They were crazy, and they did not have a plan
It was a ruin --
There was garbage, old machine parts, cheap junk, old sofas, broken furniture, boxes of stuff everywhere
The cows were in the barn
There were no windows. Coal ovens, holes in the roof — floors that did not exist.
Some old village alcoholics remained, who met under a tree and drank vodka all day — singing like nightingales
Only a few houses had running water — it was an old agricultural centre and farm — it was abandoned — it was a mess
and it was filled with potential and fantasy.
We were a group of five or six individuals. Most of us had experienced the Berlin wall falling, and we had been a part of the squat movement in Berlin, roughly from 1990 to 1996.
This time was an intense takeover by young people, and students who broke with their studies — to create life, to create art. People who had a chance to occupy and rebuild the falling-down buildings of East Berlin. On the streets, in Mitte, and elsewhere — to be more specific, Kastanienallee 77, or, as everybody called it, K77. We had communally built a dance studio, instigated by Uli Kaiser. This space was co-run by Naama Gidron, Christa Cocciole and Howard Katz.
By the mid-90s, many of us squatters were ready to take on our next project — part-funded by the German government! In K77, there were leftover materials, machines, general know-how, and a do-it-yourself spirit that this could all be possible — so, onwards to the village of Stolzenhagen!
We — Stephanie and Uli — were dedicated to doing something in Stolzenhagen. But... there was no clear concept or idea of what was to come.
We slowly took the place over from some well-meaning West Berliner soft radicals. They had also had a similar dream to what we had — but it got dysfunctional, and things hadn’t worked out.
Uli was always fuelled by the idea that there should be communal spaces in Stolzenhagen — like dance studios and space for artists to create social-cultural activities or whatever. I had moved to Berlin from San Francisco, and I suppose I brought with me a sort of improvisational spirit of the San Francisco dance scene of the 1990s — creating contact improvisation jams, multi-disciplinary performance works, and other crazy stuff. I had been doing this kind of thing with the performance collective CORE (together with Jess Curtis, Keith Hennessy, and Jules Beckman) — and through founding Collusion, together with my long-time dance partner Kathleen Hermesdorf (together in San Francisco with the Margaret Jenkins Dance Company from 1989 to 1995).
A space to grow
Ponderosa was founded from this spirit and from these deep friendships, that grew, expanded and filled a world no one could have imagined.
(Practically, Ponderosa was founded as part of a Genossenschaft — a members’ co-operative — called Gut Stolzenhagen, which includes both us and most of our near-neighbours. Read all about it here.)
The name Ponderosa was suggested by Jörg Bodemann — one of the original founders of the Gut Stolzenhagen Genossenschaft. Yes, from that TV show Bonanza! Germans watched that stuff.
Pickin’ up steam
By 2010, Ponderosa had zoomed through around nine or ten summers (no-one knows exactly when we really began). These were years of amazing crazy work: building and improvisation projects that emptied the barns of hay, that built this studio and that studio, that pounded out windows, raised walls, built rooms, and exorcised the place of bad evil spirits.
We dug into the gardens, planting greens, tomatoes, fruit trees, vegetables, and lots more. We filled the place with incredible unbelievable happenings. We had freedom and privacy and tons of room to explore and dream and party.
In 2010, we instigated P.O.R.C.H. — this came from the desire to keep people with us all summer long, and to not just create a commercial workshop place for dance consumers.
It has been a gateway of international meetings, networks, friendhsips and an opening into the city of Berlin. Countless young aspiring performance artists ended up living in Berlin year after year and expanding the work of Ponderosa and her sleazy and chaotic and hopeful spirit.
Today, and the future
Our Ponderosa home has various complicated and interlocking parts, and we outline them here, to hopefully be transparent and acknowledge all the many things that have gotten developed and created over the years — things that are visible, and also things which have yet to be seen and will continue to expand.
What are all the parts? Ok, let’s go through them.
Ponderosa is the seed of all of this. And it has had many real human babies and many choreographies and the friends and the endless hours of meetings, discussions, conflicts and incredible alchemy of humans and funding supporters to whom we are endlessly thankful, for helping us to bring it all into fruition and continual expansion!
Ponderosa could not exist — and could not have existed over the last decade-plus — without indescribable help from many, many people.
Thank you to Kathleen Hermesdorf, Peter Pleyer, Maria F. Scaroni, Keith Hennesy, Jen Polins, and countless others. Thank you to Adi Brief our incredible backbone and our loyal life supporter. Thank you to Saliq Savage, an incredible philanthropist dedicated to expanding the infrastructure of the whole place and the surrounding region.
Thank you to:
and many, many more.