Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

Offene Kiste - Open Box: Social Contract in the Making

Publication of th project "Offene Kiste" - Open Box

The website of Dorothea Amrhein (in German) is



Always there exist many tensions between youth and older generations. At times this can take on the form of Neo-Nazi related activities frightening the adults, while the retired folk tends to call for the police the moment they suspect something about those young people lingering around at the next street corner. Crucial is to bring these diverse groups together. The aim should be to let them talk about their needs and apprehensions. Once they get to know the fears of the others, then they have more understanding not only for each other but more often of themselves as well.

Apprehension has to do with succeeding or not in society. Failure is measured more so in the eyes of the others. In the case of this project called 'the open box', this is all the more likely since the youth on the land and in-between village and region know each other very well. The judges of their successes and failures make up the immediate community. There is an intracy insofar as the youth grows up within such local familiarities. No one wants to be a failure: neither the parents or the youth. Equally they come to realise through the discussions initiated by the 'open box' that they are all failures if they cannot communicate amongst themselves and with each other.

Solutions are hard to find. This is especially the case if the youth has no proper education nor many job opportunities. It is not merely a matter of formal education, for important are just as much those things which can only be learned in an informal sense e.g. how to stay a true friend. The latter has to do with social skills and abilities to learn how to adapt on a daily basis. If they do not manage to combine social with cultural development and therefore do not learn cultural adaptation as a way to relate to the needs of others, they face an uncertain future. A word of caution needs to be added here. Usually to adapt is understood only in the sense of having to become a conformist to society and its structures. Cultural adaptation means, however, to include the needs when already developing a new product or more so in this case a life style by which 'continuity of identity' can be realised.

About the general situation of the youth, they feel pushed while not seeing, so it appears, too many chances to develop themselves. More often they will have to wait till a job opportunities comes up and when one is offered, then it is usually one not at all what they wanted to do. They have to accept many solutions to earn a living even though they will have to wait for some time. And whenever they do get work, then under such conditions which are literally below the belt.

Hence they tend to adapt more unknowingly than consciously to just a way of living. To ease the pain they tend to simplify and resort to overt enemy pictures if not of the elderlies, then of the entire system. It is important to have someone or something to blame and not carry the full burden of failure. These enemy pictures are created moreover in the illusion that a sharp delineation from the others would relativize their own failures. They hope these sharp or extreme images will enable them to deal better with a hostile social environment they feel surrounded by. However, instead of learning to mediate themselves, they polarise themselves more than what any model of cultural adaptation is capable of mediation. Without mediation nothing can function in society. As key orientation this is missing in the lives of most youth and thus they never learn on how to surive in society without giving up their own demands while still capable of mediating between their and the reality of others. The lack thereof leaves most of the youth if not speechless, then vulnerable to extreme tendencies towards all kinds of radicalisations, equally forms of self isolationism.

Dorothea Amrhein (during the project still Ms. Becker) made a thorough publication in which she reflects experiences made over a period of three years in a project called 'the open box'. During that time she traveled around in a converted circus wagon to further the possibilities of open discussions with the youth, but not exclusively. For important was to bring in the other groups, including the elderly people of the communities which set the framework conditions for the youth to grow up in. The project was designed to deal with the problems the youth of today face not in urban centres, but in the rural countrysite or more precisely in regions undergoing tremendous changes. The latter is provoked by rapidly changing functionalities of the main institutions.

Appropriately the project is called in German 'Offene Kiste' (open box). It consists of using the former circus wagon to create a public space for intergenerational and intercultural dialogue. Of great importance was the fact that Dorothea Amrhein never went to places with the wagon unless called for.

Indeed, a prerequisite for finding solutions is a really felt need to do something about rising tensions between younger and older generations.

What follows is an extract taken from her publication and therefore it is only a loose translation of the German text. Important is, however, to bring across the key concepts and what substantial experiences Dorothea Amrhein made during those three years. The reflections may contribute to improving further work with the youth. Especially when it comes to dealing with such phenomenon as Neo-Nazism or other forms of Extremism, it is a sign of hope that something can alter the situation especially if fear subsides and people begin to talk to each other in the open.

The 'open box'

Die offene Kiste - the open box

The aims of the 'open box'

1. find new ways of working with the youth by becoming more observant of their needs. To recognize these needs, the youth should activize themselves and demand that the 'open box' comes to them. They know best their people and the framework conditions for solutions.

2. promote the dialog between generations, especially by using the 'open box' to overcome disturbed contacts between generations. Adults are always needed for obtaining permission to use rooms or getting funds but also when wishing to work out conflicts between generations. It can never be the youth by itself.

3. to come into contact with questions of life and of belief. The fact that a nun traveled with the wagon meant touching upon the curiosity of the youth for life in a monastery and what was a difference between projected images and reality. For the youth experienced that the nun would solidarise with them and help them whenever possible.

4. to support co-decision by the youth. This form of decision making was unfamiliar to the youth. For example, they did not know that they could make written requests to the Municipal Council and thereby inject their questions into the world of the adults. 'Open box' became a forum in which they could try out and learn all forms of the debate culture belonging to democracy (discussions, argumentation, decision making, building of majorities, making proposals, demonstration, public relations work with the press etc.)

5. promote the creativity of the youth. There is a poverty of experience amongst the youth when it comes to shape their free time constructively. Most of the time they were reduced to the usual offers: billard games, pubs, musical evenings. Thus it was crucial to show them how to organise themselves their own festivals, games or plan actions by which they could offer something to the community.

People discussing in a public forum created by the open box

Innovative youth work

This specific youth project aimed to introduce innovative methods as extension of educational efforts made already by communities and in particular churches to add something to public life.

Dorothea Amrhein travelled for three years throughout Germany in a converted caravan. Altogether she visited 17 different localities. The need to resolve tension between utopian design and pedagogical praxis constituted the work.

The open box became a kind of laboratory for work with all kinds of folks, including the youth of the specific locality. The youth is constantly confronted by new situations even though they may be burdened by old demands e.g. find a paying job and recognition in society. Not always teachers, youth counsellors and social workers can keep up with all the changes the youth goes through. At the same time, the younger generations certainly recognize very quickly what chances it has if any at all to integrate themselves in society.

Coupled with this need to integrate is, of course, the desire by the youth to change society and its structures. Here the youth experiences over and again that their utopian wishes are disputed by the adults as unreasonable or impossible demands. For this reason a key concept of the 'open box' has been the 'integrated glance'. In praxis and in discussions it meant to integrate various viewpoints held by different generations in order to find out what can be shared and therefore the basis of a 'social contract'. The prime aim was to reach such an agreement on which disturbances in communication could be overcome.


The special condition of the youth met on route was that they all lived in rural areas. As shall be explained below, the project did not go so much into villages, but stayed outside such closer bounded communities precisely because the youth itself was seeking much more a regional orientation. This needs to be taken into consideration when it comes to dealing with a youth not growing up in cities, but no longer either in traditional rural areas - in German "auf dem Lande" - as defined strictly by life in a village.

The youth living today outside big cities live in a dual world and experience subsequently a set of problems because there does not exist any tradition to mediate between the following two poles.

  1. On the one hand, there is the urban-industrial world which dictates in a categorical way by means of education and training what can be learned. This education system reflects more or less what determines to a large extent the kind of jobs being offered and what needs to be done to get a half descent paid job. To this world has to be added the role the media plays, the world of consumption and entertainment as well what is expected of the youth compared to the chances they have to fulfill them.
  2. On the other hand, there is the 'social control of the village'. This includes taboos linked to a traditional self-understanding especially with regards to images and expectations of the 'sexes' i.e. what it takes to be a man and it means to be a woman. Most of the social problems are suppressed while familiarity does not mean necessarily trust and social security but rather the opposite. The youth in rural areas do not have any model to mediate between these two worlds. There exist no spaces where they could balance out the demands of both sides and where they could try out things both socially and culturally speaking.

The youth in the countrysite face the personal task to find a modern identity which does not look towards the megapolis as orientation, but which they can develop without being over dependent solely upon the village. Rather they are more regionally orientated. However, for this new orientation there does not exist any tradition within the village which could help them. On the other hand, a strictly urban orientation model is not necessarily transferable to the youth of the rural areas. There the youth is still in search of some kind of status for the youth as such.

Naturally all references to 'village' are considered to be outdated given the urban based socialization processes. Contemporary discussion refers instead more to areas where people are concentrated compared to 'shrinking cities' and regions with dwingling population concentrations. Instead of 'village' there is being used much more region and regionality. With that go new tension fields and a change in the importance of institutions within a given region. Thus the youth attempts to discover and to develop within this regional perspective some independent status. They do so no longer within the term of 'commuter' between village and main city in the region as functions change and with them the importance of different locations within the region.  All that can circumscribe the difficulties of growing up and maturing in the sense of becoming responsible adults on their own terms.

Growing up on the land

Dorothea Amrhein states for a youth growing up on the land, it is self-understood that they will integrate themselves at a later stage in the world of the adults. That includes living with the parents and even after marriage to move into an own apartment but as part of the house of the parents. For a long time own living spaces was not as big as problem for the youth outside big cities but as of late that problem has been felt as well to a neglected housing policy. Practically the youth cannot conceive to have a place of their own. That lies beyond their imagination and more often as well beyond the financial means of themselves and of their parents. Interestingly enough those community living centres with many sharing the same premise, they have not been created so much by the youth of the country site but rather by those who came from nearby larger centres or even from big cities.

In many of the cases the youth and their families depend upon each other to weather the sturms and dire times, economically speaking. Often the economic polster of the family is quite thin. Hence the youth must contribute to the income of the family at a relative early age and not deviate too much from the family's life style. In exchange for that the family ensures that the youth has at a relative early age either a motor cycle or even an own car to enhance mobility and independence in that sense. Consequently the space and horizon for development can be quite restricted for the youth. If there is a wish for a new occupational orientation or to start off with something new, these aspirations are very often blocked by the parents.

Many youth want to lead a life which is different to that of their parents, but they consider it to be 'self understood' later to enter the normality of life in a village on the land. Attempts to resolve this expresses best the tension which prevails on the land between tradition and modernity. It appears moreover that alterations in life styles either at individual or family level are conceivable without thereby putting the normality of the village into question. Dorothea Amrhein speaks therefore of a youth not so much adapting as reproducing the 'normality of the village' (even if she has declared that the youth seeks a more regional orientation since the village as reference point is loosing in importance). How this reproduction is secure would require further elaborations as to changing forms of life and behavioral styles at a higher level.

Of interest is that the youth on the land does not seek so much an 'exception to the rule' and therefore do not perceive the period of adolescence as exceptional time; rather they seek a continuity of how they live now in what they will do in future as fully fledged and recognized adults. What appears to be something like a Conservative value orientation means for the youth to be steadfast in what they believe in and therefore count it as invaluable to stick with a life style once decided upon.

