Unlocking Memories… in times of Corona

Von Valerios Tsournos

Youth exchanges in times of Covid-19 are something totally new for all of us. In the end of August, a group of youngsters from Greece and Germany went to Vlotho to attend the second part of the project “Unlocking memories – Remembering the past, Shaping the future“ that started 2019.

Summer was almost finished but little did we know, our adventure started at the 27th of August. Arriving at the airport in Athens we met with one another and we instantly had a connection. Everyone was from different parts of Greece and we were strangers among us at first. By the time we arrived in North Germany, Vlotho we knew each other’s names. The youth exchange’s topic was: World War II, Remembering the Past, shaping the Future and the participating countries were: Germany, Greece & Italy. Unfortunately, the Italians had to cancel their plans at the last moment due to Covid-19. We were approximately 16 young people half Greeks and half Germans. The aim of the project was for us to acquire knowledge around WWII, to examine for example the Germans view of their background history, to talk about themes and details that for many of us were unknown till then. We were given the chance to cultivate our communicational skills, to refresh our English and German vocabulary and most importantly, we were given the chance to express ourselves, to speak our mind about a variety of themes. Conversations and reflections were daily activities of the project.

Every day would begin with a tasty breakfast and shortly afterwards, we would meet for the workshops. The first couple of days, it was needed that we feel more comfortable with each other. So, in order to do that we would all participate in ice breaking activities where we would learn everyone’s names maybe some clues about them along with a small glance of their character. It’s very important that I mention that throughout the program, never was anyone ever excluded from an activity nor was anyone ever put aside for any reason. As a team of Greeks and Germans I would say that we were quickly attached and bonded. There was a very strong sense of unity and cooperation. The tasks that we would do every day would differentiate. For instance, one of our first workshops was the DNA journey. Basically, everyone would present where their roots come from. You would have to find your family tree’s roots as deeper as you could so you and everyone else would have a better understanding about yourself where you come from what kind of lives your ancestors had. That task was amazing! You would hear all sorts of stories! Everyone was super thrilled about it!

Furthermore, it’s very noteworthy to mention that this program took place at the peak of the coronavirus yet through personal responsibility, social distancing, and thank to the organization that had everything prepared for us within the fancy accommodation including the health regulations, there were no health issues throughout the program and no corona cases as well.

In addition to all our great experiences I would have to add that we learned a lot about some ideologies such as Nationalism, Fascism and Social Capitalism. We saw some films aged back to WWII era, we also analyzed them in a reflection round, what we thought about the movies, what feelings did they transmit us etc.

Vlotho was a small city that had a lot to offer. We learned about the background history of the city. How they dealt with minorities such as Jews, we also visited a local Jewish cemetery and obtained some information about that as well. We visited a former Hitler’s youth educational center that after the WW2 hosted and hosts until today seminars about democratic education.

However, we were not restrained only in the Vlotho, we also visited places and monuments in neighboring cities connected with the topics of our exchange such as Detmold and Paderborn. Our last stop was in Wewelsburg where we visited the exhibition “Ideology and Terror of the SS” – an exhibition about the perpetrators, victims and bystanders in the memorial museum of Wewelsburg.

In addition, we had some experts that visited us and explained to us about far right/left wing extremism. A presentation took place with extra detail where it was explained to us how political parties work, what kind of pursuits they have depending on what country they operate. I found that extremely informative and it gave me a perspective that I didn’t search in such depth about political parties.

All in all, the project was an amazing experience! We travelled, we met new people, we obtained many useful new skills, we interacted with a different culture from our own and all that benefits us! Personally speaking, I had amazing vibes throughout the program, I felt so pretty that I would express myself freely and there was such fertile soil for conversations and opinion exchanges. Personally, I got attached with many participants from the project, with some on a very deeper level. I felt so beautiful when I was far away from everyone and everything and the only thing that mattered for me was to get the most out of this experience as possible. This project opened my eyes for me. It really made me do some thinking when I returned to my routine. I was feeling so sad that I was away from the amazing new young people I met. And that was my motive to be more active this semester and chase more experiences, have higher standards and generally live more!

The best thing about the project is that I know that all the feelings everyone had were genuine. They were genuine because one could see that everyone had the time of their life, you could sense that everyone was very sad when the departure date inevitably came…

Lastly, I’m going to quote what a beloved person wrote to her diary during our staying in Vlotho: “Our (German-Greek) past made me cry about three times even if nobody noticed it. I hardly tried to discuss over it. But now all I have in my heart is Love about it. About what they are and what we can do together. All I could do is love the way life led me here. I am in Vlotho and every day I love the world a little bit more. Thank you!”

Valerios Tsournos is a Greek participant of the European project „Unlocking Memories – Remembering the Past, Shaping the Future“ at GESW, Euphoria and Esplora. He studies European Studies and Foreign Languages at Cyprus, Nicosia.

The exchange is supported by the EU (Erasmus+ Programme) and the German Federal Youth Ministry (KJP).