Christian Johann – bridging gaps

Christian Johann is the Director of the European Academy Berlin (EAB).

Christian Johann sticks his tongue out. And on the highly official website of the European Academy Berlin at that. On a picture that introduces him as the director. What a great title: Director of an academy, based in a villa in Grunewald. It all sounds so statesmanlike, he thinks. He could be photographed in tails and tie, but that would defeat the academy’s purpose. The only help is a break in style, hence the picture with the tongue.

Johann is 40 and has been Director of the European Academy Berlin for two years. When he meets new people, he introduces himself like this: “I’m part of an organization that bridges the gap between people and Europe.” The EAB is a political education center hosting conferences, meetings, and seminars on topics related to European politics. Johann thinks the whole purpose of his work is to be approachable. Here, anyone and everyone should find access to Europe. Without previous education. People should be encouraged to question: What does Europe have to do with my life?

The specialty: The house’s guest groups are very diverse. It happens that at noon the commanders of the Air Force come in for a training course. In the afternoon, students meet to discuss the extinction of species.

Hunger for co-design

Johann did not grow up a fan of Europe. His parents fled the GDR for West Berlin when he was three years old. He no longer remembers the place “over there.” But his parents do, and they took something with them: skepticism about politics. Such topics were never discussed at the dinner table. But Johann himself always had a hunger for understanding, for participation. At 18, he joined the SPD.

Judo and political education are similar. Johann takes many of his skills from Japanese martial arts. He was eight years old when he first went to judo lessons. He was 15 when he started teaching himself.

He taught his students how to take responsibility for their opponents. How they can let off steam, but under firm rules. And how they keep a big goal in mind – maybe the next belt color – even though it takes years to reach it. Perseverance is the most crucial skill for Johann. “In my work, it’s hard to see direct results immediately. I want to encourage critical thinking. How do you measure that?” he says.

The academy now has a Tiktok channel

The EAB has been around since the 1960s. When he took office, Johann set out to knead the EAB like pizza dough. For example, he made an effort to create a Tiktok channel for the EAB. Since he works there, there have also been new forms of events: Together with the fashion platform Zalando, Johann brought Ukrainian fashion labels to Berlin in the Villa’s garden. There they were allowed to exhibit their new designs.

1,500 visitors came and donated. Among them were many hipsters, who spoke only English and had made their way to the bourgeois Grunewald for the first time. Anna Scheld

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