Indeed, the forms for living and working as linked to the normality of village life is not so important as the newly made social experiences they make during their phase as youth on the land. They express this by a desire to depart from traditionally defined occupational fields by becoming much more independent in both how they find their ways and also how they wish to live. During the phases of training and further qualification while waiting for opportunities to arise they use this time of waiting in a most productive, equally experimental way. This they do despite being under pressure of their parental houses to stay in given tracks and not try out too many new things. The latter is a mere recommendation to adapt at modest scale as to what is given. However, the youth has really to rely upon itself within this given normality of the village and therefore they search for possible support from those friends within a milieu which understands their search for another perspective to live within the region.

Emigrate or stay?

A crucial question every youth faces in view of prospects but also what lies ahead in the way of life is whether or not to stay on the land or else emigrate?

Dorothea Amrhein writes that the relationship of the youth of the land to the (big) city is at best a pragmatic distant one. The youth wishes to remain if possible within their region. It gives them the social and cultural development chances they seek and wish for. Hence the city as the place where things are happening does not appear as attractive as of often made out to be the case. Nevertheless the youth of the land does face the one crucial question whether to remain in the region or else to immigrate. This is especially the case in regions which are weak, structurally speaking, and on the periphery, so that they tend to view chances within their region rather pessimistically.

Already research made in the fifties about social patterns on the land, it was maintained that the youth does not face the question to stay or to immigrate alone due to a depressive economic situation. Rather it depends to a large extent as to what status the youth can attain on the land. Whether or not they are recognised as a social group of its own, and if they have at their disposal social spaces for themselves and this independent from the world of the adults, that depends upon possibilities to develop and to lead a life style of their own. Precisely because the youth encounters an enormous tension once set free from the normality of the village while being still dependent upon the village as reference and orientation, the structure which will faciltate staying on the land will be determined what opportunities they can see and develop for themselves.

Of interest is that tremendous differences between girls and boys manifest themselves with regards to this question whether to stay or to go. Girls do not wish to stay generally since they see less opportunities for themselves on the land. It has to do with limited development chances insofar as they are determined at a much earlier age in their role and moreover are subjegated to much more social control than by comparison the boys. Especially girls are very sensitive as to these limitations they experience on the land. At the same time, girls are much more innovative. It is common to hear the opinion if something is to happen than thanks to the girls and women. Certainly it has something to do with the 'ambivalent' role of the woman on the land. The formal public space in the village is occupied by the men, while women have a manifolded influence in the informal publicness of the village. They are the ones who bring about the biggest contribution to integration.

"The wish to stay in the native reagion" is an attitude to be found generally as the most prevailing one. There is a regional migration which overrides the more local migration patterns. This is due to the relationship to big cities being at best a pragmatic one and which is reinforced by a positive evaluation of the regional land. Definite roles are played here by the familiarity prevaling in the region with everyone knowing everyone else, the cohesion of the group one belongs to and the linkage to the family. The social security offered by the personal environment is appreciated the most by the youth of the land. It can compensate the special limitations with regards to finding a job, consumption possibilities and development opportunities.

The question 'to stay or to leave' has become a much more differentiated one in the case of today's youth on the land. This is because the search for a job has been elongated and equally become more complicated. Nowadays it is much more important not to force the youth to an early decision linked to leaving the region, but to look at job opportunities not in the short term, but with middle and long term perspectives. They need therefore an opportunity to keep open the regional possibility. For this reason ever more important are becoming for the youth besides ecological and cultural opportunities social networks which can keep ensure that the regional option remains open.

The professional setting

Regular project meetings took place once a month. The circle comprosed the two main workers, the scientific evaluator, the honorary members (who wanted to get to know the work of the open box) and the youth which would report about what took place during the month.

Crucial was the accompaniment of scientific evaluation as there was at times the risk not 'to see the forest due to all the trees'.

Of interest was that priests or a mayor would call up the nun who had the overall responsibility for the project, in order to ask her to remove the 'open box'. These denoucements or stabs in the back were not uncommon and thus support was needed. Tremendous was that she replied politely with a simple question: 'if you have complaints, why do they not contact directly the people in charge of the 'open box'?' Of course, this support was only possible on the basis that the nun was briefed continuously about the work of the 'open box' and knew what was happening.

Framework conditions

Creating an environment in which the 'open box' is not only accepted but its work taken up depends on several factors which set the framework conditions. There was a solidarity group to give support to the 'open box'. Things were realised in cooperation with the federal ministry for family, old people, women and youth. Through this further contact was made by means of seminars with those engaged in similar fields of youth education in the new states (Länder) of former East Germany where more artists were involved and who brought with them other proposals emphasizing more the creative potentials rather than organisational deficits. At the same time, a time frame of three years was set in order to bring the project to a close, that is when it would be possible to evaluate the results and come up with some fresh proposals for future youth work.

The methodology of the 'open box'

If there was a chance at all to open up discussions prevented till then by certain structures, then the request for the 'open box' had to come from the youth and it must be based on real needs. Thus there was differentiated between requests which were not accepted under any condition and requests which were followed-up i.e. examined more closely and if needed required a second round of deliberation prior to making the actual decision to bring the 'open box' to that location.

There were a set of questions and requests which were turned down:

Requests which were followed up especially when in further deliberation talks new questions were posed:

Especially important seemed to us requests which were at first glance hopeless or too entangled. Here two examples:

We took on board these requests and let the adults describe once more how they would like to see youth work being done. All of them had something to contend with as to the actual condition of the youth. The so-called village youth met daily at the old, unstable house of the preacher. Most of them did not want to have anything to do with the church located directly vis a vis. The religious council of the community was upset by the behavior and attitudes of the youth. The council wanted the 'open box' to bring 'order' into this youth group. A few adults thought of offering group sessions and some religious sermons. No one knew exactly what was factually happening at the preacher's old house. Due to the rubbish outside and in the vicinity, they presumed only that the worst things would happen there (drugs, sex orgies, criminality...) Furthermore, the old house was designated to be torn down. There were plans to build a new one instead and which would include rooms for the youth. A solution for the transition period had to be found nevertheless. With that it was possible to foresee a social contract to be agreeded upon through the work by the 'open box' since something like a search for the new had been articulated.

Once the team of the 'open box' presented the methodology and told the adults that they wished to create a team with those who asked for the open box, fifteen perplexed faces looked at them. Since it was the first time that adults had asked for doing youth work, that scene could never be forgotten.

Often adults withdrew from the 'social contract' of the open box at the latest when asked about their willingness to cooperate. They could only imagine their participation on the side, that is not actively and directly involved. Presumably the adults had contact and threshold fears which would explain their behavior. The youth were not so difficult. They felt through the cooperation to be taken serious and showed therefore a much higher motivation.

In the action of the 'open box' the youth saw a chance to fetch specialists to their locality and to work with them. With their support they hoped to be able to deal with conflicts which have been swelling already for a long time with politicians, adults and people of the church. They had as well the urge and pleasure to use the 'open box' as a way to confront with their demands the adults. The circus wagon was spectacular by itself. Pulled by a tractor, the wagon was colourful and was plastered with demands by the youth. Once the wagon stood at a prime location in a public space, no one could oversee it.

Throughout the time the 'open box' was in action the youth had fastened a transparent onto the wagon with their demand: 'More space for the youth!' The press and all passer-bys could not overlook this demand.

The 'open box' undertook even then practically the initiative if adults, politicians and preachers were against any kind of collaboration. Already that was a chance for the youth and the staff of the 'open box' to initiate something. Finally it was possible to bring out into the open many conflicts which had until then been swept underneath the carpet.

To be able to name those things one wants from the heart but which is often deemed as hopeless, that can motivate already both the youth and the adults to participate in such discussions. It is liberating once it becomes possiblea to talk not only openly about problems long felt, but also in a controversial manner. Disputes do not matter as long as everyone stays in contact, that is in dialogue. It motivates both adults and the youth towards actions especially if the initiative of the 'open box' leads to a reduction of fear and lowers hesitations to do something.

Solutions are indicated once the adults suddenly exclaim that they would like to organise a festival together with the youth. This is especially the case when adults express the wish to experience what they assume the youth experience when amongst themselves and having fun. Some adults would even join them by going together to the disco as a place they have been to for such a long time or don't even know what they are like. It is amazing what happens once despair and no hope is replaced by everyone feeling the fun of doing something together. The 'open box' offers this chance especially once those with all the questions and worries enter the process with no one knowing in advance what shall be the final answer. That openess makes the search for meaningful answers truthful and the encounter with the others in the process into a real experience. Memories as to the times when adults were themselves still the youth can be revived in this way and make further energies free when it becomes possible to criticize each other for failing to understand what the youth has to go through before being recognized by society as a fully fledged adult.

The open ended search and work process meant no fixed program was needed in advance. It was developed as things turned up. Naturally the youth had the justified hope to find solutions to their pressing problems. At the same time, we concentrated on the goals and limited ourselves in our presence time wise. This gave the 'open box' a firm framework and subsequently the 'open box' was ever more demanded.

In that specific case after half a year the youth did obtain their youth centre with one permanent staff member. However, it did need a long time to prepare as there was considerable political resistance against such a solution.

The 'open box' procedure

Clarification of motivation

Youth but also adults approach the 'open box' and describe their situation. Only when there is a willingness to enter an open process of problem solving, then the prerequisite for further meetings has been fulfilled.

Preparatory phase

Together with the youth and adults the goals of an 'open box' initiative are made concrete. Following that a contract is made. This is the prerequisite for any initiative to take place and key to the success. The contract contains aims, framework conditions, contents and the guarantee that those requesting the 'open box' are willing to commit themselves for continuous team work. For many the preparatory phase was most decisive. The box did not come automatically, but only on the basis of a concrete request and a signed agreement existing that the aims shall be realised within teamwork.


During the realisation phase weekly meetings are held to reflect upon the already experienced. Already during the preparatory phase the follow-up is being discussed and planned for. It is important for the youth to have someone they can address even after the box has left. Into consideration came volunteers doing youth work, community social workers, adults, trust worthy persons in the eyes of the youth, members of the church etc.


After the 'open box' having been present for a limited time, the experiences made are evaluated by the project team. Prime focus was on positive and new experiences with youth work at site as well as the question what had been achieved. The core question was what constitutes the new premise for work with the youth? Of interest is that not always new ideas were found for work with the youth, but new possibilities for approaches within existing work with the youth were discovered. Ideas and wishes by the youth were generally familiar and not spectacular. To create a youth centre or else to conceive a youth cafe, or to further forms of dialogues between the generations, these were not new ideas. But the path to realise these needs of the youth and adults, that shall be discussed in the following chapters about the concepts of the 'open box'.

The contract

The contract is the key to success. It constitutes the socalled 'red thread' throughout the duration of the initiative. Simultaneously with the contract we asked for a clear description of the location so that we could orientate ourselves as strangers and understand the dynamics of the situation to be found there.

Team members

The local team was constituted by the group requesting the 'open box'. Their names were included in the heading of the contract.

Formulation of aims

Clear aims guarantee that the work was concentrated on the essential.


Duration of the initiative

As a next step the group making the request determined the duration of the initiative. Four to six weeks were conceivable. It was foreseen that the 'open box' was active at location two to maximum four times a week. Opening times were generally 19.00 until 22.30.

