Reflections from the WalkleiterIn/leader
Kittelschuerzen collection at landmade.
From 3-5 October 2019 I was leading a ca 90 km walk from the village of Strodehne in Havelland to the Fashion Museum Meyenburg in the province of Prignitz.
The walk was initiated in collaboration with Gabriele Konsor, Artistic Director of landmade.Kulturversorgungsraum in Strodehne. The walk was related to a landmade art project entitled Strodisign, that refers to the traditional ‘Kittelschürze’, a pinafore-style apron that was common among local women in the area. Its website states:
‘In 2016, the traditional everyday village garment of the Kittelschuerze was converted into a new manifestation. The subject of this transformation is the apron, which embodies the cliché for the unique rural clothing and has a correspondingly polarizing effect: its opponents despise it as a feature of a backward (domestic) image of women, their advocates find it practical, enjoy their traditional/colourful patterns and their secret sensuality or they appreciate it, because it dresses the wearers like in a uniform. In the realisation of the project, the creative and technical forces of the whole village cooperated. This led to the development of the Strodisign Kittel.’
The project “Aufmarsch der Kittelfrauen” intended to build a long-term partnership, taking the previous ‘Strodisign’ project as a starting point.
Huntly – Strodehne
I started my journey in Huntly on a dark Friday morning. With an interrail ticket in my pocket I took the 6.10 am train – fully fitted in a traditional Kittelschürze. ‘My’ Kittel came from Gabriele’s collection; it was blue with flowers intersected with tartan patterns, of traditional acrylic nature and consistence – particularly common among female wearers in the former GDR. I could see how it caught attention on the way, without ever anybody saying anything. I changed train in Edinburgh and London, where I met Natasha Natajaran, a former DP intern and now friend. We had lunch in the sunshine of the British Library courtyard, contemplating Zines and other printed materials, freelance working, as well as the Kittel context before embarking on the Amsterdam-destined Eurostar at St Pancras Station. After 16 hours from Huntly, I arrive in Delft, where I met Gerda Roos my former colleague and ever since friend. We had a bottle of white wine, the Kittel question was only asked after midnight.
Next day me in my Kittel made my way to Leiden, where I lived over 3 years back in the early 90ies. I stayed with my great pal Marian. Marian is now a granny and we take baby Norah to the market. Marian also wants a Kittel. I send Gabriele regular photographic updates. She writes back: Please don’t drive me crazy (with the Kittel) as an answer to “Ich will den Kittel wahrscheinlich nicht mehr hergeben”. In the evening we go to the theatre. I wear my kilt and of course the Kittel. I feel almost looking cool among all those posh Leidenaars on the baroque balcony.
Next day I make my way to Amsterdam, where I meet Pauline Burmann, friend and DP board member. We only have an hour to catch up in the lovely Jugendstil ambiance of the Grand Café on Centraal Station. Our conversations encompass the African continent, Brexit, tourists in the Dutch capital, family and climate strikes. And then the idea of the Kittel. Now I am on the way to Berlin. I stay with my old pal Weert. We go to the Italian around the corner. I think Weert is embarrassed with me in the Kittel. But he had to deal with other embarrassments of mine in the past. So he keeps a good face. EU, Brexit, our children, car use, socially engaged art… centre the conversation till deep into the small hours. The next day I spend strolling Berlin and meeting up Jelka, an artist that I worked with back in 2007 on a project relating to youth boredom. We are comparing our artistic ventures in Africa, talking about mothers/old age how to live then? and contemplating the advantages and disadvantages of urban versus rural living in a nice Kreuzberg café. While we eat Pfifferlinge with Gnocchi and Spitzkohl, Jelka finally mentions the Kittel. Now she also wants one, I think. There are probably many in the Trödelläden of Kreuzberg, she says.
And now my time has come to go to Strodehne. A last go to Kulturemporium Dussmann to get the 855 KOMPASS map of the Müritz. And there I am on the train, only realising that I forgot my boots. Back to Schöneberg, and back on the train, I arrive late in the dark in Rathenow, where I take a bus to Rhinow. The bus driver has little patience with folks like me that don’t know their way round. In Rhinow it is even darker. I remember that the area has a dark-sky status. Not for nothing. I sit in the bus shelter with my stinging nettle knitting till Gabriele comes. On arrival in Strodehne we have the cheese from Leiden and wine from the Schönberg Bio-shop.
