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Culture

German kiosks get people talking about art

Kiosk visitors in Germany's Ruhr Valley region may happen upon more than bottled water or cigarettes this summer. They'll also have the chance to buy limited edition pieces by top European designers - for under 20 euros.

A women stands at the counter of a kiosk and buys something

Securing one of the items takes luck since numbers are limited

Next to piles of newspapers and candy bars lie intriguing objects are art, like a necklace pressed from gold and coal or a glowing steel candleholder, ready to be purchased. This summer, that sight may greet shoppers in Germany's industrial Ruhr Valley during their stops at small convenience stores known as kiosks.

"Each week, we get a new supply of designs, and we never know what we're going to get - it's always like a goodie bag when the delivery comes," said kiosk owner Erika Mildner.

The kiosk she has operated for 37 years was among those selected for the Designkiosk project, part of the Ruhr Valley's celebration as a European Capital of Culture in 2010. A jury selected 30 European designers known for making high-quality, handcrafted design objects. In turn, those designers have created unique goods in nine different editions that can be sold in the region's kiosks.

The good news for customers is that the designers' items won't cost much more than a bottle of wine or a can of soup. Each of the designs can be had for less than 20 euros ($24). Many are functional, but still decorative.

Sparking conversation

The picture shows a set consisting of a broach, earrings and a bookmark that is being sold in kiosks.

This set includes a broach, earrings and a bookmark for just under 20 euros


Since its start in May, the project has been a big hit - and not just with the locals. "We've even had customers that came from Stuttgart or Berlin," said Mildner.

But the idea behind Designkiosk is about more than attracting tourists or commerce, explained Sigurd Christian Evers, one of the project's four initiators.

"What we had hoped for has actually come to pass," said Evers. "At the kiosks, a kind of discourse about design is emerging among the people that live there and the visitors."

Designkiosk represents one more way in which art is moving from the museums and performance halls and into everyday life during the European Capital of Culture celebration. This month, for instance, features contemporary artists' light installations on display in a church in Dortmund, as well as an effort to get entire cities dancing by inviting the public to learn and perform dance routines alongside professionals.

A Ruhr Valley safari

"I'm from the Ruhr Valley, and I grew up with these little kiosks - each of us somehow has a favorite little shop, and there's a kind of fascination associated with that," said Volker Koester, a media studies professor at the University of Bochum in the Ruhr Valley. He introduced his foreign students to the project and now several Spanish exchange students are making short films about the participating kiosks.

Kiosk owner Erika Mildner takes center stage in several of the short films. She isn't just a clerk selling the unusual designs - instead, she's at the heart of her neighborhood, and customers come to confide their troubles and joys in her.

A snakelike piece of jewelry sits atop a turquoise background

This snakelike, stainless steel pin can be had for 18.90 euros

But it wasn't Mildner's personality that won over the project's organizers; the kiosks were selected because of their locations. The organizers sought out stores that lie in the middle of artistic and creative hubs in more than 10 Ruhr Valley towns and cities.

The design objects attract visitors who are then encouraged to discover the creative side of their cities, whether they are there for the first time or lifelong residents. Maps are available in the respective kiosks that highlight places to explore, and some kiosks even have bikes to loan to guests who want to get to know the Ruhr Valley.

"The demand has been huge. Some people have taken up a kind of Ruhr Valley safari - going from kiosk to kiosk and seeing what else they can snag," said Evers.

The project runs until August 1.

Author: Suzanne Cords (gsw)
Editor: Kate Bowen

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