Description of the situation

The description helped us to understand better the situation of those requesting the open box initiative. Why was it important to them that the 'open box' would come? What was the current situation?


„Our youth point is about to be torn down and a transitory solution is not in sight. They are making only empty promises.“

„The communal work has broken down since years, and we have no longer any contact to the local groups. That threatens our association.“

„In our village there is taking place planning without taking the needs of the youth into consideration. We want, however, that the youth finds as well a place in the village and can stay.“

„We miss the youth during church services and we do not know why they do not come.“

Collection of ideas and wishes

Already in the preparatory phase we would collect common ideas and wishes to realise what goals. This collection was something like a snap shot as to what were the preferences and habits of those making the request. While some wanted to do only weekly sessions, others wanted a disco and again others only political discussions. The task of the team of the 'open box' was to counsel. During team meetings reference was made over and again to the list of wishes. We drew inspiration from that. Whenever one group wanted to do only their thing, we took care to achieve a balanced approach. The social part should not be neglected as well. There was always at risk that a group would break apart and the team work too strenous and as a consequence neither the youth or adults would come to the 'open box' anymore.


It was important to find out the apprehensions as they always exist, but are rarely articulated in public. „What should not happen under any circumstances during the open box initiative? When do you think the open box has failed miserably?“ Once the apprehensions are named, they help tremendously to help prepare the open box initiative with regards to the respective group.

The most common apprehension reflects the disappointments the youth experienced so far. They miss recognition and have lost contacts with the older generations.

„If we get only empty promises and end up just on the street.“

„If no one is interested in our matters and they simply reject us.“

„If political discussions lead to nowhere.“

„When the gap between youth and adults is greater after the initiative than before.“

„If none of the youth come to the open box and we end up being over demanded.“

After the apprehensions have been named, we asked the group if they had to clarify some things before starting in order to be successful. Most of the times the wish list was extended and broaded. For example, there were arranged meetings with the mayor, posters put up in the shops to spread the information, an initial festival organised and a survey of the locals conducted.


As a final prelimary step the group thought who else could support the aims. The youth named most of the time adults, adults referred to other youth. These people were approached if they would like to help, but did not have to join the team work. However it was often very helpful for the process if there were people on the outside but willing to give their support, and even joined in the work at certain points. Some of them had political influence which mattered at times very much.


In the final end there was the matter of the 'small print', even though printed in big fat letters. The signatories committed themselves to organise the transport of the wagon, to find an appropriate place for parking it (most of the time one which is suitable for the youth, that is close to bus stops or other public spaces), to ensure there is electricity and water connections and to cover the costs for all of that. They had to finance also all materials used by way of donations or participation feeds. The materials of the 'open box' were made available to them free of charge.


Once once the contract was signed, then the request was official, and binding for the team of the open box and for all participants. Now it could come to 'open box' being used in a practical way.

Reactions to the contract

The youth

The youth responded often with enthusiasm to the contract. They felt being taken serious, were able to name very quickly their goals and had many ideas. With the contract it became clear their self- and co-determination. It mobilised energies, made the process transparent and brought clarity. During the implementation and team work the contract could be invoked all the time with the question: „shall we attain our goals?“

The adults

Generally adults were frightened and responded with a great deal of mistrust. „Why do I have to commit myself? Where is the small print? We shall think about after we have read again the contract in peace!“ Again it became perfectly clear that adults wanted to delegate their apprehension about the youth to the 'open box'. Now they should work in a reliable way during the implementation phase and be a part of the team! Also adults had many more difficulties comparted to the youth in getting their ideas together for the wish list. Who had ever asked them before what they would like to do together with the youth during leisure time? However, once they overcame these pensive and emotional hurdles, they did come up after some time with very good ideas. The suggestions by the adults indicated their needs for contacts with the youth and for some kind of participation in the life of the youth.

„It would be a pleasure to listen with the youth to music which I liked when myself a youth!“

„I would like to go once to a disco:“

„I would like to organise a fashion show around the theme 'then – now'“.

„I would like to know what interests the youth of today and I would like to talk with them about that.“

„I would find a common play day a great idea.“

Once they felt pleasure in what they were thinking and doing, then their motivation was felt to be much stronger. There were good prospects for the 'open box' not being merely a good work by adults for the youth, but that it would give them a happy, equally purposeful time when spend with the youth especially if met on equal and partnership like terms.

Media and presse

Once the contract was signed and we had something in our hands, it was much easier to go to the Press in order to inform the public about our work. Once the news spread, it elevated the value of what the youth wanted. In this way it became evident how valuable was the 'open box'.


The political weight of the 'open box' became for us evident once we experienced the reactions by politicians. It came to conflicts between political parties at communal meetings especially in one case when the mayor had signed light heartedly the contract. The open box did obtain in that city the task to promote and to bring about a youth centre in the city, and this with a permanent staff member.

We received also one request from the civil servant responsible for youth in a small town. Only in due course of the implementation phase, we realised that the mayor did not take serious his signature under the contract. Instead he thought to have made available the open box like a game mobile for six weeks during summer time. He wanted to have as well an exact programme from us for the entire duration of stay. Over and again we explained to him that we do not offer any kind of entertainment programme, but instead accompany a process and provide organisational counsel. We wanted to become active for the goals as stipulated by the contract. He disqualified us as incompetent, but signed the contract nevertheless (most likely for the simple reason that he thought to have engaged professional educators for the free spaces of youth work. The 'open box' did not cost him anything, hence the risk would not be that big.) His 'foolishness' had far reaching political consequences.

At another location every party adapted for its election campaign the named aims in the 'open box contract'. „We support the interests of the open box“ - naturally without corresponding knowledge about aims and methods to reach them.



The work with youth demands a high degree of openness in terms of both procedure and aims. Only then can be grasped the needs of the youth despite all break downs due to modernisation. This demands a kind of 'conceptual spontaneity', in order to stay responsive. And despite the goals being laid down in the contract, the work of the 'open box' requires an openness with regards to aims and objectives. For often behind the named goals there are hidden still others linked to further going tasks not known at the start of the deliberations. To be open to aims does not mean to neglect the ones previously agreed upon, but a readiness to extent and to substantiate them as part of a process gaining a new pivotal point through the actions.

In one case a youth association called upon the open box in order to find out why the youth were no longer interested in this kind of organisation. By means of a survey they discovered that the youth wanted one main thing: a youth centre or some space to meet. The youth association used its political structures with the help of the 'open box' to present the demand of the youth in public. That goal could not be attained when the 'open box' was active in the area but a first contact between youth association and youth could be established. The youth saw their interests being reflected in a proper way and thus the association gained in attraction.

In the village to which young adults had called us, it became clear in the process that they wished to partake more actively in planning. They were missing a space where the youth could meet. Discussions with politicians already planned for could now be used in addition to reinforce this need. It lead to a structured approach including joint meetings, space inspections, financial planning, deliberations with architects etc. all conducted within the framework of the 'open box'.

Open ended work processes spring always some surprises. At times that seems to bring planning into disorder, but can be satisfactory if the new aspects can be integrated into ongoing work. Openess can also motivate those young people who had been standing till now at the periphery of happenings.

Always a high degree of openness provokes fear amongst the participants in case everything becomes chaotic. In order to be able to handle openness, the youth needs a lot of security. Above all they need to feel being backed in whatever they do and thus a lot depends that the 'open box' can give to them that sense of security. This is especially the case when new, equally uncertain territorities need to be entered. Here counselling and thoughtful accompaniment can help a lot. Many of the youth sense as well all the risks which lie in the very openness which the 'open box' advocates. Naturally this is perceived only latently and never expressed directly. But it requires of the co-workers in the tema to perceive these fears, risks and even phantasies of possible catastrophes. The contract, the time limitation and the professional counsel can help those who have requested the 'open box' to take the initiative how to deal with their inner most fears.

For example, a group of youngsters wish to go on a night hike. It seems unrelated to the actual goals but by following this up it reaffirms that something can be done and besides it is a real good experience.


Often adults confronted us with following question: „are you traveling around with a circuswagon and if so are you really circus? Do you live in such a wagon?“ They associated regularly the offer of the 'open box' with some kind of private circus entertainment for youth or else with some kind of game mobile. It was not easy for us to alter their expectations. The 'open box' and its staff was something like a mobile unit for taking the initiative at location. Most of the adults could not deal with that, lest of all politicians and those with responsibilities.

With our work designed to accompany and to consult we gave youth work a much higher value and emphasis. We took care that the needs of the youth and adults were recognized, promoted the communication between the generations and experienced directly the manifolded dynamics inherent in youth work. We got to know many new themes relevant to the youth.

Officials would pose often the question, if the mobility of our wagon was important to our work or if we could conceive our work independently from the use of the wagon. Certainly such work is conceivable without having a wagon, but it is not that simple. We simply did not need to take care of public relations, advertisement, press work and question of space. Advertisement was already the wagon itself and what was happening aorund the wagon. The press came by itself and the space we brought to the location. Fear of making contact with each other was reduced as well by this provision of a public space.

For example in one village the youth wanted already for a long time to have a youth cafe beyond any clichee. While we were there, a market was taken place at the same time. We simply went with your wagon to that location, opened the box and offered like any other stand fried potatoes and in a ruffle a bear. Simultaneously the youth explained to the adults their idea of a youth cafe and this is how they came into contact with each other. The 'open box' was a social place where such discussions could take place.

Familiar images:

the youth is dissatisfied with what clubs and associations offer. They wish to have a different, more varied offer. The officials are over demanded and instead insist on their tasks and traditions. The youth responds by starting to meet at their places: bus stops, in front of the church, at a street corner. Adults and neighbors begin to complain at official places when they see the youth gather at these places. They demand that the administration intervenes. If it gets to them too wild, they call for the police. More and more myth like prejudices about these meeting places are created by the adults. Usual key words are in this context alcohol, drugs, violence, criminality or sex, preferably linked with excessive behavior. Such prejudices intensify the public mood being against such meetings. That puts them into question or even into jeopardy. At the same time, they contribute towards an ever growing distance between youth and adults. Often this leads to new accusations, labels and prejudices. Adults hide more and more behind a final negative evaluation. As a consequence the youth retracks to being only amongst itself. At times the situation shows itself as being stuck as much as stable. Often is the threat to such meetings a constant factor accompanying them.

Dialogue between Generations

Such scenes as meetings of youth coming under threat were common in the 1970's and made up the everyday life of the youth. However since then things have changed and with it the youth work during the last decades and this in analogy to other social developments. The youth phase has been established and is accepted as an unique and separate phase in the life of everyone. In the 1970s and 1980ties it was more a matter how the youth could delineate themselves from the adults. These tendencies were met by the adult world with a likewise sharp delineation from the youth. That served both sides well. The youth could get rid their frustrations on those limited adults while the latter felt to be someone with an own self-understanding. The youth appropriate in conflicts the world of the adults while the latter develop themselves often only conditionally further.

