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Self-Organization

Boiling Room — cooking with people escaping the war

syg.ma team

About

Boiling Room is a (mainly) Berlin based project that creates a shared space of collectivity through communal cooking. The project has been initiated to support people from and in war regions. During the cooking, we run a Live Stream with images from the kitchen, artistic intervention, interviews, and music. With our content, we aim to address relevant topics of current global conflict. The live stream serves us to raise donations for independent initiatives of people in Ukraine, working on the borders and all across Europe to help those in need. After every cooking session, we have a collective meal together with all participants and anyone who wants to join. We see the cooking sessions as a moment of collectivity where people who have arrived in Berlin from war regions can gather together with locals to exchange contacts and build relationships in a homely atmosphere.

Boiling Room is a self-organised voluntary project that is run collectively by a group from various backgrounds and professions.

Starting to boil

In the first weeks of the war a large number of people came to Berlin from Ukraine, around 10 000 people arriving every day. Berlin central station was overfilled with people sleeping on the cold floor and without proper warm food. It felt that we had to do at least something. We came together as a small group of people who felt the need to help and organise and decided to cook big amounts of warm Eastern European food and bring it to the station.

We also thought that cooking together might be something interesting to stream online to collect donations for organisations working in Ukraine: Boiling Room, a cooking live stream with a DJ that plays for the cooks and interviews about the situation in Ukraine. Once we had set the format we started to share our ideas with people and invited them to help us. It was incredible how many people wanted to support us with donations, tools for the kitchen, groceries and with their labour. The artist’s association Flutgraben e.V. offered us their kitchen and we started boiling.

We were cooking four days a week and brought the food to different locations in Berlin where people fleeing the war were hosted. More and more helpers wanted to join and we started to collaborate with other organisations who were setting up similar support structures in Berlin. Through our work we also got to know many of the people who arrived in Berlin from Ukraine — and the different contexts and situations they were coming from. They also wanted to help and started to come to the Boiling Room sessions so that we became friends. At that moment we started to realise that the process of cooking together and sharing a meal afterwards was very valuable for the people who just arrived in Berlin, it was an opportunity to meet locals, to engage in a conversation, and to find possible help for their situation. Even if there was a language barrier, cooking together was a good way to overcome it. At the same time the Berlin Senat started to provide professional catering and voluntary and self organised food deliveries were less needed. Therefore we decided to concentrate on cooking and eating together as a collective activity, rather than distributing the cooked food the next day. This is what “Boiling Room” means since then. Every month we organise one cooking session in a different location and invite people to boil together. An important aspect for Boiling Room is the informal atmosphere: everyone can join and everyone can contribute, it is not a service but a collective activity meaning that the result is less important than the process. There are no hierarchies and no clear division of labour, everyone chops, everyone cleans, the atmosphere is that of a big family celebration. It is our goal to make people feel at home!

Self-organization and Agency

Creating a space where efficiency and productivity are sacrificed in favor of broader involvement and possibility to participate, or in other words, we very often gave preference to the recipes that demand slow cooking and include a lot of shareable tasks. Many traditional recipes seem to have the same core idea as well, like vareniki. When the dough is ready, all family is involved in wrapping the dumplings.

It was important for us to create structures that would allow for collectivising the food preparation. In a professional kitchen there is one recipe and clear instructions, as well as rules, order, and techniques. At Boiling Room everyone is free to propose their adjustments to the recipe, if one wants to take over the process in this way gaining some agency over the organisation of the event and sharing responsibility of the outcome. How to make the dough, how to prepare the base for the soup, regional differences and traditions of choosing a filling, etc. — this simple everyday as well as inter-generational knowledge offers a bridge, serves as a conversation starter about how things are done at home, who was the best cook in the family, who has the family secret recipe. Our aim at Boiling Room is to move away from centralised structures towards more radical self-organization. That results in a wild mix of dishes that make everyone feel represented in one way or another.

