An Oral History project aimed at examining how German Reunification has affected the folk traditions of the Harz Mountains.
Hello, Kickstarter community, and thank you for stopping by! My name is Will von Tagen, and I’m a writer, journalist, and amateur Oral Historian. On November 6 I am traveling to the Harz Mountains of central Germany to conduct an oral history in hopes of discovering how the efforts of German Normalization following the fall of the Wall have impacted the folk traditions of the Harz Mountain—a region known for it’s rich and vibrant folk culture—and to see what roll these traditions might now play in identifying what it means to be German in the 21st Century. To present these findings, I will be writing a book, as well as producing a feature documentary film covering the issues. Below is a more detailed description of how I will accomplish the tasks presented in this project.
Significance: Oral culture embodies the traditions of a society, and encapsulates the sociological changes experienced by a population over a period of time. The Harz Mountains were torn apart after WWII when Germany was split between east and west. Germans faced an imbalance of economic opportunities, religious restrictions, separation from family members, and an impediment on industry. In 1989 the Harz region was rejoined, but this reunification has been as traumatic as the initial separation. Germans still experience an imbalance in economics between the two former sides, and both former east and west regions have differing mentalities and feelings regarding their place in German society. How individuals and communities cope with this trauma continues to alter the face of modern Germany. This transformation is reflected in the oral traditions and folktales of the region, as well as the context in which they are told.
The Harz Mountains is a particularly ideal region to conduct this study of folk culture. Having once been the King of Hannover’s private hunting grounds, the Harz is also a location of great mythical allure, as highlighted in many works of German literature--including Heine and Goethe. The northwestern region of the Harz is home to the Rammelsberg Mine, one of the world’s oldest and longest operating mine systems. The former kingdoms and dioceses of the region create the rich histories that contribute to many of the old legends and heroes of the Harz.
Locations: To complete the task presented above, I will travel to the Harz Mountains and document the oral histories of the inhabitants who live there. Four key cities in the region will serve as main sites for my research. The towns--located on both sides of the old east/west borders--are significant to the economic and social history of the Harz. Wernigeröder, in the central north side of the mountains and of the former east is a popular tourist destination; Goslar, on the far northwest side (west), is home to the Rammelsberg Mine; Osterode am Harz, located on the lower west side (west), was a grain provider for the North Harz; and Blankenburg, on the northeast side (east), dates back to the Stone Age and was a throne to the region.
Identifying Interview Subjects: Individuals who will serve as the best interview subjects are Harz natives who feel a deep connection to their hometowns, and either experienced at least twenty-five years of state separation or were born after the reunification. One such individual is Benno Schmidt, or “Brocken Benno,” a national folk hero who has climbed the Brocken Mountain in the Harz everyday since it was reopened to the public in 1989. While the act of climbing the Brocken daily is an expression of Benno’s freedom, it is also evidence of the impact reunification has had on his life. His desire to move in and out of the formerly forbidden territory raises the question of why he has not simply moved into the west. The Harz Mountains have grown deep roots in Benno, so much so that he continues to live and interact within them daily, allowing him to witness the day-to-day changes that are occurring within the Harz. My affiliate Rotary club in the Harz has stated that Brocken Benno will be happy to share his experiences with me. My affiliation with the Rotary clubs of District 1800, which includes the Harz region, will provide great assistance in locating further interview subjects.
The interviews will take place in very informal settings to assure that the organic style and context of the narratives are not hindered by a formal interview scene. Questions will be fluid and open to encourage active participation, but will work to focus on the experiences of normalization. The questions will center not only on the old folktales, but also about the methods and context by which the stories were originally—and continue to be—shared. Each individual has a unique voice; therefore it is impossible to determine how many interviews will be needed to fully conduct this study. I will perform as many as possible.
Timeline: After my arrival in November, I will assimilate in the various towns by participating in town festivals, city meetings, and other social scenes, such as local pubs. By interacting with members of city council, including the mayors, and meeting with the local priests and librarians, I will be able to contact potential interview subjects within the communities. By January I will be established enough within the communities to begin the interviews. This process will take approximately four months to complete. I will share my findings on social media outlets throughout the duration of the project, and in February I will begin posting specific findings taken from the interviews. In March I will give presentations covering my findings to schools and town meetings throughout the Harz. By May, following the regional festivities of Walpurgisnacht, I will have completed my fieldwork and will begin writing final drafts of the book, and begin editing the documentary film covering my project.