The following two days Gabriele and I prepare last minute things for the walk: car schedule, packing arrangements, power food, cockades, signs for the parade. I spend a lovely few hours with Ada, a young intern from the Schwerin Music School. We make last errands: chocolate, nuts, bank, pharmacy, lunch. Then we check out the tricky parts of the next day’s route till we find the way over the Deich. We bring a Scottish Highlands inspired pot of heather back. The afternoon is tinted by a combination between bastel and quarrel (the words almost rhyme – maybe worth a poem).
Day 1: Strodehne – Klein Leppin
After a night of repetitive thought, we gather early with the ‘Strodis’ as Gabriele calls the Strodehne folks affectionately. Some speeches, including from the BürgermeisterIn Edeltraud. We swing our signs to some rather muted Scottish ceilidh music. Mine says: Schick im Stall. I like this. Although I am never chic and never in a stable. But I like the concept. We leave and are soon surprised by a landmade. friend with a kid-like stall serving sweets and banana. A lovely last farewell by and for all.
Soon I gather our walkerInnen for a headcount, last minute instructions, and the distribution of small jotters, to collect various documentation: flowers, leaves, thoughts, war memorials, funny things….
Our path leads from the Strodehne – Rhinow road to the Dosse deich. Here we cross and soon take a path north. I am glad I have my compass. My worst fears come true – and I realise that it is hard to be at the front with the map and the back at the same time. I would need a back sweeper, as normally. I test my whistle, to make sure that everybody is in width of hearing (Hörweite).
Through the woods and straight to Damerow. I am unsure about the onwards path to take. I ask one, two, three locals among whom a Johanniter nurse and a quad biker, but then a farmer comes to help: right then first left. Confirmed by my loyal friend the compass. I from now on call her Compa.
Today I talk a lot with Brigitte. Brigitte is in charge of Kulturland-Brandenburg and therefore the funding of some of the work organisations like landmade. in the Bundesland. Their subtitle is: Die Dachmarke für kulturelle Vielfalt (The umbrella brand for cultural diversity).
But today we don’t talk about funding, we talk about the Brandenburg annual themes. The next one is ‘Krieg und Frieden’, a topic close to my heart. She tells me about the many interesting projects she supports, I tell her about the White Wood and how it aims to be a living monument to peace. Krieg and Frieden. I invite Brigitte onto a Jägerstand or Hochstuhl, how it is called here and talk about today’s topic: Rural arts development. She emphasises the need for long-term investment in a locality, and how this distinguishes itself from urban counterparts. I try to record this.
Onwards and upwards.
We walk through a range of woods and undergrowth with paths criss-crossing. I am used to the lack of reliability of maps when it comes to woods. They seem to be transient in forests. Existing ones’ disappear in the undergrowth, new ones are born by the forestry officials. I am nervous, but my training told me not to show it. Compa does her job, always reassuring me quietly.
We get to the awaited dyke and turn eastwards. Then over the water, all in a row. Again through the woods. Until somebody alerts: two a missing. We don’t know how. The dyke path seemed so obvious. We phone; search reception. ‘Turn left’ I say and the call ends. They heard it, Brigitte says. We move on. I give Clara the whistle to keep the Hörweite and her spirit up.
Waldfrieden, with its Wald Friedhof/cemetery. An interesting concept, where people are simply offered a tree as a monument. Here there is – a living monument to life.
Along the road to Kümmernitz Wasserfall, where Regine’s feast of Kartoffelsuppe, Zimtschnecken, tea, coffee, Gummibärle and chocolate awaits. Nicely presented by Ada on the tartan blankets adorned with local flowers. Sadly no water in the Wasserfall following this dry summer in Havelland and all over Germany.
We head to Damelack through the woods. Some mushroom pickers on the way. I play ‘I had breakfast’ with Felix. He wins after 6 or 7 rounds. After a good hour we reach the village with its lovely Dorfplatz featuring a church, a playground and a Spritzenhaus. Everybody is in best of spirit and ample jokes are cracked.