Another aspect is collectivity before quality: everyone is welcome to help even if it slows down the process or reduces the quality of the product. We think it is better to eat food that is too salty, burned and tasteless but everyone at the table is proud to have contributed to it, instead of having a perfect meal that is made by one person as a service for others. It is a question of where to put the measurement of success, we put it on the collective experience as a sort of family.

Sharing Knowledge and Agency

We think collective activities are a good way to engage with each other. Cooking is especially interesting because everyone has a personal connection and experience with it. Since the participants of Boiling Room sessions often don’t speak a shared language, cooking together becomes a way of communication. Showing your neighbour what ingredients go into the dough, how to knead it properly and how to make the perfect dumpling can be done without words. In our sessions we prefer to make dishes from the home cultures of the people who are new in Berlin. This way,the people become the source of knowledge for each Boiling Room session. People who arrive from war regions to a country of refuge are in an unfamiliar environment and might feel like a guest having to adjust to a foreign culture. At Boiling Room we want to level this out by giving people the possibility to share their culture and in that way gain agency in the group. We think this can offer support and give people strength for their first months in a new country.

Emotional Food

Boiling Room is not only a support structure for people escaping the war but also a space where knowledge about current conflicts and wars is shared and discussed. Through the conditions of the homely atmosphere participants feel safe and often share their personal stories in informal conversations. That way we learn from each other about situations in war regions, broaden our personal political view on global conflict and learn about individual possibilities for support.

This makes our approach different from, let’s say, a social soup kitchen. Often such initiatives are run in the format of a service separating the ones who give and the ones who receive. While such initiatives are important to give efficient and practical material support to people in need, our aim is to add caring personally to that support through being together and sharing time, it is a feeling of being home. Of course, local people and people who just arrived are finding themselves in very different material conditions. Therefore it was important to create to some extent the utopian idea of a space where these differences are on hold. Boiling Room is utopic in the sense that it is not necessarily efficient referring to the use of resources and the amount of people we reach and also not sustainable since it always needs an amount of labour that is not paid for. Boiling Room is an initiative that is as much about emotional support as it is about satisfying the basic need for a warm meal. Therefore we break some of the habits and conventions that might be expected from an efficient charity project.

We don’t ask for donations for the cooked meals, although this could be a good income to support the project. At Boiling Room everything is free in order to dissolve hierarchies between those who can afford to donate and those who cannot. One can support the organisation by directly donating to the Boiling Room cooking budget and to the initiatives that we promote and inform about in each session.

Details

During Boiling Room we have hosted talks with initiatives, individuals, friends and strangers. hile the soup was already simmering on the stove, we would gather in the kitchen and people would talk about their experiences, their thoughts, work or activism. While invited guests were talking live on the stream, on a few occasions we switched off the camera to let people talk freely about the horrors of war they went through, their needs and hopes for tomorrow. This was also a broadly discussed topic in our collective: how to create a situation where everyone feels comfortable to grab a microphone, how to organise and moderate the talks so that there is a space for spontaneous contributions, how to organise these talks in such a way that everyone feels safe to speak etc.

Another seemingly unimportant detail is connected to a projection of people’s needs. Especially in the first days of the war many organisations were hosting lunches. It proved to be difficult for many people to attend them, as especially in the first days of arrival everyone was busy with registration, spending hours with bureaucratic procedures, and arranging accommodation. Somehow there was the idea that people who have just arrived have nothing to do. In reality it is the opposite. That was one of the reasons for Boiling Room to happen in the early evening.

Music plays a very important role for us. One may notice similarities to Boiler Room in our name, and it is not a coincidence. But unlike Boiler Room, music and DJs do not take the central position, but rather a position of care-giving: the music is there to set the mood for the cooking and our DJ shares the same space with everyone else as long as conditions of the location allow it. They are not singled out and alienated as a performer, but rather everyone is a performer and our DJs also cook with us most of the time.

So far we have hosted fifteen cooking sessions, which are currently happening once a month. Locations & collectives that hosted us: Flutgraben e.V. , Floating Unviersity, ZK/U and towards a shimmer on the horizon series, collaboration with interspace collective and privilege of dreaming collective at After the Butcher gallery and Kitchen by Kitchen in Brussel).

