Of craft, demonstration and fish

Andrea Braun (58) works in the district Nippes. What exactly she does, what takes her to the streets and what she loves about Cologne, told in her own words:

„You can do what you like. Don’t restrict yourself. That is the motto of Handwerkerinnenhaus Köln e.V. (registered association), which encourages girls and women in crafts. This is our goal ever since 1989. Things changed since then, but not yet enough. In some crafts there are as little women as there are in executive positions. If women choose a profession freely, getting there has become far more easy. But many clichés and role models are passed on. Yet nothing is carved in stone. Girls should choose freely from a great range of professions.

The workshop is a great place. You can saw, you can plane, you can weld. You work in a team and you see immediately, what you’ve created. The association offers job orientation, intervention and prevention of excessive truancy one roof. Our house is officially a schooling place out of school. Some girls that come here, have not been to school in a long time. It is a great success just to have them come here steadily. Many of them catch on and graduate here. You can see that they are proud. I find that very moving.

I was born in a Hessian village [region in central Germany]. In the 1970s I moved to the city of Darmstadt. Those were special times: The peace movement was very active and then there was also the RAF [Red Army Faction, a West German far-left terrorist group]. I joined the peace movement. We took the streets and we also took action. We planted ourselves in front of barracks for three weeks; civilians observing the military. During open days we also went into barracks and planned to demonstrate against war. Needless to say, we were carried out immediately.

I became more and more aware that for example atomic weapons will not be abolished, no matter how much I demonstrate for peace. That made me wonder if I could make a change at all. And how. Thus, I turned from the peace movement towards nonviolent resistance. You really have to prepare yourself for that. You need to anticipate what can happen in a situation and plan your reaction in advance. You need to know exactly which rights you have. One day I joined a bike tour to a place where atomic weapons were stored. We chained ourselves to a fence there, becoming a real blockade.

I was also against the census in 1987; the state gathering everybodys data. With a group of others I took the questionnaires to a marketplace and exhibited them there – instead of completing them. That was actually even illegal, because you were obliged to take part. How far do I go? And where do I stop? I thought about that a lot of times in my life.

Before I became a carpenter, I was an accountant. But then I wanted to do something completely different, something more practical. I worked in different workshops, built ponds and cabins for christmas markets. During these projects, I had to improvise a lot. I am good at that.

I actually returned to being an accountant in Handwerkerinnenhaus. I have a lot of respect for women who still work in crafts at my age. I can only do that to a little extent anymore. I enjoy working with numbers, also. Bills and applications give you deep insights and you have a lot of responsibility.

My hoby is snorkelling, for example in Egypt and the Caribbean. The diversity of colors and shapes under water is fantastic. The reefs of Sulawesi (Indonesia) have the greatest diversity in the world. It’s just colors, colors, colors. The corals and structures are so versatile and the fish are just crazy. I could go on talking about that for days. A reef is a community. I want people to understand, what happens there. Actually, it is just like a society.

I was not born in Cologne, but I was really proud of the city a few times. Remember the demonstrations against the Anti-Islam Conference in 2008. This meeting of Far-right politicians from all over Europe was more or less obstructed via civil disobedience. First the attendants were stuck on a ship, then they were refused cabs and the Neumarkt [plaza in the inner city], where the attendants wanted to demonstrate, was already occupied by ordinary people. That was a special day.

I myself didn’t take the streets in a long time. But during the last months, I resumed that, because I sense a political swing to the right and I am really worried about that.“

More information: www.handwerkerinnenhaus.org