Was passiert konkret?

Culture is made by people’s daily life

My name is Yang Fan, I come from China and I would like to introduce CECP (China Endangered Culture Protectors), we are a group of people trying to protect China’s cultural heritage. If we travel back to China in the 1970s, to a period of time known as ‘cultural revolution’, we would be considered as a totally illegal and ‘anti-revolutionary’ group, which is demanding an ultimate violation as a main priority. Today, there is a national movement of ‘reviving the traditional culture’ supported by the top leaders of the nation. As Bob Dylan sings in The Times They Are A-Changin, things are changing fast and without these changes, we won´t be able to do what our profession is today. 

At this point, I would like to thank for the invitation from Robert Bosch Stiftung and CONSTELLATIONS International to participate at the first CITYMAKERS Meet-Up in Berlin September 2017. This invitation enabled me to visit Europe for the first time. 

It was a journey of experiencing, learning and exchanging. Naturally, I am seeing  (and activating all my other senses) through the eyes of CECP and focus on the seeking of answers to the following questions: How cultural heritage is treated and protected in Europe? What are the differences between the cultural heritage protection in Europe and in China in terms of concept, theory and practices? What are the reasons for these differences? In a broader sense, how different is the way people look at culture in both countries? What are the differences of the relationship between culture and people? To avoid falling into some pre-set mind patterns, I will try to be  more curious and liberal in the following report.

My journey began in Berlin and when I look back to the end of this journey, after having visited 15 cities across Europe, I have to say that Berlin is the city which leads me into my deepest reflections. 

Compared to many Chinese big cities, Berlin has some very interesting counterparts in history. This is a city, which went through not only glories, but also through serious turmoil like 'Third Reich' and 'Cold War'. I recognized, that the City decided to place permanent memorials on its historically important structures, so it will never be forgotten. Berlin Wall Museum, Topography of Terror, East Side Gallery, Karl Marx Alley, all these examples are now being recognized as cultural heritage. At this point. the word ‘heritage’ has gained a new meaning to me. Berlin taught me a broader definition of heritage: Your own true past.

In China, it seems that every major city is building hundreds of skyscrapers, creating ambitious expansion plans, trying to establish its status quo with commerce, capital and importance. While in Berlin, the mayor is declaring: "Berlin ist arm, aber sexy" (In engl. "Berlin is poor but sexy"). Berlin seems to be proud of being ‘cheap and easy’ to live. 

In Berlin and many other cities in Europe, I’ve seen social housing from the 1950s to 1970s. In China, at the same time, we also had this social, communal approach to the city. Many of those old neighborhoods deserved to be protected as heritage and continue to be used as livable communities instead of being demolished for new housing projects like skyscrapers.
In China, a preservation effort seems to focus on retaining the "original aesthetic" rather than the "original building". The historical traces (especially traces of trouble in recent times) were erased like they have been never existed. Thus, what we see today is a shiny new old building. While in Europe, it seems quite different. In Dresden, people collected the stones from the ruins of the bombed cathedral back to its rebuilding structure. In Cologne, the Kolumba church is now turned into a museum, but you can still see the old chapel gate arch and walls remained as features of the new building. In east Berlin, trademarks, slogans from DDR period were carefully remained. In China, retaining the "original aesthetic" sometimes also means the relocation of local residents as a part of the ‘gentrification’ process. However, this may vanish the community networks and deprive the building of its cultural charm that was formed in years of people’s lives.
Heritage protection was usually regarded as a professional work in China. Only the government or associated (qualified) companies are allowed to conduct renovation of heritage buildings. Thus. there are many difficulties, because it is still very important to have property owners, designers and artists, local community and civil societies to participate and be a stakeholder in the process.
I had the great privilege to follow Mr. Otto (on the left: heritage protection officer, 'Untere Denkmalschutzbehörde Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg') and join his work for one day in Berlin. He told me that the essence of his work is to discuss a strategy with the owners of heritage buildings to combine the preservation of the building with the long term interest of the owner. This is the best way and probably the only way!
Europe is taking on great changes too and I recognize the forming of a new culture. At Sorbonne University in Paris I had a conversation with an Arabic scholar who is also the owner of an Arabic bookstore. He told me religion should not lead people to blindness and terrorism. This should be combat by Muslim people, too. (That is actually the reason why he opened his bookstore)
In Duisburg when I got lost in the streets at night, there were three newly settled refugees from Syria who walked with me all the way back to my hotel. They were navigating with google maps on their smartphones and we actually got lost a few times, too).

Perhaps what I learned most and what I experienced most during my trip is that despite all the obvious differences, culture is made by people’s daily life. To protect the cultural heritage is to cherish people’s life.

I applaud to the achievements Europe has made in protecting its cultural heritage and made it enjoyable to the people. I am more than sure there are many things China can learn from Europe on the subject. I hope more people in China can visit Europe and study its culture. On the other hand, China can also provide some new opportunities. More and more people in China are joining the understanding of heritage protection today. The economic development is always at astounding speed. The popularity of Internet culture is beyond imagination and we still believe using Internet technology will be the key to make a difference in our battles protecting our cultural heritage and make our life better. But the ultimate goal should be a true network between China and Europe, so we can learn from each other and protect our cultural heritage together.

Thanks to the team of Robert Bosch Stiftung and CONSTELLATIONS International and all the friends I made in Europe.