Nikolai Schuchna

Reflection  – Urban Transformation 

Being part of the Heidelberg DAAD Urban Transformation Expedition was an eye-opening experience for me. Part I of my reflection will be on the different accessibilities to the city, and how I came to understand, how relational they are. Part II will be on the experience of working together in a multidisciplinary expedition team. 

Part I – Relational Accessibility 

I live in this city for a decade or so and I always wondered, how far this was related to certain privileges that I hold. While roaming the city and its different spaces, with colleagues from a different part of the planet as well as different academic disciplines, I started to understand, that access to the city is dependent on a set of different – sociocultural – keys. These keys allow you to enter different sites in and of the city. The sites can be physical or sociocultural, mostly they are a mix of both. For example: If you want to enter the University, if you want to study there, you need to hold a variety of keys. Foremost you need an educational key, i.e. some kind of diploma to access the Uni, you need economic keys, i.e. you need to be able to pay for the tuition fees, to buy a laptop lets say, to afford the high rents in the city. 

If you don’t have these keys, a big portion of the city will remain inaccessible.

 Another key I stumbled upon during the exchange was the local key. The local key gives you access to things you would not know unless you are familiar with the place. There are spaces you would hardly get to know if you don’t speak German (and its dialects), or if you do not have a network of friends in the city. How do you ask someone for directions, who does not speak English, how do you enjoy your theatre visit, if you don’t understand a word of the play? Also, if you are trying to find a job or a place to stay, being part of the local network may give you the keys to access those things.
But then these keys don’t function the same way in all the spaces in the city. Holding a University diploma might make you a stranger at a working class regular table. You might not be allowed in, if you arrive in a fancy car at a leftist evening in a nightclub and your local dialect will not spark a conversation in a room full of international students. Whether your keys work depends on how the different sites or rooms of the city are curated. This is to say, that accessibility is curated. Think of religious institutions. They might be open to the public, or just to practitioners. There might be other qualities you would have to fulfil, like certain dress- and behavioural codes, in order to be allowed in.
What I came to understand during the excursion is, that access to spaces is relational. 

How do you relate to the different spaces? 

Part II – Working together in a multidisciplinary team 

Working together in a multidisciplinary team was an amazing adventure to me. One that I wish to continue in my professional career. To inform one another about the different perspectives and ideas about the city and its spaces while roaming it challenged, strengthened, and most of all broadened my own. The overall curation of the content of the excursion covered a vast spectrum, and I could discover so much more about this place. 

The reflecting workshops we had thereby helped to deepen the understanding between the disciplines. Still, I think we could have at least another full semester seminar, where we explain each other’s disciplines and approaches to one another. Speaking about my own discipline – Sociocultural Anthropology – I would have liked to have more time to communicate what I mean when I speak about lets say relationality, in order to inform the others about which authors wrote on the term and why, what they found out and how and why I think it is relevant to our research. Of course, the dictionary from my perspective is a very good start to this. 

Speaking of communication, I was stunned, how well all groups performed in our final presentations. I think this was due to the mixed media approach, all groups chose to put forward what they wanted to say. This also happened in my own group, and it was a lot of fun. If I would have had to write about what we were trying to say, it would have taken me much longer, the written text would have been very long and most likely, it wouldn’t have been as easily understood. I think this is something really valuable, and again, an approach I want to pursue in my professional career. Still, reaching back to the dictionary, to have footnotes in addition to the presentations we had could add to a thicker, sound depiction of the things that were encountered during the field trip, and it could help to integrate the findings into a broader academic discourse. And again. A big “Thank You”! See you around. 

Reflection Paper – Urban Transformation – 9719KJC1171 – Nikolai Schuchna – 2827380 


Participants Bio

Nikolai is a 35 years old and he is studying the MA Cultural Anthropology. He came from a background of playing in urban environments - may it be football, skateboarding or table tennis - which he now also come to examine in his research on “playing and community building in public space”. Aside from university he work for several Heidelberg NGOs, for example the “Ping Pong Social Club” and the “Verein gegen Müdigkeit”. Currently, they are producing a radio show in an abandoned park near Heidelberg main station (see here). He have been living in Delhi a while ago, and have visited Kathmandu once. He is very much looking forward to your visit and to collectively engaging with the city!