The Beet Street Blog

Archive for the ‘history repeats itself’ tag

We can make it difficult for history to repeat itself.

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Fort Collins is one of many cities around the world where citizens and economic development initiatives such as Beet Street work to distinguish a city as an “intellectually vital community that fosters, celebrates, and inspires human creativity through diverse cultural experiences and programming.” These endeavors have wonderful implications for present and future citizens and economies where cultural events and programs provide opportunities for intellectual and business growth.  But growing a vital community requires continual mental work and the kind of creative thinking that asks us to stretch and reevaluate what we think we already know and understand about ourselves.  Diverse cultural experiences and programs ask participants to see things from new perspectives, because seeing things from new perspectives is fundamental to inspiring human creativity.  Multiple approaches to history, ideas and living together lead to multi-faceted, individualistic or even idiosyncratic points of view that complicate ideas about who we are and who is allowed to define the parts of our collective culture.  When opposing histories and experiences are routinely acknowledged and valued, it is more likely that people will become involved, more interested and more active in the cultural life of a city.  So what happens in a city where past economic and historical experiences create seemingly vast divides in how individual citizens create a sense of place?

Linz, Austria is an interesting example of a city where history could create seemingly irreconcilable differences.  Since 1985, one or two cities across Europe have been selected to represent Europe as “European Capital of Culture” for a year, with the list of future capitals until the year 2019 already named.  The aim of this program is to “showcase the richness, variety and similarities of European cultures and help European citizens to gain a better understanding of one another.”  This year, Linz is the European Capital of Culture and in its efforts to attract visitors and host diverse Europeans, the city has chosen to openly address the fact that it does not exist in a social, historical and political vacuum.  This means that although arts and cultural events are part of creating exciting and memorable celebrations, Linz is consciously addressing the fact that how it promotes itself as well as who is considered important in the city will have lasting effects.  That is, Linz is actively preparing for the future by coming to terms with its past rather than passively letting “history repeat itself.”  In the past, Linz existed as a “Führerstadt” or “Führer City,” encircled by the extermination camps of Mauthausen, Gusen, Ebensee and Hartheim.  Today, architectural evidence of the crimes of the past mingle with contemporary life in Linz and its vicinity.  For example, “Hitlerbauten,” the industrial facilities of the VOEST built on the foundations provided by the “Hermann Göring Werke,” and other seemingly uncontroversial public buildings, were constructed from materials like granite—materials that concentration camp prisoners paid for with their lives.

Historically, the concentration camp Mauthausen was the final destination for deportees from all over Europe and this year, the city of Linz would like more Europeans to visit the area.  They could have chosen to ignore the past and only focus on celebrating arts and culture in collective denial. Instead, they are attempting to find new ways of talking about the past that defy collective amnesia and are relevant to both the region and the rest of Europe.  Projects are making sure that people have accurate knowledge of the past but go further than allowing people to merely evade guilt.  Leaders in Linz have identified their task as that of encouraging discussion about the developments and social mechanisms that made it possible for historical events to occur in the first place.  They want participants to question the ideology underpinning the Nazi era, and make connections to how it continues to subtly affect and inform European societies to this day.

For example, the mission statement for Linz09 identifies that history will be dealt with by using different narrative styles, including “the polemical, factual, sober and provocative.”  Different projects throughout the year are intended to encourage diverse audiences to engage with the area from new perspectives. The idea is that cultural discourse can exist in multiple forms that include dissent or feeling uncomfortable.  One project supported by federal and national funding, “The Invisible Camp,” is designed to reactivate the hidden memory of parts of the region where citizens now live and relax.  Using an i-Pod, visitors walk through residential developments listening to a soundtrack of reminiscences from survivors and witnesses as to what happened there.  The voices include present day inhabitants, soldiers and even members of the SS who were responsible for sending people to concentration camps.  The stories bring to life what is normally left unsaid and visitors cannot ignore what they can no longer physically see. You can visit Linz, the city that Hitler wanted to make his cultural capital, to explore its museums, cyberart Ars Electronica center, street celebrations, cultural and religious sights and even tour the city from above on rooftop scaffolding.  You can also be asked or ask uncomfortable questions.

Photo: City of Linz

Photo: City of Linz The new Ars Electronica Center exists to explore what human beings have always found most fascinating—themselves—a fascination that has also exerted a spellbinding attraction on art and science, two varieties of one and the same striving for truths about our world and ourselves.

Another project in Linz uses signs to make a point.  During 2009, the most important access routes leading into Linz will be relabelled. The new street names use languages that are “foreign” to many of the city’s citizens in order to bring attention to the present day ethnic complexity of Linz.  The proactive goal for the signs is to point out that the reality of living in Linz demands the “kind of democratic attitude that is so needed and so necessary in all areas of a life lived together rather than merely side by side.”  The project also works as a test case to determine how cosmopolitan the majority of Linzers really are as hosts to the rest of Europe.  It’s an exciting examination of cultural identity–real and perceived!  You can read more about Linz09 here.  If Linz can combine tourism and address conflict while celebrating contemporary life, do you think cities of all sizes and in other parts of the world can put their model to use?

