Haus der Jugend Wilhelmsburg, Hamburg: May-June 2011

By: Julie Chamberlain

Haus der Jugend, Wilhelmsburg is a large nonprofit centre in the Reiherstieg area of Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg. The focus of Haus der Jugend Wilhelmsburg (HdJ) is providing physical and intellectual development opportunities for local children and youth to enhance their health and well-being. Funded in large part by the city-state of Hamburg, HdJ Wilhelmsburg is one of a few such centres in Hamburg, and many across the country offering some variation on the same services. They are not affiliated with each other but many do have working relationships. HdJ Wilhelmsburg has a reputation for being the largest and one of the most active in the city.

HdJ Wilhelmsburg offers some programs itself, and makes its space available for the operation of many more. Examples of programs run out of the HdJ by other organizations include a kindergarten/ daycare, job counselling for youth, German language classes for newcomers, and a daily lunch program for schoolkids. HdJ Wilhelmsburg itself offers and manages open spaces and resources that include a gymnasium, outdoor play space, computer access, games, and a workout room for youth, counselling services for youth and adults, music programs, and “Women's Thursday,” in which the open space is reserved for women, girls, and young kids.

My Experience at HdJ 
I had a very comfortable and fruitful four weeks at Haus der Jugend Wilhelmsburg. They often host students doing their practica, so the staff and leadership of HdJ were quite accustomed to integrating new students into their work however temporarily, and were happy to have me help out wherever I could and was interested. There was no expectation set for how many hours I should be there weekly, but rather that I would guide my own learning and identify things I wanted to do. The executive director and my co-workers helped out by telling me about upcoming groups and events, and be welcoming me to join in whatever they were doing. They were delighted and baffled that a Canadian came to know about their organizations and wanted to spend time there; they would love to have more overseas visitors and connections. They told me it was stimulating for them to have someone with a different perspective there: from Canada and from a professional background outside of early childhood education.

I generally helped out with a sports and movement program for schoolkids in the mornings and an after-school homework club in the afternoons. I attended weekly staff meetings, sat in on HdJ's part-time social pedagogue's appointments, took a tour of Wilhelmsburg with the executive director, and attended the open house of another local service provider. The bulk of my learning related to my own field of adult education came from sitting in with the social pedagogue, attending staff meetings, and, very significantly, informally through talking to my co-workers. I initially set up some semi-structured conversations to gain an understanding of their work with adults and of the context and issues in Hamburg-Wilhelmsburg; later I found it very fruitful to ask questions informally. I took extensive field notes, which helped inform a reflective paper that I submitted to my department at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.

As my interests centre around racism, migration, and attitudes towards immigration, it was fascinating for me to get to know Wilhelmsburg a bit: according to HdJ, 70% of kids and youth in Wilhelmsburg have a “Migrationshintergrund,” which is to say that they are racialized. During the study tour we heard Wilhelmsburg referred to many times as a Sozialer Brennpunkt, and I heard the term repeated by one or two at HdJ, though not by anyone who themselves were racialized or lived in Wilhelmsburg. HdJ is not itself explicitly engaged with issues of race and marginalization, but many of the staff and volunteers spoke extensively on exactly these issues, as they framed what they do at HdJ and why. Though HdJ's focus is on supporting and creating opportunities for individuals in the community, they are necessarily engaged with the community more broadly and the issues, challenges, and barriers it grapples with.

I was very pleased with how my internship experience at Haus der Jugend contributed to my goal of improving my professional German and exploring whether I was capable of working and studying in the language. The internship helped me to expand my education and social work-related vocabulary significantly, and demanded that I speak German all day, every day. It was particularly helpful to be working with kids, as they are just developing their capacity to speak English, so there was often no other common language to fall back on. By the end of the internship I was much more confident of my ability to work in German, including expressing abstract ideas. This is leading me to seriously consider the possibility of studying in Germany in the future.

My internship experience at Haus der Jugend Wilhelmsburg has also led me to adopt a masters thesis topic that I identified and developed through my time in Hamburg. The Internationale Bauaustellung Hamburg (IBA Hamburg) is a massive €100 million project focused primarily on the Elbe island of Wilhelmsburg that is unfolding from 2006 to 2013. I am interested in looking at the representation of Wilhelmsburg and its residents in the extensive marketing materials of IBA
Hamburg, both in the sense of how they are talked about by IBA and in the sense of how their perspectives, concerns and goals are integrated, or not, into IBA planning and execution. This will be a research project that considers how race and space are connected when it comes to Wilhelmsburg, Hamburg, and Germany, how the current issues and plans facing Wilhelmsburg are situated within Hamburg's past, for example as a Führerstadt in the Nazi racial state, and in Germany's present, for example as a country of immigration grappling with that identity.

The 2011 study tour and internship were indispensable in the development of my thinking, my thesis project, and my German skills, for which I am very grateful.