The cultural withdrawal of the youth is only a part of gaining independence. The youth delineates itself out of own interest from the adults but also from traditional forms of youth work. At the same time, they need to be able to refer to the adults and their social environments. It is a marcation of the youth phase that the youth never make a full cut, but also need some kind of reference to the adults and their world.


The basic positive energy developed by the youth when able to delineate and to assert themselves vis a vis the adults exists nowadays only in a very diffuse way since there hardly exist any contact points between these two living spheres.

Especially due to these diffusions it has to be taken into consideration and emphasized repeatedly that the youth phase has become very differentiated. It has become impossible to speak about 'the youth', even not in a village. We relate to a part of the youth – however in our estimate to a large segment thereof. Thus a part of today's youth has a need for experiences of contact and relationships, for recognition, personal acceptance and as well delineation from the adults. These needs are referred to when using the concept of 'wish' for ressonance. Such longings and wishes remain most often hidden behind the demonstrative cultural acts of delineation by the youth. To be able to perceive these needs demands to come into immediate contact with the youth.

In about half of the work by the 'open box' it was revealed that the adults pose the main problem for youth work. Only in exceptions do youth and adults succeed to overcome distance and polarisation out of their own energies. Quite often it was basically a wish for resonance which prompted older youngsters or sensitive adults to invite the 'open box' to come. However, this was recognizable only in a second glance . At first other topics and needs were named. Most of all there was the wish for space. Spatial needs are at first to be understood completely concrete – a room with four walls, floor, ceiling, windows. If a group has to meet always outside, then the wish to have a room inside is most natural. However, space can also be understood in conjunction with the need for resonance. The wish for space can be taken as metaphor for forms and possibilities of actions which find resonance because in can happen in that space. Things which can happen is something that the youth can also dream of.

A group of youngsters from a village hoped that the 'open box' would come to them in order to help find space for the younger ones where they could spend their free time and have some programme there. Their real needs remained at first hidden.

In an old school they had made very comfortable 'two autonomous rooms' spaces in the cellar. Only during prelimary discussions we learned that their public reputation was quite bad. They suffered under the fact that the adults held them in low esteem. In the eyes of the adults „they would get only drunk, take drugs, no longer Christians as they would not believe in anything anymore. We would have no longer any values!“ Our response was to ask: „how do the adults come to such an opinion? Do they know you?“ „None of the adults come to us because they believe our rooms are only dirty. Apparently we are also too loud. Then they call immediately for the police and then it is said: those from the cellar rooms, they are randalling again.“ „Could you imagine coming into a discussion with the adults?“ Confused and uncertain the youth ask us: „O, are you of the opinion this is possible? Do you really mean it?“ What is in their main interest: to undo the prejudices of the adults and to be able to pose critical questions to the adults.

The youth was very much surprised once the 'open box' – afterall our team existed of three adult women - took up this matter and in so doing took them serious. The 'open box' declared itself to contribute towards bringing the youth and the adults together so as to talk openly about these conflicts.

We began to notice how often the youth is left completely alone in daily life with their questions. The longings of the youth for recognition by the adults end up nowhere.

Once the need for resonance is not being responded to or satisfied, then the youth feels independent from their drive towards delineation to be debased and pushed aside. The feeling of being excluded relates today – and especially in view of communities having no budgets – to political co-determination and social participation. If one lets the youth run simply into 'emptiness' because the adults do not resonate with them, then this has consequences. Some youth show forms of resignation, what is revealed in particular with regards to where they live ('here nothing happens anyhow'). Only a few attempt to find some resonance by adapting. In the case of other youth the missing resonance evokes a more aggressive behavior which can be directed outwardly (noise, damage of objects, bad behavior) or else inwardly (alcohol and drug consumption, self defeat). The wish for resonance amongst the youth means as well a longing for a richness in consequences of their own actions, so that what they do provokes something. Only when these needs or as well their actions threaten to remain empty, then the action by the action can become offensive. According to the experience of the 'open box' the youth is neither hedonistic or unlimited in their wishes. They are in part very patient and equally can be reached by arguments especially when there are at the moment really no rooms available or some delays or disappointments are unavoidable. Only it is really necessary that those with the authority to make decisions deal with them, that is take up contact and develop relationships with them. But the given youth work cannot deliver that. The success of the 'open box' was mainly due to succeeding in dealing with their isues and in doing so to include the adults to come to terms and to seek together solutions. In order to achieve this there is called for at time a high degree of daring, aggressivity or else a production of moral pressure (for example, via parents of the youth, via the church or via the public media).

The development related needs of the youth to be taken into the world of the adults and therefore can grow into it in such a way that they do not have to discard their idealism after transgressing the borders between generations, demands spaces of resonance in which the two generations stand to give answers to needs and questions, but also in which criticism is acceptable.

During the work at location there came very often to our minds intiation rituals. We do not know about any ceremorial forms when youth are accepted into the world of the adults, but the youth fight for admission through conflictual discussions in order to learn with great effort how to present and to stand up to their own position. „Finally I am no longer the little Elmar from earlier times, but they recognize that I am growing up and therefore start to talk with me as someone like an equal partner in negotiations.“


Since adults are always named as causes of problems faced by the youth, it is natural to turn attention to them within youth work. That is certainly not the main task of youth work. However, the experience of the 'open box' shows that dealing with adults sets free new energies amongst the youth. This is especially the case when their needs for resonance can be satisfied immediately (or at least for the start) as prospects thereof does mobilise tremendously the youth. Within given youth work this task cannot be taken up due to institutionalisation, tradition and conceptual fixation, even if the arguments in favor of work with adults are convincing.

Also when adults are described, it has to be emphasized that they differ greatly amongst themselves. In every place there exist adults who are open minded, sensitive and therefore do perceive the needs of the youth. However, they have hardly any chance of success as individual person i.e. without any professional and educational support. In contrast to them many adults live relatively withdrawn and are therefore apparently completely disinterested as far as social life is concerned. And in every place you find those adults who are a part of the 'main stream' opinion makers and who contribute considerable through their behavior to the problems of the youth as well as make youth work more difficult.

Many of the adults with whom the 'open box' dealt with are rather helpless. They cannot talk with each other never mind with the youth.

In one location they demand indeed of the 'open box' to communicate to the youth values, in order to give them some helpful orientation. However, once we invite them to help us to find out which values should be mediated to the youth, they become speechless and evasive. Only three mothers (out of 80 people we addressed) are willing to talk with us about this subject. How much this burdens the adults, that we learn finally only through an apology by one woman. She explains that a talk about values would make her insecure and over and beyond that there would be needed some anonymity for the sake of self protection. One could sense amongst many adults a curiosity as to such talks, but at the same time they had fear of too much familiarity and of personal commitment. The three mothers who did come to the talks had been themselves active youths in the seventies. Then they had also searched for space but their needs then were denied. Marriage was then their form of finding a solution.

These experiences with adults show, that they too miss the certainty of a responsive space. That applies esepcially to the parents of the youth, in particular the many fathers: outwardly they appear to be rigid and dominant, but in their personalities they are more often over demanded to be the father of a child going through adolescence. Due to their occupational engagement they are socially disassociated (non commital relationships, clubs, fixed tables) and fixed to tradition concepts of a man, and therefore they never articulate their tensions and emotions of failure and devaluation. Here are missing spaces, relationships, personalities and inner competence. There do not exist any spaces to deal with these dilemmas, they are not even conceivable never mind imaginable. The culture of men has become hollow and no longer supports them when confronted by breakages of modernity.

In addition many adults feel to be completely without value and insecure due to the youth departing from social spaces of the adults (clubs, church) and withdrawing completely (this is documented on the land by leaving the church). In this position of self deflation adults cannot succeed in giving to the youth the resonance they need., They are too much pre-occupied with themselves without noticing it really – they are sitting in a trap. Because of these deflationary and non recognition traps the adults do need the contact to the youth. Is that a task for youth work? Certainly then if youth work can be shaped anew and differently so that it can improve the departure point of any youth work.

During the work of the 'open box' there were initiated and made available such 'subject fields' by which the youth and adults could enter relationships. It became evident that difficulties to realise an open and joint youth work could be linked to problems of communication between adults and youth. Very often are the projections of the youth upon adults a key to the problematic situation in which adults find themselves in: if the adults demand that the youth should preoccupy itself with values, then something has gone wrong in their own world of values due to not coping with modernisation; if the youth is suspected of excessive alcohol consumption, then the adults are much more the alcoholics than the youth; if sexual excessiveness is assumed to be the case by the youth, then these adults simple transfer their own sexual problems upon the youth. The generation of the parents of the youth is because of its age, but also due to 're-actualisation effects' (unresolved problems of adolescence carried on into adult life) enters itself a critical phase of life due to living together with the youth. Often critical and provocative questions by the youth threaten them. Many of the adults have resigned when they were a part of the youth and therefore let their dreams die (when it comes to trying out new forms of living, or else gain in individual freedom, empathy and tolerance towards others.)

Professional self-understanding

Professional action in times of rapid modernisations and in view of a manifold of modernisation breakages is in need of new orientation. In youth organisations, but equally in the open youth work there is posed very often the question about the own self-understanding of youth work and those working with the youth.One of the basic prerequisites for successful youth work is a conclusive view of the background to youth work. Over and beyond that those doing youth work must understand their own situation and actions. This self-understanding is a central orientation for professional action.

As has been shown already the 'open box' has most favorable framework conditions. There exists a visionary idea, an open easy to be shaped concept, many practical linkages and previous expeirence in youth work, little or no tradition and association anomosities which could obstruct, and instead a rather relative free view of the situation in which the youth and adults find themselves in at their place.

In order to develop new premises for youth work through the youth themselves, a work process was created that was as open as possible. This model like approach is as unusual as demanding. The everyday accompanying character let occassionally the question come up if this was at all professional work or rather if not everyone could do it? The answer was definitely not.

The approach taken by the 'open box' requires to a high degree sensibility for the situation of youth at their places, for local modernisation breakages and latent needs of the youth. The central work form as well as the commitment to the goals, future orientation, mediation, recognition – demand all competence and reflection by all the team members. In consideration of the special angle of modernisation and modernisation breakages the professional self-understanding can be described by means of 5 fields of action: naivity; finding concepts; openess; borders and connections.

A well recognized professor for social-pedagogy considered right from the start the project 'open box' to be naive. When offered the possibility to accompany the project scientifically, he declined. Only step after step the co-workers on the team became conscious that he was correct in assuming that they were naive, and that naivity was precisely the prerequisite for being successful. Only this naivity produces a certain amount of energy needed to be realized in the project and which we can call 'visionary pragmatism'. On the one hand, it is about doing something visionary when imagining a success, while on the other hand nothing is lost out of sight in terms of realities, competences and resources to be found at location.

The fact that the co-workers of the 'open box' were not inhibited when coming into contact with the youth and other groups allowed that the modernisation breakages became more readily evident. It meant also that the new needs of the group could be discovered more easily. Latent conflicts between generations could be diffused, contacts between old and new areas made and youth groups got the space they needed.

