Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Presentation by Ingo Weber

Cultural Capitals event - Athens from 22-24 June, 2015.

Intervention by Jörg-Ingo Weber (Berlin – Cultural Capital in 1988)





As time goes by…

We come together here in Athens to pay reminiscence to 30 years that have passed since Athens was celebrating the first European Festival as Cultural Capital of Europe.

We remember that all started with the initiative of the Minister of Cultural Affairs of Greece, the wonderful Melina Mercouri – together with her French colleague Jack Lang and supported by their colleagues from the Countries of the “European Community”, now our European Union.

It was Jean Monnet who is said to have made the confession that concerning Europe “if I had to start again I would start Europe with Culture”.

It is good to reflect on that.

We live in a period where Europe is somehow at stake. We only talk about economic and financial problems. We see economic problems –and I need not go into details. We suffer a terrible unemployment rate in many countries, especially youth-unemployment – which is nothing but a crime!

We forget the values that exist to bind us trustfully together. These values are our democracy, a basic principle of living together with equal rights and based on humanitarian principles.

We are in Athens, we are in Greece, we are in the country that is the cradle of democracy, the cradle of philosophy, the cradle of our state systems, and the cradle of our humanitarian understanding.

Let us in these times of political difficulties and even struggles not forget the role of Greece over centuries and millennia in the past.

It was good and just right that the “European Capitals” started their way from here.


The European Capitals are THE success story of Europe.

Almost ten years ago, in October 2005 European Cultural “fighters” came together at this very place where we meet now, the Zappeion Hall and exchanged their thoughts and impressions about Europe and its culture.

All this was an initiative of our main promoter and motivator: Spyros Mercouris, who from the very beginning and through all the years motivated us and many other people and decision-makers to work for this European idea, to help us and to stimulate us for searching success for this European initiative: increasing the value of culture in Europe.

I take this opportunity to pay tribute to a good friend –and I am happy to be allowed to call him a friend- Spyro, my dear, you have over decades, as we must say, until today served with great effort and success this European idea which has become reality. I hope, no: I am sure that also the authorities in this country acknowledge your efforts, your endeavour and your success!

At the end of this conference in 2005 we united on the rocks of PNYX, which can for all good reasons be named “the cradle of democracy” and signed solemnly a declaration in which we urged the authorities of the states and of the supranational organizations and institutions support us in our efforts to strengthen culture in our societies, culture being one of the predominant factors for peace in the world.

This Pnyx-declaration has not lost but rather increased its importance.

From 1985 to this year 2015 fifty-three cities have received the privilege of being “Cultural Capital of Europe”. What an impressive figure. Next to that we had “Cities of the Cultural Month” which were nominated, starting in the early nineties and running for about ten years, mainly to integrate non-member states of the time, mainly in middle- and east-Europe.

Those who have followed over all the years the activities will remember that there had been splendid events, also in some cases less visible.


The initiative of “Cultural Capitals of Europe” has one major deficiency, or let’s say at least: a severe weakness: We see festival-like activities that run over a year and then it is over. We know, of course, that in many cities initiatives were born in the course of the “festival-year” and they went on for further years or even continue to exist ever since.

Let me timidly mention the “European Film Award”, which was born in 1988 as an activity of Berlin, at the time West-Berlin, when our city had been “Cultural City of Europe” by the way: the initiator,  promoter and protagonist of this European Film Award was no-one else but Volker Hassemer, then Senator / Minister of Cultural Affairs in Berlin – Volker Hassemer who is with us today – This European Film Award is ever since celebrated every year, the ceremony alternating between Berlin and another city in Europe.

I want to point out another initiative in Berlin in 1988: the rebirth of a theatre that had been quiet over a long time: the Hebbel-Theater found a rebirth with the director Nele Hertling, a lady of great knowledge in Music, Theatre and Dance: She created a Centre of European and beyond that: international radiation – having invited for the Berlin public the most outstanding group of dancers, performers, musicians. And this theatre goes on existing with, certainly, some adaptions and programmatic changes in changing times.

So, these are just two examples of what I understand under “sustainability” of the European Cultural Capital idea. And, for sure, there will be many other examples to be quoted from other Cultural Capitals.

But we cannot deny that in only few cases a city that was awarded with the title of “Cultural Capital of Europe” goes on working in this European responsibility towards the rest of Europe.

We lack sustainability and continuity.


We had created –many years ago- a Network of the European Capitals of Culture – called “ECCM”. The aim of this network was to unite the past – current - and future Cities of Europe to exchange ideas and experiences - “best practices” and offer assistance to future Capitals of Culture but also cooperate in the following years with special European projects. Cultural life in Europe, artistic productions in all fields, be it music, theatre, literature, fine arts, is widely done through cooperation of artists and cultural managers all over Europe. So, claiming that the European Capitals of Culture should continue to cooperate in European dimensions would be nothing specifically new.

I am convinced that the European Commission would do a fine job if –beyond and above the different Cultural Programs, which exist with the financial support from Brussels – it would support with another special program the cooperation of the Cultural Capitals as being the share-holders of Culture in Europe.

We know that there have been other initiatives beyond the network ECCM or others that exist at present. And it is, for sure, good and appropriate that the most recent Capitals and possibly the  ones nominated for the following years feel the challenge to cooperate but it is as important that information is continuously gathered also from cities of former years – as long as they have suggestions to put in the basket.

Another important aspect is to keep not only the politicians and administrators of a Cultural Capital in the responsibility – also beyond the very year – but also the cultural workers and managers to contribute with their knowledge and with their networking skills for the sake of the idea of the Cultural Capital of Europe.


Let me conclude with a special remark:

Quite some years ago a Documentation Centre for the Cultural Capitals of Europe was founded here in Athens, based on an initiative of the City of Athens and with the cooperation of some people dedicated to this European idea. I do not hide that I was one of those. Some 40 cities had provided information on their cultural capitals to this Athens Centre.

This Centre was a kind of archive or place of “mémoire” to which every interested person had access and could find valuable ideas of programming a Cultural Capital and of establishing contacts to other experienced persons and institutions.

Most regrettably this Documentation Centre had been obliged to terminate their activities. Here and there I hear rumours that there may be chances to revitalize it – in spite of all financial and structural difficulties.

I am sure: it would be a blessing for the sake of all Cultural Capitals of Europe.

No city is more predestined for such an initiative than Athens – if only the financial means could be made available – maybe with money and structural help from the city of Athens, maybe with the support of the Greek Government, maybe with the good will and also some funds from the European Commission in Brussels, maybe with the support of other European institutions, maybe with the good will and the financial help of the economic, entrepreneurial and the private sector. Let’s all take the magnifying glass or the telescope: search and find an enterprise or an entrepreneur of good will that understand their role in Europe and invest in this Europe – this Europe which is our future and which is best defined by its multitude of culture.



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