We cross the 2004 built bridge over the motorway (what did they do before?) and head on. At the next crossroads another cemetery, and another car awaits. We loose some walkers. Felix could not be motivated any longer. But little Tjaden accompanies us now with his wee bike. Now on the road towards Netzow. I walk with Karin again. We talk about children and how we both had them almost in fate. Her daughter is already 42. It was normal in the DDR to have them at 20, she says. Just normal. All was provided: childcare, job, etc. I find it fascinating to talk to people like Karin or Ulrike, or Franka, or Antje who grew up in the GDR. This was a white canvass for us. I still feel like this, like a post-DDR visitor. I have hardly been in the ‘East’ even till now. The feet start getting hot. But I was compensated by the information of crossing Netzow, which came to fame through the fictive village of Eichwald in Michael Hannecke’s Das Weisse Band – a movie about the ‘roots of evil’ according to the maker. I watched at least 3 times. I must watch it again on one of the many long and dark Huntly winter nights ahead. 1914 Eichwald was actually Netzow in 2009.
The road, and another path. My Compa versus some other’s Google findings. Compa must always win. Always trust her, my training says. If you don’t, get your reserve out. First east, then north again; we see Bianka the photographer in the glittery evening light. Hiding under a Jägerstuhl. Constanze and some other people come towards us in the dusk. We know we are almost there at the Dorf Oper. And what a feast. The cutlets, the potatoes, the Schlagsahne-Apfel dessert. The lovely Opera ladies there must have felt we were starving. I sit with Jana, the Director there, she tells us about the Dorf Oper – next year is Rotkäppchen, a Russian opera. I say good night and search for my rather too posh Watermill b&b. Despite the comfort, I wished to be with the others. I check the map for the day ahead, my Little Sun and Compa. All are in good working order and I set the alarm for 7.
Photo: landmade./ Bianka Stolz
Day 2: Klein Leppin – Pritzwalk
Breakfast at the Opera House consists of homemade Hawthorn jam, bread and plenty of other goodies. I converse with Hannah the cook about the art of fruit conservation. Later that night I noticed that she has slipped a Christmas jam recipe into my rucksack.
A MOZ journalist accosts us. We say bye bye, and head north through the Eichenprozessionsspinner affected woods. The next village is Schrepkow with its cobble stone roads. It features Conny the Hairdresser and a church. A loud barking dog kennel and a Mutterkuhbetrieb. No war memorial. I am told that many war memorials were destroyed by DDR authorities. An interesting way to wipe out history. We Germans are good at that. I wonder how long Conny has been there, or whether indeed she is still there.
Good that I have Gabi on my side. She has a relentless interest into the historic detail of what we are observing. A fountain of curiosity she is.
Today our topic is ‘the image of women in the countryside nowadays’ – an ongoing quest excavated through the landmade. work. Antje goes onto the Jägerstuhl and talks about her thoughts on this topic. She stresses the fact that it is hard living in the country, because the big distances for schooling, shopping, work. She sees a future that more people move out, as they cities get too full and the life quality is better in a place like Strodehne. She also talks about her own two sons – one very happy to call Strodehne his Heimat, the other itching to get away.
I also hoped to get Gabi onto another one, but before I looked she had been whisked away by the Bianka – the photographer’s car. Her thoughts however remain with me. How do we expect farmer’s women to do a three day walk like this. What would happen to the cows, chicken and other animals? The children? She is right. We should have thought about them. I never thought about them. I am sure Gabi would have explained this more eloquently, then me just now.
We walk on to Kunow. On the so-called Plattenwegen. I had heard of Plattenbauten many times, but not the Plattenwege. The country side is flat. A bit too flat for my alpine upbringing.
Kunow features a Gasthaus, but the food sign is crossed out with bold red. It also has a monument of 1904 ‘geweiht der Kunow Befreiung’. I have no idea from what they were freed from. I wished I was not so ignorant about history. At the top of the village there is a bus stop. We take shelter and have our 2-hourly break. While I contemplate how to keep the mood up with this rain and rather monotonous landscape of ongoing flatness – one of them, I think it was Ulrike, or was it Franka? – said ‘and what walk do we do next year?’ We all decided that walking to the outer Berlin wall would be the thing. Abgemacht!
We pass a plastic Bambi, a house with horseshoes upside down (spreading the luck somebody says), and an old Tischlerei sign of Ingo Pankow. Ulrike, Antje and Karin tell me how some people worked independently during GDR times. If somebody was a Tischler, then they could trade their work in against other jobs, favours or goods. Fascinating how this worked. I need to tell this to folks back home when we talk bout skills exchange. They moved on to pigs. If you had a pig, you could pot it, smoke it and pickle it and had enough for the rest of the winter. Families got together to do the job jointly. Or swapped the potted pig against a new fece from the Tischler/joiner.