As naive was characterised as well the viewpoint taken by the 'open box' insofar as we started to rely upon the competence of the youth. But this meant trusting a certain lawfulness, insofar as those who requested the 'open box' will also name their problems and be interested in finding a solution. They need, however, for further development counsel and an accompaniment of the process, in order to resolve especially the persisting conflicts amongst themselves and especially between generations. Because the situation marked by modernisation and modernisation breakages is new, historically speaking, (and this shall always be the case in future) there do not exist for conflicts arising out of modernisation solutions handed on by tradition. Youth work within clubs, fraternities and open youth work were once themselves such solutions and offer for a part of the youth still today possibilities to find solutions. But more and more this is no longer the case. There is needed - within established forms of youth work, but also outside of it - ever more social inventiveness in order to be able to adapt to new living forms. Not to be inhibited and to be relatively free from worries are important prerequisites, in order to make such social inventions and to accompany them along the way.

Despite a given time limit for being present and commitment to goals as sealed by contract, the professionals engaged need for their work at location a high degree of openness in terms of aims.

Often it is unclear which part of the youth at a location are in need of special attention by the youth work, while others are quite well off so to speak. Out of this reason there belongs to professional openness a special quality of interest (to be amongst them) in the youth. Thus it is important that the team members show a competence at location with regards to being sensitive to the modernisation breakages. At the same, orientation according to resources available should not be lost out of sight (otherwise a situation can appear very quickly as being desolate). In the case of the 'open box' this interest articulates itself through being present at the place as well as in the postulate that the needs of the youth have to be taken serious. Exactly that is for many youth – even those with experiences of youth work – a completely new experience insofar as they are taken serious by adults, educators and professionals.

The youth are encouraged by the professionals, to seize the opportunities to do something. Many are visibly relieved once they realize that they must not abide by predetermined concepts, structures or programs and despite are allowed to participate. With often inconceivable energies they become active the moment they can determine themselves what is to them right now necessary. By contrast when adults ask for the 'open box', they are at first shocked by the openness. Some had hoped to have hired professionals like handicraft experts who can repair the existing damage without much fuzz and quickly. The others hope that the open box provides them like a play mobile with a ready made program. But also here creative energies are set free once they have overcome the initial shock.

The naming of the goals for the cooperation with the 'open box' rests with the youth, and in addition sometimes with the adults if they have made the demand (but then the determination of the goals relates directly to the adults themselves). All along the contract with the youth (and that is also something new to them) ensures that they can name the goals and retain them in their perception. A clear formulation of the goal contributes as far as it is successful that the cooperation concentrates on the essential. It allows the professionals to neglect in a legitimate way everything else even though it may be important as well.

Needs of the youth

The youth were asked and motivated to relate to their own needs: insofar as the youth had to become itself active, in order to be able to work together with the 'open box, they had to work out the conditions of the contract to be realised. (One important clarification of the contract is to provide further going interpretations of various understandings of commitments made and what is as a result the Theory-Practice relationship in terms of an ethics allowing for a politics based on public openness. The latter aims give a chance to everyone, but especially to the youth so that the y can question so-called truths e.g. what opinions adults had of the youth till the 'open box' arrived.)

There is a great variety of needs of youth which is specific to the local context, but also within these locations there prevailed different kinds of collective needs. The latter was a strong binding element amongst the youth. In the fore ground there were mainly wishes for something concrete e.g. a space to meet. Hidden by these wishes was a longing for another quality of spaces which in a transferred sense meant 'spaces for recognition', for contact between the youth itself or else to the adults, resonance space.

The 'open box' encountered subsequently following needs:

Conventional youth work perceives these needs in a mere mediated form, that is via detours they are brought to notice or else they are falsely perceived because linked to structural needs of the youth workers.

The needs of youth organisations asking for the 'open box' were as follows:

Equally here can be deduced needs for spaces, conflict resolutions, recognition from the adults, a political representation for the most serious case. The youth revealed as well the wish to improve the relations between 'closed groups' or the structures at formal level which are decisive for community work. The same applies to rules (codes of behaviour within institutions, laws designed to protect minors and/or the youth). They wanted to get to know administrative processes and thereby the political culture.


The need for a roof over one's head is elementary. This need was presented by the youth with passion and in an engaged manner. They were willing to take the initiative, to demonstrate, to conduct extensive questionnaires, to come to terms with the fear of adults with regards to a youth room and sit through extensive council meetings. Our circus wagon could deal with these needs in an immediate way and thereby open up for the youth an experimental field. By means of the wagon they could experience their own youth space and translate that into practice. Critical adults could in this way live through the experiences to be made when the youth organise, shape and determine their own spaces.

The question about space and its problematic reflects naturally how the youth are dealt with, what sort of status they have in the community. Quite often the youth are offered the worst rooms. A room in the cellar without windows, a building ready to be demolished or most difficult to heat. In only the rare cases there exist sanitary provisions. The offer of space demonstrates accordingly the level of esteem the youth has amongst the adults and underlines the lack of understanding as to their needs.

In one village the community offered the youth a storage room underneath the funeral parlor. In another community they demanded for the use of spaces in need of restoration a monthly rent of DM 80,00. There were as well adults who made available to the youth the only room in the community centre and which they could design freely.

The need of the youth for space can also be conveyed as an imagine. If the youth would meet only in the streets, then their needs and intentions would have little 'space' in the world of the adults. The positive recognition and esteem would be missing. That is why the search for appropriate youth rooms is necessarily linked with other conflictual realms such as order, values, living space, youth, drugs, sexuality, violence etc. These subject matters were picked up by the open box team the moment they made an appearance in the discussions.

Conflictual talks, controversial discussions with the adults

Especially in spheres of the church the needs of the youth to have conflicts clarified and resolved could be perceiced after discussions and disputes with often distanced adults. 'Let us talk finally without beating about the bush'.

However, here speak up quite often adults who have been dissatisfied with the kind and ways of youth work provided by the church and therefore had invited the 'open box'. Hence the conflict was predetermined and which the youth wanted to confront head on. They hoped for honest, kontroversial disputes and lively discussions with the adults. Since the adults were shocked by the direct and close to relationships working method of the 'open box', many tended towards harmonisation, others to authoritarian harshness. The youth was afraid of both extremes. But harmonisierung they judged stricter than the authoritarian assertion.

When we asked, 'at what point would be the action by the open box in vain', the youth of one church community and which wanted to come into discussion with the adults about their prejudices, stated „when they would find us all nice and evaluated our work positively.“ That is, when avoidance of conflict prevails, then a visit by the 'open box' was of no use.

The prospects that with the help of the 'open box' it would be possible to pose critical questions and to attain a clarification process motivated the youth. They seize the opportunity and want to confront themselves. As if they all come out of their 'holes' and 'hidden niches', all kinds of youth creep up once it is possible to talk honestly and confrontationally without them being sanctioned or that they shall hear generalized, impersonal sayings or else already well known answers.

For example, their question went like this e.g.

„Do you like to go to church or do you do it only out of tradition and for sake of keeping a good name? Do you really believe what is written in the Bibel? Are you of the opinion the youth should observe the sexual morality of the church? What values do you have?“

At first glance it was a bit absurd that the adults who had called for the 'open box' in the first place would as a rule avoid confrontations. The inability and the reluctance to talk with each other rested fore mostly with the adults than with the youth.

In one village adults and youth screamed at each other. A calm discussion amongst themselves seemed hardly possible. About the respective prejudices of the ones about the others could only be discussed seperately. We had the feeling as being in some original herd. Good Friday and Easter time coincided with the action by the 'open box'. For this reason the room in the church seemed to us to be most appropriate to come into discussion in an honest way and without any make-up. We hoped that both sides would reign in their temperaments once inside the church, and thus listen to one another. The experiment was successful. Everyone, including youth, adults and priest spoke about the prejudices which were burdening them.

At another community of a priest the adults had to be reminded to talk in a contraversial way with the youth about what they imagined should be the youth work of the church. Instead of screaming at each other most members of the congregation tended towards harmonisation. „We find you super and everything what you do is excellent!“

Further explanations by youth or adults were, for example:

„I am angry about the fact that the youth supposes I attend church only out of reasons of tradition and opinions of the others. Rather I go to church out of my own conviction.“

„I suffear under those who are always of the opinion to know how to do things better, and who are the first to criticize, but when it comes to do something actually they do nothing.“ (Preacher)

„Here, in this community, I am the popance. This has to be said once.“ (Preacher)

„Only because your youth rooms look in disarray, we are immediately in your eyes an useless youth which takes drugs and which goes to bed right away with anyone and not at all interested in religion.“

„We do not go to church, but we believe in God and understand ourselves as being religious.“

Recognition by the adults

The youth wishes – more or less openly – often recognition by the adults. In order to be recognized, there is needed contact and binding relationships. The youth experiences recognition by adults when it is possible for the two generations to discuss together, when the youth heary honest explanations by adults, if they feel understood in their intentions and opinions and their living and free time conditions improve. May that be financial support for the youth work or appropriate youth rooms. Often there are missing in daily life forms of recognition . Normally speaking it is unusual to thank youth which has been engaged on a voluntary basis. That is taken often for granted. Successful forms of recognition lift up and strengthen youth work. The need for recogntion and for real appreciation has every generation. The youth express it only more clearly. Adults tend to overplay this need often with the explanation „but I like to do that!“ „That is self-understood, for that I do not need any praise!“

Political representation in „serious cases“

Signing the contract means 'a serious case' has occured and 'the box has started to roll'. No long speeches, no endless preliminary discussions, rather the pressure to meet the deadline and the signature of the contract help to take on the realisation of the goal and to take up the signatories on their obligations. Now the youth is being interviewed by press and radio. Now it can happen, that local politicians make their appearance at the circus wagon and pose further going questions. Now the team has to learn to make together decisions and to represent them towards the outside (e.g. by filing applications, postering, demostrations etc.). The team of the box prepares the youth for their talks and negotiations, but as to their goals the youth have to speak up by themselves. That is exciting and new. In a spectacular way the youth can participate in the political process and represent their interests.

Young adults which want to let the youth articulate their needs with regards to the development plan of the village, give to the 'open box' their standard place on the town hall square.The box itself is decorated with the construction plans for the village. The youth draw onto that their ideas. The council cannot ignore any longer the proposals of the youth and their political representation.

A clique of youth, without a space of their own, demand together with the youth of youth associations a meeting place for the youth. For that purpose they convened a general assembly during which interested adults, politicals, youth representatives, executive board members and church representatives heard the proposals and arguments of the youth and which they should discuss with them. For that purpose the youth had prepared folios on which could be read their arguments and intention in a well structured and easy to read manner. For almost everyone this task was new and frightening, but at the same time enticing. On the other hand they felt, however, at times simply over demanded.

