by Vendula Marešová, Institute for Cultural Diplomacy
“To reorder space one needs to redefine space. For this kind of artistic intervention I use the term “applied art”, which means art applied in public context and space. This is to describe an artistic strategy focusing problems in society to then intervene, interact and transcend into another construction of reality. I create tools to create this new reality in other people’s minds.” Michael Kurzwelly
Located on the border between Poland and Germany, only 80 km away from Berlin, there is a virtual town called Słubfurt. Słubfurt is a city which ignores state boundaries – it consists of two parts Słub (Polish town Słubice) and Furt (German Frankfurt an der Oder) which used to be one urban unity connected by a bridge 70 years ago until the Polish border moved westwards to the Oder-Neisse line.
The aim of artist Michael Kurzwelly, who initiated this cultural project, was to create a new incentive for this space with a playful and fantastical outcome. It’s a reaction to the prejudices of Poles towards Germans and of Germans towards Poles, and deals with the identity crisis that exists there. It opens both of the shores of the river Oder to each other in order to improve neighbor relations, and tries to ease communication between the municipality of Frankfurt (Oder) and Słubice.
Due to the border movement and the development of the Second World War, both on the Polish and German side of the River Oder, the majority of original inhabitants fled and the residents who live there now lack a historical connection to the place and therefore do not have such an intense relationship with it. The Poles have had to deal with what happened to them during the Second World War and some of them still have difficulties communicating with Germans. On the second shore, Frankfurt (Oder) used to be part of the German Democratic Republic with its controversial history and the secret police Stasi who used to have many conspiratorial flats there. Since the unification of Germany, Germans have been accused of looking down on Poles. There are still some historical grievances among the older generations living in Frankfurt and Słubice; the reasons for them are related to Nazism and the expulsion of Germans etc., and this causes mutual mistrust. Despite this, many students and new foreigners are coming to Słubfurt and are slowly starting to change this, with thanks also to the European University of Viadrina and Collegium Polonicum which are located there.
Although Słubfurt city doesn’t exist on maps, it has its own city emblem, a half-real Słubfurt citizenship, and since 2009 elections to the Parliament of Słubfurt have even been taking place there. Occasionally some of the inhabitants speak the Słubfurt language (a mixture of German and Polish with a few special words), and various events are organized, for example, football matches between Słubfurt and other towns, and the Słubfurter Oderfest.
The ingenuity of the Słubfurt project is sometimes surprising. Michael Kurzwelly has invited his artist friends to cooperate with him and realize their own artistic projects there. An example of such public intervention is ‘Trial-Living in Słubfurt’ from 2004 by Christian Hasucha – a loggia placed on the Square of Heroes in Słubice, directed westward with a view of the Monument against Fascism. Every inhabitant of Furt was invited to decorate it according to their own taste and spend a few hours at the loggia, reading newspapers or grilling there with friends, gaining a sense of the lifestyle in the second part of Słubfurt.
Additionally, the Słubfurt city doesn’t exist only on its own, but it is a part of another virtual place – a country Nowa Amerika, which is situated along the river Oder and Neisse on the German-Polish border. Nowa Amerika connects both Polish and German area, although in this state the German-Polish border doesn’t exist anymore.
The phenomenon of Słubfurt became partly a tourist attraction and there is now a tourist information center in Słubfurt and a city guide of Słubfurt has been published. In addition, Michael Kurzwelly regularly organizes guided tours around both Słubfurt and Nowa Amerika.
The Citizens’ Association Słubfurt was established in 1999 and has developed itself significantly since then, coinciding with Poland joining the EU in 2004 and being admitted to the Schengen area in 2007. Three years later, the Słubfurt media library was established to serve as a cultural exchange for the region, where the citizens can share their life stories relating to essential themes of identity, to which the Słubfurt city is bound.
Although there are also opponents of the Słubfurt project, it is undeniable that the richness of cultural life in the region has increased immensely over the past years thanks to this project.
Recommended: Michael Kurzwelly’s promo video to the ‘new’ city of Slubfurt ‘Visiting Slubfurt’