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The Birth of The Festival

By Florian Mueck • Sep 4th, 2009 • Category: My Europe, The Project, Top Story

The night of the 6th of September 1997 was the night that changed the way I looked at Europe forever…

I had arrived to the beautiful city of Barcelona a couple of days beforehand. The summer still covered this Mediterranean town with its hot and humid sheet. Barcelona had exceeded my best expectations, for I had never been to the city of Mediterranean wonders. Gaudí’s crazy constructions, the warm summer beaches, the picturesque Barrio Gótico. Straight away I felt at home. There I was, an ERASMUS student far away from home. Great!

L’Auberge espagnole still had years to come, but where I settled it felt just the same - in a bohemian building from 1848 right in Raval, Barrio Chino. Calle Paloma was a shadowy alley filled with hordes of people and barking dogs all day long. And they all perfectly knew how to be loud. Like today I remember the gas man who walked down Paloma every morning around 8:30 am. His first yells were hardly audible. But then they became louder as he got closer to my window: “Butaaaaaaano!”. It took me many weeks to understand what he yelled until I discovered its meaning – gas. That was my third word in Spanish, which of course came after cerveza and vino tinto!

My flat had never seen daylight. I was the first to arrive, so I chose the room next to the Butano man. My landlady María Carmen, a female version of Ebenezer Scrooge, told me that two more guys were about to arrive in the following days. One Belgian, one French.

I had already made enemies with the barking gas man, when one night Bert Ceuppens from Brussels stood at the door. Long hair, quite alternative African style, and a big smile. Yes, that was Bert. He explained to me that his friend François had asked him to check out the German first before coming over. Funny. Over the getting-to-know-each-other beers we forgot about François. In the end we happily shared the place.

We were staying on the first floor, close to the gas man, and on the third floor some ERASMUS students from the Netherlands, Germany and Italy had moved in. On the morning of the 6th they came down to tell us that they were organizing a first big party for all the ERASMUS students from ESADE business school. I had no idea about ESADE, but my flat mates were studying there, and party sounded great.

François, Bert and I spent the day playing beach volleyball with some guys from Brazil and Ivan, our new friend from Buenos Aires whom my flat mates had met on the beach two days earlier and invited him to stay at our place during his flat search process.

The night came with Barcelona’s late summer breeze. I still had no idea how many people would show up nor where they would come from. At ERASMUS you just go with the flow. Everyone has sort of the same mind-set: Open, friendly, willing to meet new people from all over the place. You can feel how your “cross-cultural competence” grows with every conversation about different lifestyles, habits, food, … And, of course, it is not necessary to mention that ERASMUS is a hatchery for cross-border couples.

We were ready to join the party. Big Tom from Belgium had already made a gigantic Paella in our kitchen. Tom just loves to cook. He has it in his genes, his Michelin brother is a chef back home. Later we would spend many nights at his place enjoying salt covered dorades talking about life from our young and culturally diverse perspectives.

Climbing up the scruffy staircase we can already hear the international muttering coming from the roof-deck.

And there it is: the moment that changed my life forever! Roughly 100 happy faces… Mediterranean faces, Northern faces, Poles chatting with Swedes, Frenchmen laughing about Germans, Germans laughing about the French, but together, funny Irish telling jokes in an English that nobody really understands, a Greek girl named Kerstin Trikalitis already flirting with Ivan, the Latin lover, hugs, cheers, laughter, Belgians and Bavarians arguing about who makes the better beer, some Italians bring up the first drinking game, an indispensable asset of any ERASMUS party, Tom proudly serving his home-made Paella, Marc from the French speaking side of Canada explaining to Marion from Cologne why he loves Europe so much, and everybody melting into this fantastic spirit of European togetherness…

From that moment forth I knew what Europe was all about. It is about us, the people. It is about our common values, our common ground, our common diversity. I still get goose bumps when I think about that unforgettable night - a European experience made by people.

It was the spirit of the night of the 6th of September 1997 that planted the seed for what was to become The Festival idea nine years later…

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Florian Mueck is European, initiator and co-founder of The Festival: "Passion for Europe maybe does not exist in the media. But it does exist in many hearts of many people."
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