Why does St Elisabeth Convent arrange festivals? What influence do they have on the visitors? We hope to answer these questions by describing the Heart 2 Heart Festival that took place in Berlin on September 21-24.
St Elisabeth Convent organised the Heart 2 Heart Festival in the Russian House in Berlin on September 21-24, 2017. The capital of Germany had hosted our Festival for the first time in 2016. People of various ages and cultural background were attracted by the programme that we offered, and for that reason the Heart 2 Heart Festival was held in the Russian House again in the autumn of 2017.
The festival crew considers letting people know more about cultural aspects of the Orthodox faith as one of their most crucial goals. We are putting a lot of work to convey the joy and power of charity to our overseas friends via performances, presentations, and concerts. The meetings we had in this far-away land were always meaningful and heart-warming, as suggested by the very name of our Heart 2 Heart Festival.
The four days of the Festival were overflowing with fascinating events and meetings. On any given day, you could expect one major event for general public, followed by several smaller ones for fewer visitors. When asked about their impressions about the Festival, the guests pointed out that there were plenty events that suited their particular interests to choose from. Many of our visitors would come to the Festival time and time again.
Dzianis Sidarenka, the Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Republic of Belarus to the Federative Republic of Germany, with his spouse; Alexei Barbuk, an adviser of the Embassy; representatives of the Romanian Orthodox Church and the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia; personnel of the Russian and the Belarusian embassies honoured us by visiting our Festival on one of the days.
What Was Distinctive About The Festival This Time?
- The concert of the Monastic Choir of St Elisabeth Convent, as usual, took a whole lot more time than we expected. The large hall of the Russian House was full.
- The Little Prince, a drama staged by Joy Inclusive Theatre, was presented in Western Europe for the first time. The theatre troupe appeared on stage in Cottbus and Berlin. Several mentally and physically challenged children from several boarding homes of Minsk staged the narrative based on the eponymous novel by Antoine de Saint-Exupery in Russian.
- Alexander Zhdanovich, the unchanging head of the theatre, was the playwright, the director and the stage director of the play. This play was translated into German on-the-fly, which was helpful for German speakers in the audience. The children from the boarding home enjoyed cheerful welcome, which made them really happy, especially since there were no unoccupied seats.
- This time, in addition to the usual workshop sessions on icon painting and making stone icons, we offered one-on-one tutoring, which the visitors could enlist up for. A four-hour-long workshop session led by expert icon painters allowed the students to grasp the nuanced techniques more comprehensively than during the public demonstration, and to paint a real masterpiece with their own hands.
- During the workshops on stone icons, the participants learned to create landscape pictures. During tempera icon painting sessions, they painted biblical animals on the boards we had prepared ahead of time. People could enrol for participation in these workshop sessions online or during the festival, and we were amazed to see how many people turned up.
- A stage show Traditional Belarusian Apparel, which combined a speech on the past of the outfit, elements of a folk holiday and a fashion show of laical clothes made in Ella sewing workshop of St Elisabeth Convent, was an unexpected event. It was intended to jog the memory of the traditions of the national apparel of Belarus, preserved and continued in current fashions created by designers of our Convent. The audience in Berlin was really enthusiastic to see the collection of clothes made in the Convent. Many of the viewers went on to purchase the items after the fair.
- There was a phyto café open every day for all visitors. It offered pastry, sweets, and fragrant herbal teas brewed according to recipes found in old books.
- The visitors could also watch films produced by the Studio in honour of St John the Warrior (St Elisabeth Convent), as well as enjoy photo exhibitions and presentations about the contemporary life of St Elisabeth Convent, its history and community outreach projects. Many listeners were eager to learn about the construction going on in the Convent, about the community projects it has been doing in the recent years, about the holidays and day-to-day life of the Convent. Each event was accompanied by several short video films and a discussion during which the visitors were able to ask their questions. The sisters of St Elisabeth Convent, having helped many impoverished and destitute people, including the elderly and the less able, have accumulated a veritable trove of precious knowledge to share with the audiences, and they did so with pleasure.
- The Land of Childhood met its young friends cheerfully. The edutainment we had designed for children and their parents made it feel like an affectionate family event. The characters of Batleika Folk Puppet Theatre and compelling characters of the For The Little Ones cartoon series offered a mix of fairy tales to the little guests.
- We had demonstrated a Belarusian hut to the Berliners during our first Festival. This time, however, there were several workshop sessions that kept on with the theme of the Belarusian clothing: painting wooden gifts (plywood figurines of children wearing Belarusian clothes), weaving belts using an appropriate tool, and a straw-plaiting seminar.
It is too early to judge the precise impact that the festival in Berlin had, as the greater part of the audience were sympathetic Russian-speaking Orthodox parishioners. The Festival for them is an occasion to go back to their homeland, albeit figuratively.
Even during the preparation stage for the Heart 2 Heart Festival in Berlin, we invested a lot of energy to spread the word about the event among the general public and Christians who are affiliated to various heterodox congregations. We took into account our prior experiences and were led by the passion to make this event as engaging and clear as possible. German speakers thanked us for the fact that all festival events were interpreted into German and they were able to understand them, too.
The talent of icon painters, the flawlessness of Orthodox chants performed by the Monastic Choir, books published by the Publishing House of St Elisabeth Convent and films produced by the video studio of St Elisabeth Convent, workshop sessions on folk crafts — all these events provided a glimpse into the richness of Orthodox culture, traditions of family life, and the history of the Belarusian land.
We can definitely say that the Heart 2 Heart Festival is becoming one of noteworthy events in the life of the big metropolis. More than 3,000 people visited the Russian House during the four days of the festival. Many of them shared their impressions via our Book of Reviews.
The sisters of St Elisabeth Convent would like to thank all their friends and guests of the Festival for their loving support, attention, and encouragement.
Our Festival crew hopes to see their friends in Berlin in the summer of 2018. We are looking forward to meeting you next year!