WEIMAR- In your opinion, do you think we are living in a society that is utopian? Does democracy and utopia co-exist, or is it dystopian or even an illusion? How does our environment affect our society and the way it is run? How many forms of topia exist or were invented? These were the questions that were addressed at this year’s Weimar Rendezvous. Every year since 2009, an average of over 1000 people, including students, intellects and interested people have attended the four-day event, consisting of presentations, podium discussions, films, exhibits and music festivals with a focus on a theme that is politically and historically relevant to today’s society. This year’s event looks at the topic on “Utopia,” where presenters (consisting of historians, professors, politicians and members of civil society organizations) took a look at this topic, how it was developed and how it plays a role in our current society. This year’s event was overshadowed by the terrorist attacks in Paris (see the article in the Files by clicking here), but it did not stop visitors from listening to the topics and integrating the events in France into the theme of the weekend.
The Weimar Rendezvous was established in 2009, based on a similar event that has been taking place annually since 1998 in the French town of Blois. As Weimar is not only the place of multiculture and various forms of architecture (including Bauhaus), but it is the platform where democracy and literature came into frutition and blossomed. Goethe and Schiller met in the city and some of the works were based on their stay in Weimar. The Weimar Republic (1919-1933) was conceived in Weimar. Many greats of fine arts stayed in Weimar and used their experience as a platform for their careers. And with the Rendezvous, Weimar has been the platform for history and politics, as many current topics, laden with theory, science, architecture and especially history, have attracted many intellects, teachers, professors and students, in addition to others interested in history. Weimar is part of the Weimarer Dreiecks, where most of the themes are focused on the three European countries: Germany, Poland and France.
As a teacher of English, social studies and history, the Weimar Rendezvous is an excellent place to gather information on and deepen the topics of interest, thus providing some ideas for the next class session. Especially for the topic on utopia versus dystopia, for the latter was completed in 9th grade social studies class, where the group watched the film “In Time,” which depicts dystopia in the future tense. Here we compared dystopia with utopia in a theoretical sense, then compared them with how they were used in reality, using the examples of democracy and dictatorships that existed in history, and garnering some ideas to create the main idea of the meaning of democracy vs. dictatorship. Little do we realize is that utopia and its various forms have their roots dating back to the 1500s. Over the next 300 years, the concept branched out in several directions like a tree, each one shaping the way society is running in both a positive as well as a negative sense. Traces of the -topia can be seen today, as they have played a role in shaping our country and how their relationship with other countries. This includes the role of religion and the environment, two hot topics discussed during the Sunday sessions, as well as the African-American movement and its history and development in the United States from 1865 to the present.
Some highlights of the event from the author’s perspective include the following:
- According to the podium discussion on the history of Utopia, we found that Thomas Morus produced a book bearing the title in 1516. With his envision of utopia, which was a perfectionistic society with equality and uniformity, this was the seed that was planted which later bloomed into a tree with various forms of (u)topia.
- In another podium discussion on religion and utopia, the word apocalypse and its argumentive definitions, was used by the founders of the Churches to describe the replacement of a corrupt society in biblical proportions in favor of a utopian society. It was stressed more so by Martin Luther when he introduced his demands for reforms in the 1500s and later by his followers.
- During a podium discussion on the environment, there came a consensus by the speakers, when asked about the role of the media in influencing society’s thinking, which was as long as the public believes that the United States has less sunlight than Germany, as stated by Fox News, a staunch opponent of solar energy, no change will happen until it is too late.
- In a podium discussion on Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, never seen before photos of Rosa Park’s arrest and jail custody for sitting in the white zone of a transit bus, King’s speech and many Nazi propaganda posters against Barack Obama were displayed with a clear-cut message: America is (and will never be) ready for a non-Caucasian President, especially in light of the racial profiling and violence dominating the American landscape.
- In an evening podium discussion on architecture and utopia, the concept of modern architecture and futurama originated from the 1930s but was advanced further in the 1950s in Europe.
A book with a summary of the speeches from this year’s event will be published in the near future. However, highlights and photos of the events can be found in the Weimar Rendezvous website, which you can click here for more information on the event. A facebook page with photos of the event, courtesy of Juliane Fox Schwabenbauer, can be found here. The Files also has photos of the events the author attended, which you will find here.
A separate article on how to teach dystopia in the classroom is in the making and will be posted in the Files’ WordPress internet site.