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The Danube Foundation: stories, dreams and ideas

The Danube Foundation is a network of young Europeans that aims to contribute to the exchange of ideas between people in Central, East and Western Europe. We talked to Sophie Bloemen about the vision and mission of the Danube Foundation.

Why did you call your organisation after the river ´Danube´?

Bloemen: ´Danube stands for a new perspective. We find cultural diversity is central to Europe and can not be captured in one grand narrative, but it can be in a bundle of stories and visions. These are not stories about Europe but stories of Europe. What we imagine is a continuing discussion, a continuous exchange of ideas. The Danube foundation was founded by a small group of graduated students from the University of Amsterdam in 2007. The idea was to populate the void of ties between on the one hand Western and on the other, Central and Eastern Europe and to contribute to the cultural dimension of Europe.  Danube stimulates the exchange of ideas between young Europeans in East and West and breaks through the boundaries of the European nation states, finding that while the borders might be physically removed, they are still firmly there in the minds and perceptions of people living in different European member states.´

Could you explain us what the philosophy is behind one of your projects ´The Utopian City´?
Bloemen: ´Utopia is a key topic to discuss, as there is so much to this inspiring and encompassing concept. Danube never had in mind to discuss the topic of Europe itself so much. We would assume Europe, and discuss other interesting or urgent matters with young European across the continent. We would facilitate and take part in this dialogue, by both being a platform for exchange as well as a think tank, to create ideas and vision. The Utopian City-project consisted of young Europeans developing their own Utopian City during a workshop. With the Utopian City project we toured European cities and collected ideas, dreams, stories and art of young Europeans all over the continent.´

What did these young people do while participating in the project?
Bloemen: ´A workshop was organised in 14 cities, inviting young Europeans to formulate their ideals and perfect societies. With this method Danube moves outside of the political-academic discourse. The initiative is completely bottom up, not starting from a theoretical or policy perspective. Danube felt this was the only way to truly include the excluded, young generation and the way to come up with a real and meaningful contribution to European project.´

What were the most important findings?
Bloemen: ´The project encountered a variety of findings; unlike general perception, the young generation indeed does have ideas, energy and enthusiasm and is ready to do things and build their societies. All over Europe participants threw themselves in the debate, built their cities, and argued about what was the best possible society. We collected interviews, short films, pictures, workshops, collages, residential artist perspectives, and artworks in different cities.´

The cities that participated in the Utopian City-project
Danube has described every city it visited with anecdotal impressions, things that really caught the eye and snippets of interviews:

  • Amsterdam: Happy and Abstract people
  • Zagreb: Hopeful and Resourceful
  • Sarajevo: Minimal Utopia: cafés and infrastructure
  • Belgrade: Serious planning in Edgy surroundings
  • Moscow: Nostalgia and Technology
  • London: Civil participation in a classic East End philanthropic institution
  • Berlin: Hip Encounters in an Open Space City
  • Lisbon: Dirty Streets
  • Rome: Calls for normality in a depressed country
  • Sofia: Originality and underground literary circles
  • Istanbul: Religion, Art and Cosmopolitanism
  • Prague: Bikes and Barter Economies