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Social Cohesion in Cologne and Stuttgart

During the first week of September, the ACG hosted the second year of the Study Tour on Social Cohesion. Ten Americans and ten Germans met in Cologne and Stuttgart for a week of meetings surrounding the topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This project is made possible by a generous grant from the Ministry of Economics and Climate Affairs as part of the European Recovery Program.

Meeting for the first time in person in Cologne on the evening of September 3, the group quickly bonded. Over dinner and discussions, commonalities in social justice challenges were at the center of the exchange. The group was joined by alumni from the previous year, adding to the depth of the conversation.

The next morning, the group went to the Kalk section of Cologne to meet with Lisa Khan, Director of the Integrationshaus e.V.  Based in a largely migrant neighborhood, the Intergrationshaus is a haven for those who recently arrived in Germany. Founded in 2010 with the aim of creating a space of solidarity and belonging, the nonprofit provides information on necessities to becoming part of the Cologne community, such as assistance with forms, language courses, and childcare.

In the afternoon, the group visited the University of Cologne for two in-depth discussions on inclusion and education. First, at a meeting with the Department for Gender and Diversity Management, Director Dr. Britt Dahmen discussed the university’s efforts to be more inclusive. The office, which was initially created for the inclusion of women in academia, now seeks to empower minority students and educators. It has become the first university in Germany to create an Office of Critical Race Theory to end discrimination on campus and in the classroom.

Later that day, the group met with three academics who teach German Post-Colonialism and Critical Race Theory. Professor Monica van der Haagen-Wulff, Chair of Education and Cultural Sociology; Dr. Jonathan Ngeh, Postdoctoral Associate, Global South Studies Center; and Dr. Stephan Milich, Academic Advisor, Institute for the Languages and Cultures of the Islamic World, discussed Germany’s history of colonialism and how it is just now coming to terms with its past. Following a brief presentation, the group engaged in a lively conversation, comparing and contrasting experiences on both sides of the Atlantic and efforts to preserve and uphold education.

That evening, at dinner, the group was joined by several individuals who are committed to the transatlantic relationship, including the Executive Director of AmerikaHaus Viktoria Harbecke; Hartwig Pruessmann, Director of the Freundeskreis Koeln-Indianapolis, and ACG alum Martin-Sebastian Abel, among others.

On the morning of September 5, the group was welcomed to Cologne’s City Hall for a meeting with Bürgermeister Ralph Elster and the Department of Integration and Diversity staff members. Bürgermeister Elster discussed how Cologne is one of the most diverse cities in Germany, with approximately 50% of the population having a migration background and the largest LGBTQ+ community in the country.

That afternoon, the group visited rubicon e.V, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization. In a discussion with Mike Nienhaus, Manager of rubicon e.V., Homaira Mansury, Head of Political Education at the Volkshochschule, and additional staff members of rubicon e.V, the group learned of the services both organizations offer to the Queer community of Cologne, including counseling services and a sense of belonging.

Continuing onward, the group visited the NS-Documentation Center of the City of Cologne. Housed inside a former Gestapo headquarters, they learned of Cologne’s involvement in the Holocaust and visited the former prison of the Gestapo. Members of the group reflected that it is important to learn from the past so that mistakes are not repeated in the future.

On Wednesday, September 7, the group met with the Educational Manager of InterKultur e.V., Prof. Dr. Kemal Bozay. InterKultur is an organization committed to social learning and sharing knowledge and resources. Bridging differences and experiences, InterKultur e.V seeks to create a shared space where individuals can access opportunities and resources while learning from each other. During the meeting, the group toured the facilities and saw a recent art exhibition of photos of the “Wildcat Strike,” in which predominantly Turkish workers demanded better pay from the Cologne Ford factory in 1973.

That afternoon, the group transferred to Stuttgart to provide the opportunity to see how a state capital addresses social cohesion.

On the morning of September 8, the group visited the Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, and Integration for the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. Sebastian Altemueller, who works on integration projects of the state, and Gari Pavkovic, who works for the city of Stuttgart’s integration office, discussed the challenges the government faces, including workforce shortage and affordable housing. Additionally, they discussed how asylum seekers are assisted with social services.

The group then visited the German-American Center and met with the Director Christiane Pyka. The center serves as an educational hub for all those interested in transatlantic relations and democratic institutions. Currently, the center offers discussions on the political climate of the United States, including topics such as civil rights, book banning, gun control, and climate change.

Later that day, the group visited the Büro für diskriminierungskritische Arbeit Stuttgart (Office for Anti-Discrimination at Work) and met with the Director Giuliano Ryll. The organization helps people who have experienced discrimination at work with legal assistance and counseling. They noted that the federal guidelines for discrimination do not go far enough to protect workers.

Over dinner, the group was joined by members of the Black Community Foundation Stuttgart e.V. The organization was founded after the murder of George Floyd through Black Lives Matter protests. Three years later, it continues to engage Stuttgart’s Black and Brown communities.

On Friday morning, the group visited the Robert Bosch Stiftung. Dr. Ferdinand Mirbach, Senior Expert on Immigration Society, described a survey conducted in Germany that explored how accepting of a society it is. While Germans were accepting of diversity, many challenges remain that need to be addressed, particularly how prejudices exist towards individuals with migration backgrounds.

In the afternoon, the group met with Rolf Graser, Founder and Director of Forum der Kulturen Stuttgart e.V. Now 25 years old, the Forum serves as the umbrella organization of more than 140 migration and cultural organizations in Stuttgart. The organization promotes cultural understanding between different communities through initiatives such as the monthly publication of a magazine and large festivals. The organization works closely with the Ministry for Social Affairs, Health, and Integration to help distribute funding and resources throughout the nonprofit network.

After five intense days of discussions and learning, the group met for one final meeting among themselves to discuss their biggest takeaways from the program. The group reviewed the lessons they learned and what they will take back and implement in their communities. The group will reconvene in mid-November in Arlington and Indianapolis for the second component of the tour.