“Prost!”  we offer up to our German partners as we English lift our glasses to greet them at the first informal gathering  this week of the TMC/Werkhaus collaboration, Common Values, Shared Dreams, funded by Cultural Bridge.  There’s some gentle laughter and they offer back, “Zum Wohl!” in return.  ‘Prost’ is viewed as a bit of an antiquated term now, reminiscent of perhaps some older, more conservative times.

The laughter intensifies shortly after when we ask about each others’ roles. Our Werkhaus partners hear this as both ‘rolls’, as in tummy rolls of flab bought about by too much beer and cake and also as in ‘brötchen i.e. breakfast rolls you might have at your hotel in the morning.  We all recover enough to explain what sounds like ‘rolls’ is actually ‘roles’ and we proceed to introduce ourselves to each other over the course of the evening.  And to cap it all, what we understand in the term ‘Werkhaus’ is nothing to do with what it sounds like in English; the ‘workhouse’ of Victorian values in which the poor were packed away in austerity filled mansions in shame and humiliation. No, the ‘werkhaus’ in this case refers to a cultural offer where your artistic work can be developed, shown and valued; a place to show off your life’s work, not be punished and castigated in. In another moment, a colleague apologisies for speaking English with a Dutch accent; and I want to apologise for speaking German with an old, medieval inflection.

Although this took no longer than perhaps 30 minutes of our first visit, we’re reminded rapidly of the power of language and the baggage – if not freight – it carries. We find ourselves reaching for words and terms which come from the depths of our memories and wonder whether they came from; our grandparents perhaps? The media? Old stereotypes?  There’s no time to find out in our gathering, but it’s a sharp reminder that sometimes our voices are not our own but echoes of other, more distant voices who have infiltrated our consciousness, almost without us knowing they’ve done it.  We’d do well to remember this in the weeks ahead. Working in a significant cultural education partnership is a big ambition in itself and we’ll need to remember to keep checking our language, checking our meanings and trying to make sure we speak with our own personal voices rather than the recombined voices of people and ages past.

This blog was first published on The Mighty Creatives website, you can also explore their project page.