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Information bulletin
(June 1951)

Anthon, Margaret Day
House of neighbors,   pp. [20]-23 PDF (2.7 MB)


Page 22


Old US Army x-ray plates were scraped during early days
of the YWCA Neighborhood House to provide window-
panes for the original temporary wooden structure. Mrs.
Anthon (left), author of article, is assisting in operation.
The board of directors laid out the task of the neigh-
borhood house along the lines of centers already estab-
lished by the American Friends Service Committee in
Germany, in the tradition of the settlement movement
stemming from London's Toynbee Hall, founded in 1884.
Until the Nazis forced its closing, Berlin had had an in-
fluential settlement, founded in 1911, and affiliated with
the international settlement movement. The idea of
neighborhood work of this kind was therefore not new.
The workers and members of the earlier settlement in
Berlin who came forward to help in Neukoelln under-
stood how to work democratically, and have been a real
influence in the development of the work there.
T HREE MAIN PURPOSES for the neighborhood house
lwere laid out by the board of directors in Neu-
koelln. First, it was to provide a meeting place where
people of all nationalities, walks of life and ages could
develop the habit and practice of self-government. When
one has really tasted active participation in planning
and carrying out projects of his own choosing, the
sheeplike obedience to the commands of a leader have
little appeal to him. The neighborhood is the seed-bed
of practical citizenship, and the job of the neighborhood
house is to draw out and cultivate good citizenship-
neighborliness and fair play.
Youth should not be singled out for special attention
and privileges, as in the Fascist and Communist pro-
grams. All members participate according to their in-
terest, and share responsibility according to their com-
petence. Through responsibility they develop the in-
dependence of spirit which is fundamental to democracy.
The process of learning self-government is slow and
painful. At first in Neukoelln, groups were unwilling to
take any initiative in planning. They trusted their adult
leaders unquestioningly, and shrank back from making
decisions themselves. It was sometimes necessary for
leaders to fail deliberately in carrying out plans, in
order to persuade groups that they could do better
themselves. The first youth groups met regularly for
nearly a year before they could be brought to the point
of electing officers. The groups trusted their own elected
INFORMATION BULLETIN
officers so reluctantly that at first they were chosen for
term of only a month. This was healthy, since these officers
often understood their jobs as being "little dictators."
Adult leaders needed to work intensively with each
elected officer to interpret to him how to draw out
group decisions, instead of directing affairs single-
handedly. At the same time, it was often necessary to
encourage members to rebel against dictatorial methods
of club officers, to make them realize that the rights
and opinions of all members must be carefully considered.
THE YOUTH COUNCIL, on which all of the 30-odd
lclubs whose members range between the ages of
13 and 25 are represented, and the Adult Council, on
which the four mothers' groups and the Heimkehrer (re-
turned prisoners of war) are represented, help to decide
all important as well as lesser questions of policy, gov-
ernment and program in the center. They assist in plan-
ning all "open evenings"-concerts, lectures, movies
and parties for the neighborhood. Last year youth groups
earned expenses for 30 members to take a two-week
jaunt around the Bodensee (Lake Constance) and plan a
similar project this year.
The principal project of the Youth and Adult Councils
last year was the laying out of plans for the new
center building to be constructed on an adjoining lot
and financed by a grant from the HICOG Special Projects
Fund. The Youth Council itself planned and carried out
the ceremonies for laying the cornerstone of the new
building on Dec. 9, 1950. As a special honor to Maj.
Gen. Maxwell D. Taylor, former US commander of Berlin,
who represented US High Commissioner John J. McCloy,
the Council inducted him as an honorary member.
The second purpose of the neighborhood house is the
development of a creative social ethic which applies as
well to nations as to neighborhoods. To replace the ag-
gressive and ruthless philosophy, the suspicion, fear and
hatred fostered by National Socialism, the center is work-
ing toward the "City of Friends" of Walt Whitman,
where everyone belongs and shoulders his share.
No medals were ever given for the volunteer workers
at the neighborhood house because the work itself re-
paid richly in companionship and some sense of ac-
complishment, and because nearly everyone who comes
is a volunteer worker in one way or another.
I N THE EARLY DAYS, when the center needed a bath-
I tub and no bathtub could be bought, a search was
made- for some tub suspended from a ruined building
which might be rescued and used. Finally the Army
scrap disposal yards yielded up a giant bathtub said to
weigh half a ton. The jubilation at finding it was
somewhat dampened by the question of how to get it
up to the attic of the center. The five boys who had vol-
unteered to bring it home were no match for its weight.
A quick call for help was sent up and down the street.
Five sturdy neighbors dropped their work and spent the
next four hours inching the mammoth tub up the narrow
stairway to its destination. They were rewarded at the
top with a cup of hot chocolate and the promise of a
JUNE 1951
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