Hosting it in other cities helps to understand the local context and the local needs better. Boiling Room is a flexible idea, and it can happen anywhere. Write to us if you want to receive a boiling room kit and do it in your city with your community.

Thoughts from BR collective

(Dimitri)

Why is it art? Art in my opinion is an attitude towards a material as a subject. An attitude that is based on openness, curiosity and negotiation. In social work the employees often offer a service to a target group. Such projects are goal oriented, well planned and have a clear separation between the service taker and service giver. What is missing is spontaneity, openness to the circumstances and the potential of failure. Elements that I think are important to feel agency as a participant in a process. This is what Boiling Room is about: we want to come together as equals. Often after a short moment of chaos where everyone is slightly lost, somehow the collective intelligence clicks and everything falls in place. One just has to trust in it. So, is this art? I think yes. If Boiling Room would be organised by a social institution it would be more managed to make it safer and more efficient, and it would lose what I think is the central point of community: its spontaneity and its beautiful messiness where the focus is on people and not on outcomes. Maria comes to us after the session and says, this is not like any other thing we have gone to, this feels like home. Yes, home is where you feel agency and where you are an equal part of the family, and this is how I see an artistic process and Boiling Room. I am interested in framing Boiling Room as art because I think it is important that such projects are not only happening in the world of social work but are also seen as a form of art and therefore a form of culture.

(Gabriela)

Boiling Room is a feeling, or a mixture of feelings filling spaces of void that did not exist before. I joined the project a bit later, when it was already well established by the others.

For me it is not art, but do not have a better label for it either, it’s just not a way how I usually think and also don’t find it important in this case. Maybe I would say that it felt like the only thing I could do, actively, using my energy and my body. People coming together to do the most basic activity, sharing and understanding without words.

In the end there is an opportunity for people to connect, which is hard in a new city without any context. Food is warm, welcoming, a way of showing and spreading love. Boiling Room is about being in the moment, experiencing joy, transforming sweet awkwardness and finding a shared rhythm.

(Emilia)

*

unexpectedly we ended up swimming

in veggies and flowers and dumplings

and feasting like maybe we have never feasted before

or like we never will (again)

speaking languages we don’t know

doing what we haven’t done before

and what we have done a thousand times

in an impromptu tv show

with low viewership and big following

i know nothing about activism, i am but a clown

contributing my clownery for the community

the anti-Boiler Room

unfashionable, unmarketable, ungovernable

a space to remember and a space where u can forget

sudden accumulation of energy

an adrenaline pump

that metabolized into large quantities of serotonin

and oxytocin captured in hugs

and dreams of dissolution of hierarchies

and money

an ongoing experiment

makeshift and shapeshifting

semi-fixed but there when you need it

here for a moment stretched in time

measured with chops of communal knives

(Maru)

It has been about more than six months since the war started. Looking back on Boiiling Room’s beginnings, it was an urgency and a way to help in a very practical small way and to be together in the moment when a catastrophe broke out on all levels of many people’s lives: personal, political and professional. It was a way to do at least something when logic and language fails you and when doing more practical direct things makes more sense than anything else. When it feels that everything you do should be revised under the harshest scrutiny. .

(Caroline)

Boiling Room, to me, is a practice; it is about making time, showing up, washing the dishes, peeling potatoes, feeling exhausted and needed at the same time; it is a way of moving in space, a meaningful way of spending and wasting time.

Boiling Room to me is not a concept, like an educational or activist idea (l). I don’t think we create something new in terms of artistic value, or offer specific solutions. Boiling Room exists as long as people find the time and strength to come together, inhabit and share spaces, comforts, discomforts, and feel enabled amongst chaos.

(Martin)

Giving a hand to, and being present at, BoilingRoom has been a way to actively participate at something local, where I can physically contribute with my time, energy, and support as an abled person with the special skill of not shedding a tear while cutting endless amounts of onion. The situation was formed by the cultural workers’ community around it, but it was never important for me, to ask where it stands in relation to art and its various practices. It came mainly from the urge to help as a civic person.

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