To kill the time we sing. I sing Room to Roam. Then the others sing what they learned at school.
Hammer und Zirkel im Ährenkranz,
Zeichen des Glücks an der Wiege,
weit über die Grenzen des Vaterlands
trägt es den Ruhm unsrer Siege.
Hammer and compass in the corns wreath,
sign of luck at the cradle,
far over the borders of the fatherland
it carries the fame of our victories.
Ulrike is really good at this. Karin too. They also sing some Russian songs. Must ask them for the names and lyrics.
Onwards and upwards. Compa comes to help. What I thought was North in fact was almost east, and so we chose a lovely overgrown path that ended up in the village of Vettin. Here greets us first some lamas (they really have Disney Bambi eyes), then a rather smelly Biogasanlage and some roadworks that affect the whole village. But there is a Fachwerk church and a Friedenseiche, that I would like to know more about. We decide to have lunch at the car park cum Baustelle and use the concrete boulders as a table and the concrete pipes as benches. With quick woman power they are rolled into place; the Pellkartoffeln come with the Quark and the Apfelkuchen and we are all happy despite the drizzle from above.
Some people join. One of our core walkers is asked to take the car on. We head through the woods again. Loads of mushrooms are picked today. A paradise of boletus families. I squash them into my rucksack pockets for future destiny in a frying pan. Horses of different colour and hairstyles greet us until we reach the dreaded Pritzwalk road. The dad of a locally famous horse athlete takes pity and picks some up.Now there are just four of us left. We feel hard core, but don’t resent the others who look forward to the comfort of Berghain our night accommodation. Franka is a physiotherapist in Rhinow. She has like me 3 children in their twenties, although she is much younger than me. We talk about all of them, and decide our middle ones are the endlessly loyal ones. Her Lena even walked on the first day with us. We also talk about New Zealand, jet lag, facial physio, and what not.
The Prignitzer Hof in Buchholz rescues us with toilet and some weird misogynist jokes on its walls. I wished I could remember them. They were too weird. We plot over the big A road, under the railway and into the Pizzeria Villa Martino. ‘Wer sind Sie überhaupt?/ Who are you actually?’ asks the waiter. Beer for all four of us. The others join us all a beer later, well groomed already from Berghain.
Pizzerias are always my favourite. To me they are a really German institution, like the Curry house in Britain. No village without a pizzeria. God bless Italy! God bless Italian migrants! We head off through the dark Friday night town to the Kunstverein. Here we are greeted with paintings, O-Saft and loads of claps. I get a glance of the museum too. I actually love Herr Kontak’s woodworks. He has a Schatulle for one ring only. Its kind of cute, kind of beautiful, kind of eve real art?
I walk home with Janet. We enjoy the pitch dark. Its so dark, we don’t know if we are on a road. We can just feel it under our feet. A man on a bike comes towards us, assures, Janet recognizes his accent. He is the receptionist of the hotel. The hotel appears, paperwork, room, shower, map checking, Compa hanging, bed. I read a bit of my Ontaarde Moeder book. A request comes from whatsapp too.
Day 3: Pritzwalk – Meyenburg
The Berghain hotel is kind of bürgerlich. Good breakfast with Constanze and 11 year old Felix and some of the others.
Today is going to be a tough day. Almost 30k, but 4pm is the target. The museum closes at 5, I am warned. We head off spot on time. Two people join us. Förster Olaf and his dog Bernstein, and Gerrrit Gohlke, an artist who did some quite interesting stuff in Pritzwalk, that ultimately led to the Kunstverein. Horst Kontak is also with us. Group photo and off we go. First through the woods. I try to talk to Künstler Gerrit, but I get the feeling he is not interested. Then past a castle of some kind in the hamlet of Streckenthin, owned by some comfortable people from Hamburg, now associated to the Kunstverein in Pritzwalk, Horst tells us. We move on to Sadenbeck. Förster Olaf chats to somebody; I take the chance to ask the man to use their loo. I thank him, say I think of him for the rest of my life. Opposite is a war memorial. It is rather big. Over the motorway (on the map it is called: Erlebnisstrasse der deutschen Einheit/Experience road of the German Unity). We flank the noisy Autobahn and Felix tells me about his 4 grandmothers. One of them, his beloved Omi is in the Pfalz. He is due to go there next week. She is ‘sooo nett’. Another one is with his Opa, a Lutherian Pastor in Vladivostok, where he went last year by train. A story caught in the interface between fascination and boredom – seen from a child’s point of view.