Getting to know structures or else to dismantle them

There, where clarity and formal structures were missing, we noticed that the youth had wishes and needs for order and structures. A special strong need and wish to lern basic democratic rules (committee work, team sessions, moderation of discussions, general assemblies, submitting proposals) existed amongst groups with few structures, as the case with big cliques. This we had not necessarily expected at first. We were surprises that an unstructured group of youth (in the ages 15 – 19) wishes to hold every 'open box' day a 'team session'. They were not interested in social events such as video-evenings, dart championships, bowling etc. Much more enticing to them was the prospects of getting to know the structures of the adult world and to apply themselves these structures. For the members of the 'open box' this intervention was rather dry. The youth won by learning the tasks of political representation amongst the adults in esteem. That had in turn a positive impact upon the youth work.

Creating relationships

Adults claim that the youth wants to distance and seperate ifself by joining cliques. However, we could observe that the youth was interested in creating relationships as much amongst itself as to adults. To the latter often be means of provocations. The longing for lively and god relationships to the youth became most evident in the case of youth associations. They wanted contacts amongst themselves as well as create new contacts with the youth. In their case they had to overcome 'bigger' obstacles.

A religious association called us, to establish 'live contacts with the basis'. When searching for a possible time slot they presented to us their year's program. It was filled with obligatory appointments. They left no other space for taking up the wished for contact with the youth of the locality. They felt committed out of tradition to the given structures. They were shocked themselves. However, there was lacking energy and imagination to bring about the changes. Thus it did not come to any cooperative work.

Youth provoked the city's council by holding a 'pool party' since no one listened despite all their efforts. They demonstrated in the public bath by placing booths with bannes and collected signatures. Through this action they were noticed and achieved it, that the mayor came by personally. Adults were enthustiastic about the action and supported the youth in further demonstrations and negotiations.

We were specially fascinated and interested to find out by means of the contract what are the needs of adults vis a vis the youth. Normally adults present themselves as if without any needs. They do not want anything for themselves. Apparently they do not need the youth. Only after a second look it becomes apparent, that this self presentation is wrong. Especially once the youth withdraws from the adults, it becomes apparent that at least a part of the adults do need in fact the youth. They have questions as to the attitudes of the youth, feel very often being attacked in their behavior, and therefore uncertain and even threatened. In particular, within circles linked to the church the engaged Christians sense breakages in their tradition and modernisation patterns. Here the youth is being missed as energy source. Adults need youth.

Here a few examples taken from requests by adults:

We wish to find out what values the youth of today holds!

We are searching for a suitable form of youth work, in order to bring together the youth and to create a contact point for the youth.“

The youth is demanding already for a long time a place where the youth can meet. We know indeed that we are obliged according to KJHG §17 to provide a suitable room, but we do not know how such a meeting place should be organised. We do not wish to give a room just like that.“

The youth should become self responsible and to work out for themselves representative structures and elect representatives to sit on committees (community council, church).“

We want to come into discussion with the youth about conflictual topics (sexual behavior, drugs, alcohol, belief/church, and consciousness for responsibilities).“

We want the 'open box' so that many of the youth come by, actions for the youth done jointly and a whole lot of the youth willing to participate in the community of the church.“

Does the youth feel itself to be understood and recognized by the church.“

Not every request ended up in a contract with the 'open box'. The decision depended as with the youth upon how open the adults were in their search for new premises and ways of solutions.

Needs of the adults

In one village adults of a church community requested us first of all. They were not willing to enter a search process for new approaches to youth work. Now the youth called for us as they sensed a chance. They wanted this confrontation with the adults. The matter appeared to become quite precarious because the adults obviously projected their dissatisfaction with the church upon the youth („Why are you not catholic enough?“) Their actual, but never expressed needs were: „We feel no longer at ease within the church's community. We are experiencing difficulties in our religious praxis and wish we had a more lively and believable church community.

After some very long talks and konfrontational discussions the adults recognized, that the problem was not one of the youth but one of their own. Only then they managed to formulate their own needs:

„We notice that we have too high an expectation of you. We demand too much and do not make you any or too few offers. Actually you do a very good youth work. You are actice and can take pride in what you do. Reflecting the youth work of the church has been strenous and unsettled us. We adults have noticed that we are ourselves unable to pass on the belief to you and to the children of your group. We do not know ourselves, if we could conduct one religious hour. Unfortunately we have not found within the community an opportunity to deepen our beliefs together. Out of this reason we do not know how to improve upon the youth work, including religious work. We only realize how important it is to let tolerance govern the relationship to each other.“

„The problem of the church's youth work is actually a problem of us adults. We are dissatisfied with the path of belief we have taken and project this dissatisfaction upon the youth.“

These explanations as part of the final reflecitons were only possible, because the adults stood in good relationship to each other, and to the youth and themselves quite shocked.

Precisely in such situations the adults reveal – even very often with a great deal of shyness – their strong needs for relationships and at that firm binding ones. Since modernisation means quite often dissolvement of traditional self-understandings and personal binding relationships, these needs become quite strong in the case of adults. Adults demonstrate also simply interest and curiosity to be able to participate in the world of the youth through the 'open box' action.

„Now we can go for once to the disco with them and take part in actions of the youth without having to fear that they perceive us as weird people just because of our age, and that according to the slogan: what do you want to do here, you old timer.“

Adults in honorary positions demonstrated conceptual obligations to do something for the youth. With the help of the 'open box', they used the opportunity to fetch 'experts' and to become engaged with them. They needed quite often help to establish contact with the youth, to advise and to realize their own interests and needs, to delineate themselves and to determine their own standpoints.

„We feel ourselves to be responsible for the youth work, however we cannot and would not like to do it ourselves due to shortage of time and lack of interest. Yet we want to contribute towards the youth work, in order that the youth has the proper framework conditions, so that they can develop their own ideas with regards to youth work.“

Clear delineations are legitimate and helpful. Equally the youth has an interest that the adults do not instead of themselves offer youth work. However, the practical support of the adults when a matter of obtaining a room and financial support, as well as the political representation, this they accepted gratefully.

In particular most interesting were moments in which adults complained about prejudices with which the youth was stamping them.

„We want to get out of that corner of faithful church goers and hypocritical Christians!“ Both generations wrote on bricks the prejudices under which they suffered and constructed out of it a wailing wall in front of the altar. Since the prospect existed to hear honest and authentic explanations from both sides, many came to church who would have otherwise stayed away.

The youth searches such open contacts to adults and vice versa. In order to initiate the process, there is needed a common reason and moderation from outside.

Working forms

How did we work within the 'open box'? This question was put to the co-workers ever more often after a certain time the first successes became evident. Very quickly it became evident that there was no easy answer to this question. Of course, it meant a lot of talk and play, listening to music, planning of actions and Posters made. Activities were social and serious, entertaining and goal orientated – as the case in all other youth work. At the same time, there had to be given something else which was very specific, for otherwise it would be impossible to explain the success.In order to answer the question, the co-workers of the 'open box' always tried to view the own work from a distance. In so doing there revealed themselves leading catogies which had determined the work forms in different situations. Perhaps – this may be the most important insight – it is no longer possible in modern times to present concrete graspable and promising to be successful methods or practical work forms, because needs, resources and concrete locations differ tremendously from place to place. With that disappears methodological orientation (first you have to take this step, then this one, then apply this method and success shall be ensured). An important advantage is that no 'this is how it is done' can be signaled in a light hearted manner, since no knows really in advance how it going to be done once at the concrete place.

On this background the work forms can be understood. All the following work forms played in the work of the 'open box' an important role to guarantee the success. They played in the project in one case a larger role, in other cases a less important one.


In the often undefined and therefore 'open' in-between spaces due the breakages in modernisation it is a matter to initiate mediation processes and to determine forms of mediation. Mediation is therefore a specific kind of communication: for example to bring about contacts, to create trust, in the sense of moderation or as networking. Plastically speaking mediation is not to be used like a fix to fill out the gaps or breaks created by modernisation (such a use would merely harden things), but more like a gelee which brings in a flexibel way the poles of the modernising break into contact with each other. Mediation should be fair to both sides. Desired is a kind of neutrality which can maintain sympathy and empathy for both sides. Crucial in this process is to keep in mind at all times the aims of mediation, the contact to reality at the location and the limits of any mediation (social tensions cannot be balanced out; often both sides bring into the process their own, very stable perspectives as to points in dispute as well as their very personal animosities etc.) Due to these limitations mediation does not need to achieve perfection or absolute justice, for alone when a situation can be created in which both sides take up the contact with each other, then this is already a success.

According to this understanding mediation cannot be primarily the task of some honorary or organisational youth work since this is a part of youth pole and therefore too strongly identified with them. The youth itself as representatives of youth organisations would not be accepted as mediators by the public, since they would be inhibited. Successful mediation must be able to rely upon a minimum of neutrality (and still take sides) and it must be able to base itself upon a double trust. Necessary is the trust between the mediators and the two (or more) sides. Mediation means, therefore, a specific way to communicate, in order to establish contacts, create trust, in the sense of moderation and networking.

In the work of the 'open box' mediation develops out of the contrast between public openess / institutions and the youth. While the publicness in the countryside and its institutions present themselves as coercive, highly structured and bureaucratic and therefore pose a threat to the youth, the youth itself is regarded as chaotic, hedonistic (pleasure orientated), borderless, hardly structured and dangerous to the public. Mediation follows here the aim to undo the cramped relationship and sets free in due course of mediation more realistic perceptions. Mediation between the youth / youth work and the world of the adults / publicness acts like a catalysator which makes both sides to react. As traditional youth work stands rightly so on the side of the youth, they are identified with the youth. They cannot bring about mediation in most of the cases, since they remain stuck to this one pole. Only with an increasing differentiation of social worlds in the countryside - as it is becoming evident nowadays – this type of youth work blocks itself due to its onesideness. Mediation becomes necessary.

Many of the youth in the countryside feel themselves still today excluded. The feeling of being left out and even cut off relates especially to political as well as to social participation. As mentioned already, the adults feel themselves to be 'inadequate', devalued and uneasy by the fact that the youth has left their spaces and pulled out (especially from the church). Because of this devalution effect and problem of recognition the adults should over and again experience, how the youth are and how they engage themselves, how they work. For that mediation makes available 'reference points'. It has been shown that many difficulties of youth work in the countryside can be traced back to disturbed connections and disrupted communication forms between adults and youth, but also amongst the youth itself. For this reason mediation goes still further. Since on the land different styles and scenes crystallize themselves, and even the youth phase splits itself up into different phases according to age, the need for mediation amongst the youth becomes apparent. Mediation aims therefore as well to mediate between different youth groups or also between different locations (for example, core village – new settlement area).

An important source of mediation exists in a specific form of aggression (in the positive sense). The mediators can 'step up', make demands and request a clear meaning simply because they are not tied to the one or the other side (and because they do not derive their income or professional status from one of the two sides). This has the effect of a very dynamic authenticity in disputes equally between the mediators and the respective persons or groups as between the groups.

Due to the dissolution of social milieus caused by modernisation, the youth (as well as the adults) depend increasingly so upon the development of new social relations. Mediation tries, therefore, to initiate and to create step after step for the youth in specific milieus a kind of 'stimulus milieu'. In such a case the youth is not treated as if an object of some mission, but as carriers of competence (knowledge, abilities, skills). Mediation assumes locally the function of networking. Mediation as new path in youth work acts against forms of delineation and separation: between different approaches of youth work and equally between the generations.


