The Haus der Jugend (House of Youth) is a youth center in Witten, were children and young people can participate in different kinds of rap and Hip Hop workshops. As Witten is one of many cites in the Ruhr Area where people from different cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds live, many projects, initiatives, and lyrics address racism, discrimination, sexism, tolerance, and equality. The government is aware of the issues and therefore promotes many projects and workshops.
Social worker Kostas Andrikopoulos who has been working at the Haus der Jugend since 1994 explained that Hip Hop workshops, for instance, have enjoyed quite some popularity. Even the local rapper Al Kareem, member of the Witten Untouchable Crew, is sometimes teaching workshops in the youth center.
The Haus der Jugend was founded in 1970. When German-speaking rap music was commercially successful in the 1990s, the Haus der Jugend experienced its probably highest interest in rap music. At that time, Kostas told us, 95% of the kids coming to the youth center had a so-called migration background. In the course of its hype, crews like Sons of Gastarbeita (1994) and Creutzfeld & Jacob (1998) dominated the local rap scene. In their lyrics, they spoke out against racism and for equality.
In 2006, the concept of the youth center changed. Today it is part of a larger campaign called Kulturrucksack NRW supported by the federal state of North Rhine – Westfalia. Each year the Department of Culture provides 3 Million Euros for various culture-related projects. Kulturrucksack is a subproject within the federal program “Toleranz fördern – Kompetenz stärken” (“Promoting Tolerance – Strengthening Competence”), initiated by the Federal Ministry of Family, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth which focuses on promoting democracy, preventing racism and discrimination as well as establishing mentoring programs for young people. Until 2014, the German government provided 24 Million Euros nationwide. Other local supporting facilities are the Landesarbeitsgemeinschaft Kulturpädagogische Dienste/ Jugendkunstschulen NRW e.V , the City of Witten, the youth centers Famous and Werk-Stadt, and the Klangwelt-Studio.
Despite offical efforts to support youth work, Kostas explained that the interest in rap music workshops has been declining over the past years. Yet Witten still has active participants who produce mainly socially and politically critical rap. In particular Sons of Gastarbeita initiated many projects and workshops, one of which was recently was uploaded on YouTube:
Sons of Gastarbeita “The Next Level – Equality” (2016)
As “The Next Level – Equality” shows, the initiatives provide an important space for young people to express their position and dissatisfaction in nonviolent and creative ways. Because these projects are funded by officals, the content and especially the language is sometimes censored.
Nevertheless, the fact that these projects are so well-promoted shows that Hip Hop culture, which includes graffiti as well as b-boying (breakdance), is no longer seen as an inferior culture by officials. Despite or because of these projects, Hip Hop has found its way into politics and is undergoing an enormous image change. It is now becoming an accepted, powerful, and respected media of voicing issues in the Witten, and ultimately, German society.