Themes & Working Groups I: Threshold

Mohammed Abotera, Sally Ahour, Katalin Gennsburg, Adrian Judt

We began our research into the different neighbourhoods on the Veddel with an open interview with Dr. Francine Lammar. Dr Llamar has been a social worker on the island for more than a decade and provided us with a great deal of general information as well as a number of issues that people are facing in the neighbourhood. She shared her perspective regarding the situation of migrant women, their children and of teenagers and their (often meagre) job perspectives. She also mentioned various informal practices that are taking place on the Veddel. According to her, the municipality only has little influence on the island – not least because of its isolated location. To her, there is no simple image of the Veddel but a kaleidoscope which is changing depending on one’s perspective. We gathered that there are different Veddels on the Veddel.
Given this plethora of information, it was difficult to focus on one specific issue. From what we had heard about the Veddel so far, it was impossible to see the Veddel as a whole at first glance. Our first impression of what we actually saw was therefore quite sobering: it seemed more like a quiet housing area that could be found in any other western city. This contrast led to our first framing of the topic: what is it that makes the Veddel so ‘veddelish’? Are there specific practices that are typical for the Veddel? We decided to drift once more through the streets of the Veddel the next day to look specifically for activities in public spaces that could impart some of the characteristics of the Veddel.
During our second drift on Friday, we still had the feeling of ‘not seeing anything’, although a variety of different practices were noticeable. Yet somehow it seemed as if all this activity was more or less everyday activity that would take place in any other quarter. In the afternoon we heard about the Friday prayer that would take place in the local mosque nearby. When we arrived there, we didn’t see anything before or during the prayer, but as it finished, the men poured out of the mosque and filled the street. Both very young and very old men as well as all ages in between left the mosque, laced up their shoes on a small wall or stood together, chatting in groups. Simultaneously, some women arrived on the street. They had either left their houses or were waiting in cars. Young girls were also passing by. Suddenly, a certain liveliness became palpable and visible, turning the street into a dense happening. To us, it seemed a bit like a wave that caught the people in its dynamic and transformed the main street.
At this point, we developed a first idea of what we would like to look at and how we could train our view to look for performative activity in public, open space. We decided to firstly concentrate on visible rituals on the Veddel. This decision was partly based on the fact that a local borough festival was going to happen in the area the next day, the Stadtteilfest. Having surrounded the festival for a good part of the day while thinking about the Veddel’s history and its implications for the present, we finally entered the courtyard through the different entries.

While some of us sketched impressions of the festival, its dynamics and the location of the stands, as a group we wondered about the relations between people, the emerging networks and what we discovered were important actors. Yet although the festival presents a major annual ritual for the whole Veddel community, we were not able to observe any similar practices of greetings and commotion at the festival that we had found after the Friday prayer. We reflected again on the Friday prayer and came to the impression that its impact on public space was not only generated by the practice of praying itself, but also by the contrast of the spatially closed mosque within the building and the open space outside of it. Thus, the gateway between these two opposite spaces came into focus. Realising this issue shifted out topic once more: How are entrances related to activity and behaviour in public space? Our observation focused on the first visible entrance of the courtyard where the festival took place. This entrance consisted of a gate between two separate buildings and the impression of a border. Every time we had been there it was open. But there was a chain to lock it. And indeed the entrance had an impact on the behaviour of the people passing through it: men straightened their trousers, women rearranged their handbags, people checked their keys and everybody was looking around the square in front of the gate. Another observation showed that next to the gate, a couple of male youth sat down on a brick bench and took on the demeanour of gatekeepers. After we had observed this scene, we looked at another entrance to compare them. The second one featured a bar instead of the gate to prevent cars from passing through. “Veddel” was written in large letters on the bar on which three female teenagers sat.
We noted that different groups of teenagers occupied different spaces, the different entrances to the courtyard and festival. We also observed that people act differently in different settings. We decided to concentrate on two case studies, focusing on researching into this and develop categories to compare groups and behaviours as well as spaces in which these occurred.

  • Major movement patterns at S-Bahn station Veddel around 6 o’clock in the evening

  • Major movement patterns at S-Bahn station Veddel around 6 o’clock in the evening

The courtyard became our first case study as we had already collected a lot of information and material the day before. For the second case study we chose the S-Bahn station Veddel, the primary traffic hub for entering and leaving the Veddel. Because it is highly frequented, it is also a social meeting point and combines different functions for the whole quarter. What we gathered was that researching into rituals was very complex and a sensitive topic that required detailed information about the personal contexts and individual stories. We therefore reconsidered once more whether rituals were really possible to deeply engage with in relatively little time. Moving away from the social category of rituals, we reframed our interest and decided to focus on the thresholds that our case studies presented. Our topic was therefore constantly evolving, never fully set until the last days of the workshop. We had started with looking at the different ‘Veddels’ within the Veddel, focusing on any kind of activity that would give us an insight into the uses of public spaces.
The most interesting event we observed was the end of the Friday prayer that had an quite an effect on the open space surrounding the mosque. It directed our interest to focus on activities that we defined as „rituals“, more in terms of people’s everyday life than in terms of religion. We picked the courtyard hosting the festival and the S-Bahn station as case studies so as to make our observations comparable. Due to the short period of time available, we weren’t able to develop the necessary depth for any meaningful findings. As we realised this, we decided to re-iterate our process so far in a second take by reconfiguring our material. Restructuring our research data, we engaged with the themes and topics that had emerged throughout the workshop week.
The question around thresholds emerged as an important aspect of everyday life on the Veddel – not only in terms of its geographical location, but also with regards to the habitus in and of the spaces as represented by the social groups using them. By the end of the workshop week we arrived at more general questions about the relation between thresholds, practices and public spaces.

Everyday life situations & relations between actors