Stable social milieus have on the one hand a controlling, limiting and reductive function, but they provide as well shelter, security and orientation. In the last decades there were experienced and described social milieus as having more disadvantages and limitations. However today, when the consequences of the dissolvement of milieus is becoming evident, the loss of binding relationships is felt painfully so. To use an imagine milieus are like social air pressures. Without such air pressure human beings would explode and dissolve. The dissolvement of social milieus and being taken out of context makes uncertain the personal status. In order to win a personal status ('who one is or for what one counts') recognition becomes an important factor. In stable milieus it is not necessary to reflect or to say something about the mutual acknowledgement of each other. Insofar as the place of every person is well known and accepted, the status is self-understood. That inhibits naturally development:'nobody is able to get out of their skin!' In being tied up socially speaking the question of recognition hardly arises for the person. Recognition and reflection of the person, naturally also criticism and rejection, act in a certain way as personal borders ('social air pressure'). They serve the purpose, that the human being as person remains secure and does not disappear socially. The person who does not have any or only a bit of reflection of his or her self runs the risk to dissolve as a person: not to be important, not to count at all, not to affect anything, to disappear in the masses, hence to be replaceable or superfluous.

Due to the dissolvement of the milieus recognition has become for the person vital. For that persons have to know each other ('inner recognition'). Rituals to honor someone, slogans and formal acts, buyer status and consumption can highten in the short-term the 'outer' status. But they cannot attain the inner quality of recognition. For that are important acknowledgements and valorizations by other human beings. Acknowledgement and valorization express themselves by dealing with the person. A human being is recognized (and also curtailed) insofar as one takes her or him as given – even then, when one is not in accordance with his or her behavior. It becomes evident that for the inner recognition the quality of binding relationships is most important. Also in rural areas it appears as if in scenes and 'acqaintances has come to dominate the tendency towards many relationships with a low binding quality (and the all present hectic, the high time and achievement pressure in youth work contribute their part). Personal recognition becomes more fleeting as result and therefore milieus for recognition for example through youth work have to be proposed and initiated.

The 'open box' gives recognition to the youth right from the start, insofar as they determine the goals when they demand the box. Because of this, and also throughout the time when the box is present at location, value is given to the interests of the youth. Already the presence of the box and its workers is experienced as recognition of the respective group. That applies not only to the youth or adults who participate concretely (in the team at location), but affects as valorization the entire age group. During the presentation phase a lot of unplanned time is devoted to the youth and thus another form of recognition. The co-workers are approachable in a different way due to this long period, they get to know the youth in quite another way and therefore can give them a 'resonance base' for all their self knowledge. Over and beyond that recognition is given by public interest (= in-between being) in the youth and their own worlds, as well as by the social tensions arising out of the breakages in modernisation. Due to its searching character the project enters the world of the youth. The wagon is present, recognizable and approachable at location. In due course the co-workers visit the places and events of the youth; they go with the youth (and do not attempt to tow away with them the youth). This became also explicit as perceivable need of the youth: that somebody (adults) comes and goes with them – for that is not done normally by preachers, religious council, mayor, parents. Even permanent employees in youth work do not perceive often this need.

Finally the feelings for life which the youth have, are being accepted and positively taken up: their pleasure sides, their wishes for the future and orientation as to the present are equally accepted and thereby recognized. (Traditionally speaking, there stand in the foreground foremostly the reasonable side and the stabilisation of the past.) Especially by recognizing the orientation of the present there opens up new possibilities for the future, when the youth senses, that they are not made into means for an end, but that the future work has something to do with their own pleasure side and also with what they experience in the present.

The experiences of the 'open box' shows that many of the youth hunger for recognition. It is, however, a matter of recognition for the adults and their problems. It is, therefore, important to create such a situation in which youth and adults approach each other in a more authentic way and recognize each other. Naturally the co-workers in the project can give recognition. However, it became quickly evident that the high needs for recognition cannot be satisfied by the co-workers and it is too streneous, indeed can overdemand them.

In many of the visited places it showed itself , that youth and adults are stuck in a 'recognition trap'. The adults are hurt, because they feel themselves devalued, once the youth departs from them, when youth culture turns towards itself and thereby close themselves off from the world of the adults (a symbolic accusation in this situation is „that you do only those things which gives you pleasure but you do not assume any responsibilities.“) The adults communicate at the same time their feeling of not being complete, once the youth has left them. Once in such a position of being hurt it is impossible for the adults to give recognition. On the other hand, the youth need to gain in recognition for their newly won youth status. They want to be recognized as youth within their youth cultural living forms, also by the adults. In such a situation it is an opportunity for external persons as communication and mediation experts to get involved in the happenings. Thus it is possible to unearth at first situations which have become hardened, but also to make a contribution towards overcoming this disturbance.

In the project is limited very clearly the 'giving of recognition' in the case of addiction related behavior (alcohol) and of discriminatory practices (against women, ethnic and national minorities, migrants). It is also a matter of fact that the 'giving of recognition' occasionally no longer functions since the situation deteriorates (e.g. through overdrawn jokes, discrimination, lack of level). The chances that the situation deteriorates increase according to experiences made by the project when the performance pressure becomes too great for the youth and they start feeling to be overdemanded, when the pleasure is absent or in feeling to have been overlooked (e.g. sadness due to the pending end of the box project; uncertainties during transformation from one to the next phase – by the youth as much as by the co-workers.) Then the neglected 'pleasure and lust side' makes itself felt amongst the youth: in emphasized eating and drinking, in sexual allusions and in jokes. Although situations which deteriorate are not recognized within the project, they count as an important signal for pedagogical intervention (acceptance of the side in need by the youth; shaping transformations e.g. by means of rituals.)

For the aspect of recognition is also crucial the basic principle, that the youth get the recognition – and not the co-workers of youth work. That means the co-workers will have to derive their recognition from other sources (accompanying scientific experts, monitoring, employer, publication, media). They must not rely upon the recognition of the youth, since that would prevent the real relationship (as inner recognition relationship) or else reduce it to one of exchange (I give you recognition so that you give me recognition.).

Fight for Recognition

„...the circumstance, that the possibility of a positive relationship to the self can be given only through the experience of recognition, can be understood as an indication of the necessary condition of individual self realization(...). Without presuming a certain degree of self confidence, a legally protected autonomy and a certainty as to the value of own abilities, a successful self realization is inconceivable, if this is to be understood as a process free of coercion when it comes to fulfill self-selected aims of life. 'Absence of coercion' or 'freedom' cannot mean in view of such a process the simple absence of an outer coercive force or influence, but must entail as well the absence of inner blockages, including psychological intimitations and fears, so that the individual has a sense of security in the articulation of needs as well as in the use of own abilities. As to these kinds of securities, that is a way to deal with the self free of fear, it has been shown already that they create relationships to the self which can be attained only by way of experiencing recognition. Subsequently the freedom to self realisation depends upon prerequisites which are not at the disposal of the human being, since it can only be attained with the help of his interaction partners.“


In the concept of 'transformation' there resides the imagination of work with youth and adults by which energies can be altered. Transformation points out that not necessarily something new needs to be created. Rather it is a matter of putting the given into a new set of relationships, to influence streams of energy or to use resources in a different way. Transformation assumes that sufficient energy is available to resolve the problems or to realize work to the satisfaction of everyone, but that these energies are often not used in a 'correct' way.

As an ideal case transformation can be understood as an 'interactive process' on its own. This process is taken into the respective referential group's own hands e.g. a group of youth or adults, a work circle, an organisation or institution sets the development process into motion.

In the work of the 'open box' this own activity became especially evident, insofar as the box was to be found only there, where it had been fetched to. Because of this aspect of own activity the transformation process cannot be a matter of enforced or reactive adaptations to outer structures. In the foreground there are the linkages of conditions and the networks of relationships. For that reason transformation describes predominantly a 'suitable', adequate to the situation dynamics with organisational growth perspective and not a method or narrow fixated aim by outside forces (such as politics, church, youth associations). In so doing, transformation applies to 'hard' as well as to 'soft' areas of problems by groups, organisations or institutions.

By 'hard' area is meant formal, coded structures and the financial or spatial availabilities; in this part of work the 'open box' engaged itself together with the youth and/or adults to obtain spaces to be made available to the youth. Always it was as well a matter – especially when working together with youth organisations – to loosen up rigid structures. Equally the contrary, namely the creation of formal structures was occasionally needed.

'Soft area' applies to imagined aims of the participants, norms and orientations, visions, but also to relations and references, to informal (group) structures or initial steps towards a new orientation; in the work of the 'open box' this 'soft area' played often a decisive role when a matter to develop in the first place an imagination about youth work or to work out the imagination of the youth so that clearly formulated objectives could be formulated.

A preacher's organisation asked us to create for the youth work in seven different localities suitable structures. For four weeks we were only concerned at first to find out the needs of the youth in the respective localities: difficulties with the world of the adults, build up of a 'room directory', conflict talks between open and associative youth work. We learned that the youth of the different localities stood in regular contact with one another. During a joint graduation ceremony we wanted to make evident to the adults these informal structures. We created a 'sociogram' on which the youth made visible 'tredded paths' by means of whool threads. There existed already amongst the youth firm and passed-on contacts. It was merely a matter for the main responsible ones to work with these structures.

Often questionaires and surveys helped us further, when searching for new forms of youth work. These surveys we conducted already during the preparatory phase, so that we could formulate our aims for the implementation phase clearer and more concrete.

The whole premise of the work by the 'open box' aimed – in certain terms as intended side effect – at bringing about as well transformation. Even when there was hardly a pedagogical intention or a concrete goal with regards to transformation, in retrospect the transformative development became evident during the various presence phases of the box. As a result various 'strategies' of transformation could be discovered:

Already in the preparatory phase there took place a new positioning with regards to the own definition and – in the contract the described goals – subsequently as to what can be attained. This happened, for example, as to the commitment to goals in the contract, aber also in the search of identity of groups from youth associations.

During the presence phase transformation aimed often to bring about a restructuring of relationships or of processes. But in retrospect it showed itself often, that this contributes decisively towards satisfaction and in addition improves the performance achievement. Whereas much energy was expended in blaming each other and to deflect at the same time accusations made from outside, transformation contributed towards better use of energies and to find common goals.

In one city the youth called for us, in order to come into discussion with adults about their prejudices with regards to their youth work. They suffered under bad evaluation and low esteem upheld by the adults with regards to their youth work. With the help of role games and the development of models for successful youth work existential disputes were discussed. Both generations had to stand up to a critical questioning. At the end of the presence of the box a few prejudices had been removed, which made room for recognition of common interests and for the formulation of aims. „We are dissatisfied with the situation at the church and want together with the youth bring about more faithfulness and come on a regularly basis together in order to discuss questions pertaining to belief and questions of life.“

Where contacts to the outside were missing, the work of the 'open box' lead towards bringing to life the relation to the surrounding i.e. exterior world, which is the case if a clique of youth relates mainly to itself or else when a group from an association wishes very concretely this contact to the outside world, but does not know, how to present itself without being deflated or rejected.

