According to academic wisdom, we need encounters with other cultures in order to even know that there is such a thing as “culture”. The experience of the other creates a sense of one’s own: for example, the oddities for the sake of which the tourist arranges to meet at the foot of Neuschwanstein to sip German filter coffee to Richard Wagner’s never-ending melody.

The fact that the other can only be consumed with relish as long as one’s own is considered safe is one of the insights that the 11th Federal Cultural and Political Congress in Berlin could suggest. More than 400 participants devoted themselves to “cultural policy as democratic policy” under the title “Art of Democracy”. Discursive deep drilling was carried out with 101 initiators in 20 different panels and forums. And after the first day, the young director of the Hamburg Fluctoplasma Festival, Dan Thy Nguyen, summed up his findings with a lucid smile: “We are all lost here. And maybe that’s not so bad.”

It all started with a state-supporting speech by Claudia Roth. The standards seemed to be forged for eternity. Democracy was addressed as “dear democracy”; that “diversity is a condition of culture” and therefore the equal participation of minorities must be guaranteed.

None of the cultural politicians present wanted to contradict that. Not that you can’t prescribe democracy, but you can promote it. So what can and do we want to promote, the minister asked and answered herself: “Spaces in which diversity is possible”. And then, after a short pause, came the dramaturgical template that was to shape everything that followed: “And what does the aesthetics of diversity look like? Then next time.” The Congress then danced around this sentence in its debates.

Before the podiums and panels migrated into mosaic parts that could no longer be put together to form an orderly whole, Tobias Knoblich, President of the Kulturpolitical Society, had words of warning. Democracy is exhausting per se and in the tension between expertocracy and claims torn back and forth by citizens’ initiatives. And in view of the challenges of social transformation, sometimes very tired.

In any case, “keep it up!” would not work, and it was therefore necessary that there were no longer any excuses for maintaining the apparent normality in the field of culture either. Art and culture by and with people should be consistently made possible. With that, the Congress had defined its subject area, and it was huge.

The debates then turned to the big fundamental questions: Is democracy in crisis – or rather the image of those who see themselves as its guardians? What does “culture” even mean today, what does “participation” mean, and what cultural-political mandate would result from this? And what would be the role of the arts?

And then came the stars. The stars are young, eloquent and fill halls with people their own age. Their names are Max Czollek and Aladin El-Mafaalani and they publish books like Disintegrate Yourself! or Why Successful Integration Leads to More Conflicts. This is uncomfortable in the public service discourse, because the joyful joy in paradoxes of representation, for which there is no resolution, is unmistakable.

And when the prominent reform mayor Dirk Neubauer adds: “The representative system no longer represents”, then everything is meant, from politics to public art culture. It is plausible that this emotionalizes all those politicians who have to set up their “high culture container” at home and at the same time feel the pressure to change from the increasing number of independent organizations.

What to do? When visiting the forums, one could learn a lot from Max Czollek’s assumption that a new social system was developing “beyond trade unions and parties”. There, a lot revolved around participation, around art and culture without the filters of expert juries, on the direct orders of various citizens. How about, so the wish, with the appropriate infrastructure?

Just as the congress began with a question, it also ended with one of the listeners: “After everything we’ve heard over the past few days: is this congress format even appropriate?” It sounds as if we not only need democracy artists, but congress artists as well *Inside. That can definitely be the case, because yes, little of what is one’s own seems to be certain at the moment.