“When our generation is gone, none of this is known anymore,” said Prof. Maria Mies during a talk in Cologne yesterday in front of an audience (the mentees, organizer and friends of the university's Cornelia Harte Mentoring program) which was impressed by Ms Mies life’s experience and knowledgeable insights.
“There are words in our local dialect e.g. about work processes which cannot be found in High German.” Rivers and creeks in Ms Mies home region and local language have female names. Some of those words are the only remnants of a village lifestyle that ceased to exist...
Born in 1931 in pre-war Germany and raised in a self-sufficient community in the volcanic Eifel which forms part of the Rhenish Slate Mountains, Maria Mies is witness of another time period. Work and life were defined very differently back in her childhood. A whole village would help threshing. Women used to sing during work. Folk ballads were sung such as “Warum weinst Du holde Gärtnersfrau?” (melody) which later on, characterized as trash, disappeared from local consciousness.
There was quite a bit of work for the children too. It was not only playing with toys, which nowadays parents tend to buy to keep their children occupied. Life was not easy, or as the locals say: “ Det wos net liech e Mensch zu sej.” Still there was enough for everyone. No one went hungry, not even during the Second World War.
Despite the absence of television and radio at that time Maria Mies states that people were better informed, also politically. Knowledge was shared through storytelling. Those stories made people aware of history which profoundly influenced her story, Ms Mies reflects, because it was through stories she listened to that she realized that everybody’s present day reality is not the only one thinkable, that there are other worlds out there. Stories also reminded her that it does not have to be as is, that things can change or be made to change. We define the situation ourselves- That is me, this is what I do.
Led by these driving thoughts new ideas develop, that may challenge the status quo and thus consciousness raising can happen. Also in groups, Maria Mies comments, for there lies great power within people coming together in groups, networking, talking about issues and sharing experiences in an open atmosphere and a safe place. On her experiences in the feminist movement she adds that an important realization during group discussions oftentimes is that “my problem is not only my problem but one that affects all of society.”
Her revolutionary reflections and actions had Maria Mies develop new methodologies which try to bring together theory and practice. Collective approaches that focus on self-empowerment instead of creating dependencies she witnessed have proven to be successful especially within the feminist movement, e.g. the Frauen helfen Frauen, associations of autonomous women`s shelters.
Hearing Maria Mies talk about her former village home and our contemporary world in which for most profit and the city seem the destination of all dreams, one senses a strong message of peace, communicated in a charismatically honest way and sprinkled with a sense of humor.
There are a lot of problems in this world which we need to tackle. Maria Mies, the courageous transformer, elder, teacher and storyteller relating her stories impacts and inspires people’s lives making us aware that we all can try to effect change. It is a great honor to be enabled to listen deeply.