Through the many layered, sometimes 'visionary', at other times conflictual related 'tasks of the box' the work of the box lead to transformation processes which showed itself in the new orientation of the co-workers, of the responsible persons or of the respective organisations.

A mayor of a little town had to learn with the action of the 'open box', that youth work does not consist merely out of predetermined offers to the youth, but also one which can deal with demands and needs of the youth in an open and flexible way. The dynamic which was created as a result, was that discussions and determination of location started in the political community. The mayor was forced to come to terms with the political discussion about the realisation of needs and interests of the youth.

Solution orientated

A further method is being orientated towards possible solutions or else to animate the finding independently of solutions. Always it was assumed, that the youth are the most competent for the solution of their own problems, even if admittedly tese competences have be mobilised by undertaking a great deal of effort. Nevertheless: the presumption, that a solution does exist, contributed towards the fact that all participants – youth, adults, the administration and the co-workers of the 'open box' – searched for a solution rather than remain in the swamp of problems. What could then take place within a relatively short period of time surpassed often the expectations. As with the youth, so also with the adults the allowing of solutions seemed to motivate them greatly. To have the solution in sight – even if were merely visionary or illusionary – seem to mobile the corresponding resources.

Helpful in solution orientated work was the 'question of wonder': 'image over night a wonder happens. All your problems have disappeared in one stroke. On what would you notice this concretely that a wonder has happened?' Not always so directly but similar the project posed this question e.g. when the contract was finalised. Most of the time the answers were surprisingly transparent, concrete and realisable.

The orientation towards possible solutions cannot naturally blend out problems. Often enough there stood clearly in the way of better solutions problematic constellations (e.g. in the administration) or a lack of competences (e.g. the articulation by the youth). But decisive was that there occured a break through in an otherwise laming demand that before anything else all problems must be resolved, before there can be searched for solutions in the youth work or by the youth themselves.

Future orientation

Closely related to the solution orientatio is the future orientation of this approach to youth work. Conventional forms of the open and associative youth work are often experienced as orientated towards the past. With that is meant that the established forms of youth work frequently orientated themselves according to what was, what has been proven as valid, or else what was usually expected – also, for example, „who wishes to work in a youth association has first of all to get to know certain structures and to put own interests in second place.“ Thus it is of no coincidence that in due course of the project that it came over and again to differences of opinion and conflicts with co-workers in associations and of the open youth work. Apparently once taken serious the orientation according to 'needs and interests of the youth' (today a ritualised slogan of the seventies) becomes a threat to the established youth work.

Future orientation aims at the realisation of the wishes of the youth within a given time frame. It is tied to existenting resources and to a positive concept of what will be the case in near future (e.g. after the presence of the 'open box'). With future orientation is meant the serious case: the concrete needs of the youth in their locality and the support for a realisation as much as possible in the present. It is not a matter of playrooms for the youth (which can have their sense of purpose, but which are outside of youth work less relevant), but rather a matter of making concretely possible and to realise the interests of the youth by the youth : in order to develop a democratic style, a form of co-determination and in having an active part when it comes to giving shape to the future. Traditional youth work or the one which is orientated to the past does not succeed quite often because it has arranged itself with power groups or is too dependent upon them (church, adult association, politics, community administration).

With the turning away from the orientation to the past there is connected the legitimate need of the youth for the present: to have short actions time wise and which do not need to lead necessarily to a permanent institutionalization of the youth work. Precisely this demand of timelessness contributes among other things towards the fact that youth associations in rural areas are at the brink of existential minimum. Where nothing can end, where traditions have to be passed on without any questioning thereof, where very change is experienced as a threat, the youth work performed will be so in a cramped and coercive way. Unfortunately not a few honorary board members at district and regional level contribute to not granting the youth their full rights. Out of fear of losses (money, influence, status), they respond in the forefield of a possible visit by the 'open box' with panic. This points not necessarily towards personal deficits of the executive boards (at least not exclusively). Rather it appears as if the the established forms of youth work cannot keep up with the rapid modernisation processes in rural areas. The work by youth association which is predominantly dependent upon honorary engagement is affected more strongly by this, since the highly professional open youth work offers potentially more resources for reflection and development of own work. Moreover alone through the high fluctuation of the co-workers there is undertaken in a quasi automatic manner due to the constant change a steady adaptation to modernised conditions. The equally high fluctuation amongst the co-workers in the associations has exactly the opposite impact. To understand the modernised situation of the association and independent position of the co-workers requires time. However, most of the honorary members depart from their offices before they had a chance to become fully acquainted with the work (it takes nowadays about two to three years). The consequence is that they have to cling to the given, that is the past, in order to have something which they can represent.

It is foremostly important to valorize it as a tremendous progress if in conjunction with youth work by associations and churches these critical points can be addressed and taken up as positive contribution. Despite in parts strong resistance, the project is supported by the youth associations. For internal organisational blindness and lack of professionality of many key functionaries, but also many honorary workers being over burdened and over demanded, prevents to a large extent any kind of criticism of the own system and expose those who criticize to pressures and devaluation.

Setting of goals

The 'contract' which the co-workers of the 'open box' sign with the youth and adults, prompts youth workers often to be surprised: „where else exists something like this that we sign contracts as part of youth work?“ Indeed, as a matter of fact rarely does this exist. For a contract forces one to become very clear what the own work should attain. Questions about concrete goals in youth work remain generally unanswered: „what should I attain in the next four weeks? What is our goal in the next year? What should change during my time in office? What do I want to preserve?“

The lack of clarity of the goals has its own good reasons. For one, it is a matter of a fateful relationship between permanent and honorary staff, especially within youth associations. Honorary staff members are as a rule only able to formulate then precise goals when they are no longer in office. Permanent staff members are not in a position to name goals as these should be fulfilled by the honorary ones. Despite this they have at their disposal an advantage in competence. Many permanent staff members profit from an unclarity of goals. For then they can do what they like. Unclarity of goals does not mean none exist. They are merely not openly negotiable (because made into a taboo, especially with respect to personal gains). They exist latently but are not reflected upon; or else they were never (or not yet) openly negotiated.

Thus setting of goals in youth work is unusual. Many youth workers (in particular the male ones) take the wish for clarity and commitment to goals as a provocation (especially when demanded by women). And that is certainly also the case. For once goals are set, youth work can be evaluated. Consequently the setting of goals leads to conflicts. But without goals youth work cannot be evaluated and turns into a frustrating experience. The lack of goals leads in the case of the permanent staff to a 'crisis in meaning' („Why I am actually here? What is the purpose why I do it?“) and in the case of the youth and honorary staff it leads to the (rarely so often posed) question: „for what are you really paid?“

Setting goals does not have to mean succumbig to economic principles. The built up of and the sustaining of relationships, the creation of a milieu for recognition, the development of a positive youth work culture could be such goals for youth work which do not fit into an economic concept.

The 'open box' has given itself a clear goal. In the three project years there should be found 'new paths for the youth work'. Over and beyond that for each intervention there were put down very clear goals. To this process was given as a rule a lot of time. Often is this the decisive step: the declaration of goals by the youth or adults and the thereby ever clearer goals. Adults have with that many more difficulties, because the commitment to goals relates to them directly (goal is to change their prejudices – not the youth must change).

The setting of goals allows evaluation of the own work; it sets limits to endless openness and gives despite often chaotic processes a clear orientation.

Creation of resonance spaces

Resonance spaces are nowadays a necessary complementarity to prevailing sets of goals and methods of youth work. Associatively speaking 'resonance' points to the realm of accustics. Certainly resonance can be linked in the case of the youth also to their rather loud way of dealing with each other, to the deafening sounds of motorbikes or to the loud playing of 'their' music. For many youth it is by now means coincidental such kind of accustic demonstration and self-affirmation of their presence. In a conveyed sense resonance implies response or understanding between persons or groups. The creation of resonance spaces should contribute towards the possibility to satisfy the need for resonance. For that purpose resonance spaces can be created at various levels. Basic to the work by the 'open box' is that youth work goes to the youth (and not vice versa). Already by someone coming, by being attentive to the youth creates resonance spaces for the youth. At a further going level the problems and the real life of the youth are being recognized and reflected upon. The box attempts to find out and to sense exactly what really interests and moves the youth. All that is ascertained in public, a further form of resonance: there is made a contract with the youth. Team sessions with the youth take place in public; the planed actions to take place during the presence time are put up on the notice board, panel discussions take place, politicians visit the youth at the box etc.

Tried actions with the aim to open up resonance spaces are – methodological speaking nothing new – surveys, interviews, demonstrations, poster actions, discussions and parties at the circus wagon, formulation of applications and to put demands to community council. They are in the first line methods which provoke discussions between the generations and which reduce inhibitions by means of an uncomplicated transmission of information. Also during these talks the 'open box' works in a placative way: youth create, for example, a wall made out of bricks on which one can read what prevents them to go to church. Or they write on huge banners the questions which they would like to pose to the adults.

The media plays a vital role when it comes to create resonance spaces. Since the 'open box' works at location and if at all then it is regionally related, the daily newspapers and bulletins of the community are the most important media. When the youth finds itself being depicted in a media which is usually not accessible to them and they see their situation being reflected upon, then they get the feeling to be really important and to be taken serious. When on top of that the reknown Sunday paper of the church prints a report about the youth, then the youth receives a resonance from a source about which they never had the hope to be recognized by. In the foreground of all efforts to create resonance speaces stays, however, the contact between the generations and making explicit the wish of the youth for resonance.

In one village there was started through such resonance talks a clarification process during which the adults could dismantle their prejudices and fears which they have vis a vis the youth. They were surprised to learn that their fears of the youth were connected with their own deficits. The inabilities to talk with each other resides more with the adults as with the youth. Equally dealing with alcohol was far more dangerous by adults than with the youth. The 'condomes' which were found turned out to be ballons which served as water bombs. We assumed when accompanying the process the task of moderation. As outsiders we were not involved in the reciprocal projections. We could mediate between the two sides about their respective needs and to make them understandable.

Resonance spaces contribute towards being able to cope with consequences of modernisation and with breaks which happen as a result of modernisation. The creation of resonance spaces can qualify youth work and make first at all possible. Presumably resonance spaces contribute towards an improvement in the social climate prevailing in villages or city districts, so that the youth and adults can deal better with each other but also get along with one another.


Limits of the 'open box'


Taking care afterwards


Time limits


Range of the 'open box'


The target group


Dialog Inabilities





The project 'open box' was not continued after three years since its main purpose was to search for new approaches in youth work and to disseminate the method to already existing youth organisations. These goals have been achieved.

Three years of 'open box' was a true adventure of which we retain fond memories. We have experienced a lot and learned a great deal. If the publication can animate others to do likewise and come into direct contact with the youth, all the better. If any patron is needed for protection especially when situations appear to be hopeless and everyone apparently if not in conflict, then in despair, then we recommend the Holy Rita. She has been tested and found to be very good.

Dorothea Amrhein



e-mail: vdamrhein@arcor.de



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