29 March 2008

Having started the school food project, I was really enthusiastic and I could not wait to leave for Marnitz to see what would be waiting for me there, food-wise.

Getting to Parchim (where we were staying two nights) was a small disaster: we left from Berlin at 19.00 for a 2 hour drive. We had just left Berlin as we discovered one of the front lights of the rental van was not working. We stopped and waited 2 hours at the gas station for "the angels of the road" (!), the ADAC, to help us. We saw the clock ticking the hours of sleep away....(had to get up at 6 the next morning). Finally we reached Parchim shortly before 23.00. A local pizza place was convinced to still make pizzas for us and we arrived at our rooms, with incredible hunger and 8 boxes with pizza, at 23.30....The pizzas smelled supergood, but as we opened our boxes they revealed the thing that was gonna plague us in the night....All different pizzas smelled, looked and tasted the same. And that was not good. In bed, my body could not really decide between sleeping or digesting, so it did neither. Here is how it looked like the next day:

The next day I realized I did not go there only to make a project about food, but to also actually work for the project. In this case, work meant a lot of work and stress and no time to care about food at the school. I was busy preparing and giving my workshop and on the second day I was busy organizing the Open Space method. I only ate what I brought to the school from breakfast (bread rolls) in our cosy place to stay, which looked like this from outside (we were staying were the light is burning):

My colleagues did find some time to eat food sold at the school:

What Mario and Menze are eating (Thomas also seems to eat the bread rolls from breakfast) is the vegetarian version of this:

The picture comes from a project I stumbled upon today, "Werbung gegen Realität". The artist bought 100 products from German supermarkets and made pictures of the actual product, to compare them with the picture on the package. It made me think if I take it for granted that there is such incongruency that advertisement creates. I know the picture on the package is not corresponding with the actual product, yet still I buy these products.

21 March 2008

School Food I: introduction

Next week, the new season of the project I work for, Cultures Interactive, is going to start for me. It means I will prepare a workshop about 'food', called Gefundenes Fressen, grab all the things I need, put them in a van and drive into the German province.
There, I will spend two days on a school, trying to educate young Germans about food in a broad sense. I will make them think about the things they eat every day, thereby discussing such themes as: what does "taste" mean and how is it cultivated? Where does my food come from? Who prepares it? Which claims are made on packages and are they true? We will not only talk, but also try out different things, with as most popular item the blind testing of different tomato soups according to self-set criteria. Also, they will cook soup themselves; it might be it is the first time they cook at all, or they can use their cooking skills in teaching the others.

The project is aiming for a long-term change in the region, seen from the perspective of the school kids we work with. We ask them for their needs and let them work on it on their own initiative. For instance, if a group is formed with an expressed interest in things food-related, I meet them once in a while and support them where they need, be it with additional workshops, talking to 'important adults' or making general arrangements.

The idea for this workshop, which I did twice so far, came from experience and of course my usual interest in food. The experience I gathered while traveling schools in Germany and seeing what the children eat in their breaks. From the Girl Power workshops I mainly provided so far, came stories about dieting: many young girls told about their diets, whereas, to my opinion, dieting for them is absolutely unnecessary for a number of reasons - first and foremost, bodies that young still are growing and need nutritients, yet ideals about the ideal body tell the girls otherwise. I noticed they went often into dieting without background about nutrition - and think that eating 'just' a candybar in breaks is a good way to lose weight. Often they seemed to have no idea about food or at least have no critical stance towards it.

Experiences thus came from the classroom but also from outside of it. On the days our team spends on a school and the village it is in, we find ourselves fully immersed in the local food culture. In our short breaks, we eat whatever the school offers us (but I also always take care to bring emergency stuff in case the school didn't think about us, something I never take for granted). And often, this means we eat in the school mensa where we eat the same food as the school kids. And we eat our dinners in the restaurants in the village. This provides an excellent insight in German food culture, and I am always tempted to document it.

And so I will, here. This is a "best of" of last year. I made pictures of food we were served at different schools in Germany.

