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Monday, 18 August 2014

Young Peoples Youth Planning Conference in Heiligenhaus

Young Peoples Youth Planning Conference  16th August 2014

This weekend we took a group of young people to the Exhibition '1914 - In the Middle of Europe' at the Ruhr museum in Essen, Germany as part of our World War 1 commemorative project sponsored by The National Lottery. Escorted by our colleagues from our twinning town, Heiligenhaus we explored the exhibition as a starting point for the planning of our Young Peoples Conference, linking youths from the 3 twinning towns - Basildon, Meaux and Heiligenhaus. The conference aims to :
  • Create sustainable cultural links and relationships between residents of Basildon and it’s twinning towns Meaux and Heiligenahaus
  • Reflect and review conflict resolution and reconciliation since The Great War
  • Provide the opportunity for young people to explore and experiment with different perceptions of what life was like at the start of The Great War.
  • Develop young people’s social and communication skills through project-collaboration with their peers in France and Germany.
  • Provide an opportunity for young people and staff to discuss and exhibit their findings and research as part of the mobile exhibition. Students attending will visit local primary schools after the visit to share their findings.

Due to the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, the LVR-Industriemuseum and the Ruhr Museum show the exhibition “1914 – In the middle of Europe” from April 30th  to October 26th at the mixing plant of the coking plant Zollverein in Essen. The First World War shaped the history of Europe, Germany and especially the Rhine-Ruhr-area until today. The exhibition is the highlight of the unique combined project called “1914 – In the Middle of Europe. Rhineland and the First World War” of the Rhineland Regional Council (LVR). With its 2,500 square metres of exhibition area, it is the biggest exhibition of the council in the year of remembrance of the First World War in Germany.

Young people from Basildon Visit Ruhr Museum

Pivotal year 1914
The First World War was the first industrialised war in history. The exhibition “1914 – In the Middle of Europe” searches for the preconditions and consequences of this “primal catastrophe of the 20th century” in the Rhineland and Ruhr-area. To do so, it connects the time of the late 19th century up to the end of the Weimar republic. The visitors can experience an age of awakening, in which the war is the central issue. Furthermore, the exhibition shows a panorama of this time as well as the sweeping social transformations which mark the dawn of the Modern era.

Rurh Museum

Banners that reflected signs of the times and the local community
The three floors of the mixing plant of the coking plant Zollverein provide the structure of the exhibition: German Empire, war and Weimar republic. Visitors enter the exhibition from the southern weighing tower by taking a 150 meter ride with the funicular. Arriving in the mixing plant, the visitors are welcomed with visions of a better future which characterise the unbroken optimism of the people at the beginning of the 20th century. The first part of the exhibition tour starts with the economic, social and cultural accomplishments in the industrial area on the Rhine and Ruhr during the eve of the First World War. The 19th century brought unimagined progress and technology because the industrialization went on in a rapid tempo. The fast change of work and living conditions left the future even more open than ever – especially in the industrial metropolises, where the change was sensed the most. This so called “distribution level” features a turning frame of the Wuppertal suspension railway, which went into operation in 1901, an electric car called “Runabout” from 1903, as well as advertising posters and product packaging, which revealed new possibilities of consumption. In addition, typical dresses of the different classes, like the outfit of a female worker or tightly laced silk dresses, portray the class society of the German Empire.

Video footage projected showing German soldiers making their advances
The next level, which is called “the bunker level”, is dedicated to the war itself. The Rhine-Ruhr-area had an important role in the war as the “armoury of the German Empire”, which also meant enormous sacrifices and austerity. A field howitzer, the model of a warship, an enormous painting of a poison gas experiment, photographs of soldiers, field postcards and plaster- and wax-moulages from serious war injuries show the cruel side of the industrialized war. Life at the home front, where not only all men fit for military service, but also women and adolescent were mobilized for the “all-out war”, is shown, as well. The up to 3.5 meter tall nail figures are an example of the propaganda campaigns, which should justify the enormous losses, the famine and hardships.

The third floor of the exhibition so called “funnel level” focuses on the consequences of the war. Here its epochal effect is getting obvious. This refers especially to the Rhine-Ruhr-area, where the war did not end in 1918. The experience of violence, hunger and poverty left a mark on everyday’s life for a long time. With the general strike of the miners in 1919 and the “Ruhr-struggle” in 1920 the region evolved into a centre of the revolutionary movement. The “rote Ruhrarmee” was bloodily suppressed by troops of the government. Consequences of the war were the separatist efforts in the Rhineland and the Belgian-French occupation of the Ruhr-area in 1923. The emergence of technology, science, society, architecture, cinema, sports and politics is also a theme of the beginning modernity of the 1920s. But the society has changed: Charleston dresses embroidered with pearls and sequins in the Art Deco style, a car drivers coat for women, children’ s clothes as well as frock coat and “Stresemann” for the men make the visitors experience the transformed lifestyle of the Weimar republic.
The end of the exhibition refers to the next major catastrophe of the century: the Second World War, which can be seen as an extension of the first one, making it a period of war that began in 1914 and lasted about 30 years.

After visiting the exhibition we asked our young people to note the impact that the exhibition had on them or a part of the exhibition that spoke to them.

Reece - "In the museum we visited today we experienced the horrors of World War One from the perspective of German soldiers. The part of the museum that surprised me was the prosthetic works for amputated soldiers. Learning the events of the war through statistics so experiencing the horrors experienced by individuals was a surreal moment. This also created a breakthrough in medical science which further showed to me the implications of the war. We then learnt about the experience of those with amputations and how it impacted their individual lives".

Discussing the impact of the exhibition

Nick- "While looking at the museum in Essen one thing that stood out the most for me was the propaganda which the Germans used to promote the war and get people to join up, the most noticeable point which I found was the similarity between the British and Germans as they both used similar techniques for it. These main features would be the flag to symbolise patriotism for the nations and either a unified regiment working together or a singular soldier standing out compared to the rest. With the German propaganda it could easily be changed around a small amount and could be taken as English, this shows that things are he same for the most part on either side of the fight and that there is a lot of similarities between the two."

Tom: "The museum we visited today in Essen was very mind grabbing it gave us an insight in to German side of the world wars. It wasn't much different from the English museums the things that court my attention were the cloths and the propaganda posters,the clothes aren't any different to what you would have seen before the WW1. The propaganda posters were strong and bold posters they were direct they showed us how the German army was portrayed to be brave and willing to fight for anything,the poster that caught my eye was a snake rapped around the forearm of a German soldier this showed us the braveness of the soldiers and how they wouldn't back down from anything. The whole day and experience was a great opportunity for any one."

Propaganda poster
Matthew: "Today's trip to the Essen museum changed my view of the Great War completely. While I had originally believed that the English and German reasons for going to war were completely different, the museum showed me that, in fact the reasons were exactly the same. We both believed that it was a case of fighting for survival, maybe even more so for the German people, as they had only existed as a nation for around forty years.
I also felt more strongly about seeing old German news reals from the war, while watching this I began to feel more strongly about what I was viewing, I began to see how the Germans may have been firing at one of my relatives, this made finally feel a connection to the families of the solders during the Great War."          

At the end of the project the young people of Basildon, Meaux and Heiligenhaus will put together resources that will demonstrate their findings and what life was like in the towns during the War.

To find out more about Basildon Borough Heritage Groups World War 1 Commemorative project please contact Project Manger Lisa Smith at 

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