We get to Sadenbecker Stausee, where are some protest signs due to a government plan to reduce it to a Landschaftssee. But here comes the most amazing experience: Olaf tells us about Bernstein, who is a working dog. He sends him into the middle of the lake to fetch an almost invisible water bottle. Bernstein turns round a few times to check his instructions, and comes back with the bottle in minutes. I was totally amazed. Never seen anything like this.
We move on to Rohlsdorf, where there is a surprise hostel kind of place with benches and coffee. Here we rest and I enrol in a conversation with Gerrit. He has been in Scotland last winter, loved it and now pricks up his ear on what we do in Huntly. The conversation rolls on from rural art production to Pritzwalk to globalization and low house prices. We forget the time a bit. But I am under pressure today. Meant to be at Meyenburg at 4 pm. Its easy, said Förster Olaf. I am not sure. With just three hours to go; I step up my speed and spread speed and nerves to the others. Not a good idea. March, march. March, march. I feel like an army officer, who is doing his Pflicht. Die Freuden der Pflicht? We race through the woods, past the wind turbines. At a cross road we pick up Alexandra Stein who is the Director of the Scottish Government Innovation and Investment Hub in Germany. We often simply call her the Scottish ambassador. She comes in her kilt.
Gerrit goes onto a Jägerstand and talks about international-ness in the rural context. And that everybody should have a Künstler in their village. You have to go to the places, learn about them and then find artists that fit. Sometimes it is good if the people that come from far afield, as they can see things freshly. Only if you dare to allow to consider the problems, then it is worthwhile. Provocation is not the answer. My provocation is to plead for boredom, he says. Only through constructive boredom, we can undertake change. I am not sure if I get this last part.
Soon after, Alexandra goes up onto another highchair talking about the same topic. But her focus is on Scotland; she tells us how our First Minister is talking about inter-connectedness as opposed to international-ness. Interesting thought. But we must move on. We are going to be late. The dreaded car is going to come and pick us up. March, march. But then one of the women says. Stuff it, they must wait. We walk our pace now. I relax instantly. You are right. What am I doing? Stuff it. I say SORRY. I am sorry. We reach Schmolde and two women from the Meyenburg Schloss await us. They say, no problem, take your time. We take our time. We sing. I sing for the last time. They now all sing with me:
You go yours
And I’ll go mine
The many ways we’ll wend
And many ways
Ending in one end
Many a wrong and it’s curing song
Many a road and many an inn
Room to roam but only one home
For all the world to win
So you go yours
And I’ll go mine
And the many many ways we’ll wend
Many days and many ways
Ending in one end
Felix needs further inspiration. Karin looks fresh like on the first day. So do Franka, Antje, Birgit and Heide another Strodehne woman who just joined today. And Constanze, and some of the many others. I loose track with details, but they are all great. We see the lights of Meyenburg, a last pee in the bush, cross the rails, past the Romantikhotel, the Schlosspark, Alexandra plays yesterday’s Scottish independence rally music in Edinburgh from her phone. And there it is, the Schloss, the Blaskapelle. What a wonderful welcome. I love them all. Group photo. And now the speeches. This is a German thing I think. Get used to it, Claudia. All those speeches. I need to talk too, why me? Ok I talk about something. Its ok. My beloved Kittel joins Gabriele’s StrodisignKittel in the hall – adorned by the rally signs. I want Campa to join the arrangement. She led us well. Would we be here without her? But she is not welcomed here where the art is. I better keep her. And then we eat. Soup and sandwiches, Kuchen. Germans are always so good with their Kuchen. I love Kuchen. I miss it when I am in Scotland more than anything. Alexandra pulls out the Quaich, and the Talisker whisky. Its passed to all the folks. We all say Prost and go our ways.
Thanks to all the Kittelfrauen to become my walking friends.
Thanks to Gabriele for organising it all.
Thanks to the staff at Deveron Projects for their dedication and Love.
Thanks to everybody else who participated, begleited, photographed, sang, cooked, inspired.
Supported by: Partnerschaft für Demokratie Westhavelland und Nauen im Rahmen des Bundesprogramms “Demokratie leben!“ / i-portunus / British Council/Creative Scotland