A slightly older woman, perhaps in her mid-twenties, read from the shopping list.

“Shower gel? Do we have any more shower gel?”

Shower gel was important, considering that they were to be at the festival for three entire days. The weather had not been kind, either. Near-constant rain had turned the field into a sea of mud. Most of these kids had discarded their shoes long ago. Mud splatters reached up to their knees.

After the shopping list had been adequately discussed, trash bags were handed around, and the group disbanded to scour the festival grounds clean.

This group was on a mission. Through their open-air festival, they hoped to raise political awareness among youth and combat fascism and racism.

“Our job is to activate the youth,” said Marius Baumgart. “We are a minority here. Most of our generation does not care about what is going on.”

And a lot is going on. Participants at this event were concerned about fascism, racism, fair trade, America’s war in Iraq, and the plight of refugees in Germany. Lectures were held by both local youth and visiting Ph.Ds.

Hans-Georg Eberl, or “Ebs,” is a member of the nationwide group Caravan for the Rights of Refugees and Migrants. He traveled to Dorfen to urge young people to join a summer camp protesting the conditions of refugees.

“People have to have full access to all possibilities,” he said. “There don’t have to be laws discriminating against migrants. Germany is one of the richest nations in the world. It has a crucial responsibility for what the distribution of wealth looks like.”

The audience, composed almost entirely of teenagers and twenty-somethings, sat on straw bales and listened intently. Controversial topics generated heated discussion.

But political seminars were only one aspect of the festival. A total of 20 bands were scheduled to perform over the weekend. Most were from Germany, and most had words like “punk,” “metalcore” and “screamo” in their descriptions. But reggae, hip hop, rap and pop were also included. Hot food and cold beer was also available, all at affordable, student-friendly prices.

The music, the beer, and the festive atmosphere attracted quite a crowd. But as Baumgart said, “it’s pretty important that it’s not just about partying and drinking.”

Judging from the crowded straw bale seats in the political tent, the organizers met their objective.