Art and community make life!


Here’s the cover of the program for Linz09–love the fried eggs!

Thanks for the photos moe in berlinacediscovery and City of Linz

Deborah Lombard

The Beet of Fort Collins and Northern Colorado

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Sugar beets from the 1906 Larimer County Democrat, Illustrated Edition

Sugar beets from the 1906 Larimer County Democrat, Illustrated Edition

Driving out on Buckingham Street over the weekend, I was surprised to find dozens of prairie dogs frolicking and sunning themselves along parts of the road that used to be beet fields. Their activities got me thinking about Fort Collins’ sugar beet fields and what it must have been like to work in one. If you visit the Museo de las Tres Colonias in Fort Collins, you can judge the size and weight of an average sugar beet and imagine how much effort it would take to get it out of the ground with its extensive root system holding on! Generations of Fort Collins residents carried out the back-breaking work of the beet fields, from early German-Russians who immigrated to the United States to “African-American”, Japanese, and later Mexican or Mexican American families, who all hoped to realize the same dreams.

If you want to read more about how beets are connected to history in Fort Collins, the Fort Collins Local History Archive website is a great place to start.  As I have just said a lot of the information here is from the Fort Collins Local History Archive website. Here’s some of the story which starts a long way away from Colorado. R. Margarat, a German chemist discovered that there was sugar in beet juice in 1747 and around the same time in Italy, people figured out how to refine sugar. This led to the early development of the beet sugar industry, which by World War I, had spread across Europe and made sugar affordable for more and more people. As the Fort Collins Local History Archive website states, the first imported beet seed from France arrived in the United States in 1836, and between 1852 and 1879, thirteen factories were erected across the United States. However, all but one of the factories failed since the necessary heavy machinery was expensive and had to be imported from Europe. There were also not enough people in the US with the theoretical and practical knowledge necessary to grow and process sugar beets. American farmers were unfamiliar with how to grow beets and the whole process required intensive hand labor.

The Fort Collins Local History website talks about how in 1866, an editorial published in the Rocky Mountain News promoted the idea of growing sugar beets in Colorado—individuals experimented with irrigation to compensate for the limited annual rainfall in towns like Littleton. There are reports of beets being grown in Fort Collins around 1870, where they were grown as animal feed since there was no factory to process them. Then, in the 1880s, Colorado Agriculture College in Fort Collins experimented with sugar beet agriculture on farms in the area, and found that the climatic and soil conditions, as well as the irrigation networks in the South Platte River Valley were excellent for high yields—beets with approximately 15% sugar. That research led to more support and interest along with the claim that, “the soil of Colorado has no superior in the world for producing this beet.” The beet sugar industry continued to expand in Fort Collins and the region.  This is from the Fort Collins Local History website.

Great Western Sugar Factory

Great Western Sugar Factory

More research, practice, demand, political events and hard work led to the continued development of the beet sugar industry. The Dingley Tariff of 1897 placed a duty on refined sugar in the US and the domestic demand for sweetener continued to grow, fueled even more by the Spanish American War in 1899. By 1903, new factories were being built in 16 states across the United States according to the Fort Collins Local History website.

Between 1901 and 1906, factories were built in Loveland, Eaton, Greeley, Windsor, Sterling, Fort Morgan and Brush. The first beet sugar manufacturing plant in Colorado was owned by the Colorado Sugar Manufacturing Company and established in Grand Junction on the western slope in 1899. By 1909, Colorado was the leading beet sugar producing state in the nation, and more factories were built in Brighton, Fort Lupton, Ovid and Johnstown.

Unloading beets at the factory

Unloading beets at the factory

By 1910, sugar beet production in the South Platte River Valley averaged 806,000 tons, which is a lot of beets! You can see huge piles of them in old photographs. The growth of the beet sugar industry led to more opportunities in our area, including more job possibilities and more income. The Fort Collins neighborhoods of Buckingham, Andersonville, and Alta Vista (with their distinct histories and economic conditions) encircled the beet fields and are the living legacy of the laborers who built the Colorado sugar beet empire. Following the end of World War I, Latino families began replacing the German-Russians when the Great Western Sugar Company established a colony (Alta Vista) for its Hispanic workers in Fort Collins.

The Beet Street organization and its logo reference Fort Collin’s agricultural past. When I first saw the logo, I didn’t have the historical reference to understand what it had to do with Fort Collins. Since then, I’ve learned a little about the fascinating story of the sugar beet and its importance in our community. The successful sugar beet industry was a turning point in Fort Collin’s economic history and today, the not-for profit ‘Beet Street’ exists to repeat history by mobilizing the cultural arts as an economic engine—to once more enhance Fort Collins’ economic vitality! Fort Collins was built on ideas, back breaking work, and connections to our national and international economies. The same components will drive our current development. If “history repeats itself,” we’re in for an exciting ride!

Dreaming costs nothing, but not dreaming costs everything!

Deborah Lombard