Qualifications and Affiliations: Having spent the past two years working as a reporter and photojournalist for the NBC affiliates in Boise, ID, and Reno, NV, I am practiced at interviewing and documenting the stories of individuals within a community. While in Germany, I will affiliate with Göttingen University. Dr. Regina Bendix, chair for the Anthropology department at Göttingen, has agreed to assist and supervise my project. Göttingen, located 40km from the Harz Mountains, has an extensive library containing over four million volumes and manuscripts about the history of the region. To further my interaction with my affiliate university, I will attend seminars at Göttingen in European Ethnology. I am fluent in the language, after having spent a year living in the region as an exchange student, as well as taking four semesters of language studies at the University of Nevada.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
One of the biggest issues I will face right off the bat relates to the Visa required to stay in Germany for the amount of time I would like to have to complete the project. A typical tourism Visa is only valid for 90 days; however, with my experience and skills as a freelance writer--as well as the support of my friends who have offered to let me live with them--I should have no problem qualifying for a 12 month self-employment visa. In the event that this is not possible, the projects is structured such that it can be scaled back and achieved within the 90 tourst visa timeframe.
Of course, entering the Harz during the onset of winter will prove challenging. Train travel is more than available around the Harz, but not through. There will be a great deal of hiking throughout the mountains as I journey from town to town. Fortunately the villages are very close to one another, and all trails are easily accessible all year round. The presence of snow will make the going a bit slower, but I will always have the option of asking for assistance from any of my friends in the region, and they will be more than happy to help. Through the network of Rotary clubs in the area, and my relationship with them, it will be easy to secure lodging in any of the main villages I will be working in. Essentially, the possibilities of becoming snowbound are very unlikely, and does not pose much of a threat to the success of the project.
As complicated as some of the details of this project may sound, the process is actually very simple. Oral History is a process and that I have had a great deal of time to study and practice under the supervision of professionals in the field. I own broadcast quality video and audio recording equipment, all of which is regularly serviced and maintained. As a former photojournalist, I am well practiced at making use of my gear in challenging settings, and have developed a strong ability to create quality content with the tools I posses. I am a skilled interviewer, fluent in the language and familiar with the dialect of this region. Additional resources I may need for scholarly study is available to me through the libraries in both Göttingen and Halberstadt--the town I will be staying in. I have been promised the full support of Rotarians throughout the Harz, and the individuals I have already spoken with regarding this project are very eager to see it succeed.
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pledged of $3,500 goal
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Oct 9, 2012 - Nov 3, 2012 (25 days)
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Much Thanks and access to the Project’s Facebook Page and written blog.Estimated delivery: Nov 2012
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Same as above, plus a signed photo of me as a child wearing Lederhosen.Estimated delivery: Dec 2012
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Same as above, plus a Harz Mountains hiking staff medallion or patch.Estimated delivery: Aug 2013
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Same as above, plus access to exclusive, regular video blogs and footage of the project.Estimated delivery: Nov 2012
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Same as above, plus an 8x10 print of your choice from the photos taken for the book.Estimated delivery: Aug 2013
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Same as above, plus exclusive access to translated portions of the video interviews, and a signed copy of the book when published.Estimated delivery: Jan 2013
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Same as above, plus a framed antique lithograph of the Harz with a corresponding excerpt a of Harz legend relating to the image.Estimated delivery: Jul 2013
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Same as above, plus an advanced PDF chapter of the book, as well as an antique map of the Harz Mountains.Estimated delivery: Jul 2013
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Same as above, plus an advanced PDF copy of the book. Invitation to help workshop the draft, as well as regular, personal correspondence regarding the progress of the project in the means that you prefer.Estimated delivery: Sep 2013
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Same as above, plus an advanced copy of the film, and an antique printed copy of the old Harz Legends.Estimated delivery: Oct 2013
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Same as above, plus a mention in the preface of the book, as well as high a quality print catalogue of the still photos taken for the book.Estimated delivery: Oct 2013
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Same as above, plus a page in the back of the book explaining your contribution to the project, a producer credit in the film, and full pass access to any future Film Festival screenings.Estimated delivery: Oct 2013