The Rochdale Barracks in Bielefeld are the venue for TRANSURBAN’s second residency. The focus is on urban arts and neighbourhood development.
A closed gate, the whole area fenced in with barbed wire – at first glance you might think that hardly anything has changed. For decades, the grounds of the Rochdale Barracks, a former British barracks site, have been closed to the public. The barracks are located right in the centre of Sieker, a rather family-oriented, slightly sleepy Bielefeld neighbourhood, only 10 minutes by train from the city centre, in close proximity to the Teutoburg Forest. On the 9 hectares of isolation are the red brick buildings from the mid-1930s, several large warehouses and car parks – a lot of stone, a lot of concrete, a lot of empty space. The last British forces left in 2020. What now? A year and a half later, a few curious people are now gathering in front of the closed gate: something is happening after all.
welcome to the transurban residency
It is the middle of August. Opening day of the TRANSURBAN Residency. TRANSURBAN is a platform for urban art from North Rhine-Westphalia that links cities, their actors and programming. Together with this network, new cities, partners, programme formats and spaces are continuously being developed. The goal: artists, neighbourhoods, researchers, students and lecturers, administrators and politicians work together for sustainable cities and urban development. In the midst of urban landscapes, the TRANSURBAN collective initiates forums for exchange, cross-city discourses and artistic negotiations of public spaces. Under the motto “Building common spaces”, the TRANSURBAN residency travels through the cultural regions of North Rhine-Westphalia for three years. After hosting the residency in the Ruhr Area in 2021, the TRANSURBAN team went on to East Westphalia-Lippe (in German often: OWL) this year. Next year, the area of the Lower Rhine will probably be the venue.
So, we’re in Bielefeld. It made sense to hold the residency here, explains Georg Barringhaus, artistic director: “In OWL there are these conversion processes everywhere at the moment and we thought it would probably make sense to approach the municipalities directly. After all, vacant barracks sites of the British armed forces are not only in Bielefeld; similar perspectives are also opening up in surrounding cities, such as Paderborn, Gütersloh or Herford. After the Brits left, the city and its residents are now asking themselves what should and could happen here and have ideas.
There are already many plans for the urban design of the Rochdale barracks and the other sites, but it may take some time before something happens. The Residency has booked itself in here as an interim use concept to jointly shape discussions about the future of the neighbourhood. A model for the whole region ? The Rochdale Quarter is not only part of the Residency, but also a project of the Regionale 2022, along with other places, which wants do redevelop the region.
Finally, the gates open. Visitors from Bielefeld and beyond enter the grounds for the very first time. Among them are people who have lived in Sieker for decades and have only ever been able to see the Rochdale Barracks from afar. The interest is huge. Brigitte Brand, director of the Bielefeld Cultural Office also came to the opening day: “The site is of course very important. The majority of the buildings are to be preserved in the future and that’s very exciting because I think it’s important to look at the roots of a neighbourhood. And that is also an important cultural aspect.”
”it's a huge opportunity that we have hereBrigitte BrandCultural Office Bielefeld
A container and a stand at the entrance with information material inform visitors about what will happen here in the coming weeks: A colourful programme of artistic and musical performances, dialogues between various protagonists including citizens and politicians, a lot of urban art and architectural interventions by the Italian collective Orizzontale. Visitors can expect “a low-threshold programme with many opportunities to participate,” says Georg. Urban culture, it quickly becomes clear, plays a special role today and in the upcoming weeks. Brigitte Brand supports this approach: “We have a process going on right now, a large-scale cultural development planning, which is also very much about cultural spaces, which are simply scarce in Bielefeld. And if you think and develop a project like this holistically, with culture, with sport, with commerce… I think it’s a huge opportunity that we have here.”
come and participate
Another important part of the programme: participation instead of just watching. As many Bielefelders as possible should be encouraged to participate, discuss and get involved. That’s exactly right, says Matthias Gräßlin. As a cultural worker, he is involved in Bielefeld’s Kulturpact, is director of the Bethel Theatre Workshop and initiator of its Volxtheater. Behind this is a theatre from the citizens, for the citizens. Matthias explains, “We deliberately create a framework in which everyone can bring in topics or see how the public relates to topics.”
He sees overlaps with TRANSURBAN: “Urban arts are, after all, all the time creating forms that ask to be looked at, and that’s what’s interesting to me, what’s interesting to all of us as a theatre workshop and to Bielefeld’s Kulturpact.”
With his Volxtheater, he is therefore also part of the TRANSURBAN programme. He sees the Rochdale Barracks as an opportunity to rethink neighbourhoods with the help of culture and art: “If I really want to deal with urban development through artistic means, then of course the raw, unprocessed, abandoned, neglected places are interesting, including quasi-lost places, namely neighbourhoods where people live with a social status that is on the verge of being forgotten.
Matthias shows his favourite places on the site
visions of the future
Miriam Juschkat is also on the site today. She is studying photography at the FH Bielefeld. She came into contact with the site through a seminar and ended up participating in the residency. “We were quite free to look for content. It went in different directions. Some people dealt with history, others with the current state. And I just dealt with a future vision of what could take place here, or how the buildings could be used.”
Miriam is aware of the need for space for art and culture in Bielefeld. Her works are now emerged into the window facade of the former sports hall of the barracks. Various artists from Bielefeld are shown at work on the large-scale glass panels. In exchange with Miriam, they have tried to enliven the empty spaces of the barracks. “These are not ‘this is how it should be’, but they are simply meant to give a small idea and provide an impetus to think about the fact that there is a need for space and that empty spaces could be reactivated in this way,” says Miriam about her work. She found the inspiration for her ideas in the former Kulturhaus Bielefeld. “It was such a great place that came about through the work of many individual artists and cultural workers. They had to close at short notice because refugees were being accommodated there. And then I thought, okay, we are now on this huge site, wouldn’t it also be possible to accommodate creative people here, i.e. studios, rehearsal rooms, where there is also a need.”
”it’s like a creative holidayMatthias GräßlinTheaterwerkstatt Bethel
Miriam Juschkat, Brigitte Brand and Matthias Gräßlin are just three of the numerous people who help shape the open programme of TRANSURBAN. I ask Georg Barringhaus how many are involved in total. He’s thinking: “A lot.” 80 students are involved, the architecture and art collective from Orizzontale is coming with about 12 people, plus participants from the cultural scene, the city of Bielefeld and, last but not least, the many volunteers from Bielefeld and the immediate neighbourhood who are getting involved. For the opening, the neighbourhood initiative around the Rochdale Barracks baked cakes and took care of the guests.
Nevertheless, this concept of course could be facing some challenges. “I think there will be a lot of interests represented here, and it will be a matter of bringing them together, or holding and moderating discussions. But it is important to get the residents and the neighbourhood on board,” says Miriam Juschkat.
So far, the response has been good. This is not least due to the way the programme is organised: “It’s like a creative holiday. It’s for everyone who wants to become active, and everyone who is simply interested. Everyone can get involved. Something is to be created here and anyone who wants to take a tool in his or her hand can do so and help build something and not just follow other people’s plans, but can also help shape them. For this reason, it is also very interesting as a model project. Not only for the Rochdale Barracks, says Matthias. “After all, we have places all over the city where you can do something if you dare. I have to encourage myself for that, it’s very inspiring here.”
The idea behind TRANSURBAN becomes clear on the first visit: the intensive joint exchange between the art and creative scene, politics and administration, citizens is worthwhile in the end. Known and unused urban spaces are given a new and attractive look through their ideas. People are attracted to stay here temporarily, for a longer period of time or for a short visit and, last but not least, inspired to join in.