My favorite picture of last year was of the one thing I could not eat. You see, working from 7.30 in the morning until 13.00 in the afternoon without a break makes a bit hungry. So mostly everything which is offered, I eat. Except from this thing, which was served to me on a school in Halle-Neustadt. It is called Germknödel mit Vanillesauce. It is supposed to be cooked dough with a sweet filling, accompanied by vanilla sauce. This particular exemplar proved to be very chewy, with a slimy, lukewarm, way too sweet sauce. I took one bite and chose to stay hungry. (Also in the knowledge that in Halle there is one of the best vegetarian fast food places I've come across.)
The Thing "germinating" in all its slimy g(l)ory:

And in all its radiating innocence:
That was Halle. Radiating sauce seems to be a common feature in German school mensas, as proved Kranichfeld. This picture from the school there also shows the care for vegetarians which I often encounter in such places (on a school somewhere in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, there was no vegetarian food whatsoever, so I chose to eat the poor option, i.e. my emergency bread with spread. I sat in the mensa and was told to leave, as only the food sold there was allowed to be eaten).

Yes, Germans like potatoes.
Then, I can't remember where this was:
But it made my colleagues have their battle between hunger and taste:

Sometimes, schools are so nice to prepare breakfast for us and this can be really surprisingly good. There is care and love in it. And yes, they like bread and wurst, and no, I am not always sarcastic. I have tasted many bread rolls (Brötchen, or Schrippen in Berlin) and my favorite are the ones from Thüringen. This was in Grabow, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern (and there was a lot more on the table!).

Sometimes, I do have some free time to walk around and explore the little villages we are often in. I discovered that Germany has many idyllic and cute towns which I would never go to otherwise, so I am happy I have this possibility. Trying the local food is interesting. I will conclude with a picture made in the beautiful Ludwigslust, where I had a double espresso that was not too bad (I am spoiled when it comes to coffee, and hotels we stay in hardly ever provide the strong stuff I grew used to), before exploring the supermarket, another thing I love to do.
So this will be a start for the project that has been in my head since a while. To be continued soon!

09 March 2008


On a recent visit to the Netherlands and with that naturally my parents, I made a trip with my father to collect two of his sculptures at a gallery in Brabant. Two hours of busy Dutch highway brought us to a small village on the Maas river which was beautiful in all its Dutch typicalities: small houses built from the red brick that I've become to miss so much. The gallery was situated in the main street and appeared closed. Some minutes later we were let in and were offered coffee. My father talked business and I looked around in the one room.

(one of the sculptures my father, Jan Pater, made)

Galleries have always given me the impression of a kind of sanctuary, rooms in which a special behavior was asked for. Churches for art. "This is Art, this has to be Appreciated in Silence and Solemnity." Slow steps from one work to another in upper concentration. Festive vernissages seem to serve the purpose of allowing and thereby evicting the last laughter, the excess before the silence is started.

I had never gotten a 'behind the screens of an art gallery', and my first experience was a revelation. I came to frown as soon as I made my entrance. On one of the sculptures there was a jacket hanging. It confused me: was the jacket part of the work of art? The size of the jacket and the sweating gallery man in his shirt told me otherwise. The gallery man and my father were carrying the rather heavy sculptures into the car, an activity which made the gallery man -who would best be described by some euphemisms- sweat, upon which he must have taken his jacket off. A gallery is not a place which has hooks for jackets, he took the most convenient object closeby. Now the art had become an ordinary coat hanger and I felt on a secret mission, looking for other signs of gallery blasphemy. Soon I found another indication: in the yard, where some more sculptures were exposed, lay a carefully placed piece of shit on the little white stones. There were some ambiguities in it which any artist would be jealous of: art or need? Sign of approval or disapproval? This time, two bowls on the floor in the kitchen made the revelation. To complete my search, a third transcendence of gallery standards I found when behaving like a good daughter, chitchatting with both gentlemen, sitting on the antique sofa. The sculpture next to it was demystified by putting a recharging mobile phone on it; we all know mobile phones are unworthy to be put on the floor to gain new energies and thus we should use the nearest object to save them from such unworthiness.

Seeing all this, I felt like when watching Benjamin in the final scene of The Graduate, swinging the big cross to block the church doors through which he escaped with his beloved Eileen. Yes, dramatic, but isn't art supposed to be?