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Sunday, 05 June 2011 05:26

Two snapshots of Charlemagne

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Lucy Duggan, editor and co-founder of E&M, was in Aachen this week where E&M was awarded the Charlemagne Youth Prize. She relives her two defining snapshots for us.

I

I'm nervous. The main hall at the Technical University in Aachen is filling with people, the award ceremony of the Charlemagne Youth Prize is soon going to start.

The other national winners - one from each EU country - are taking their seats beside me. None of us can remember (or pronounce) each other's names, so we call each other by the names of our countries, as in, "Hey Italy, do you know the way back to the hostel?" or "Where's Estonia gone?" But actually, this system of nicknames is rather deceptive: the "Irish" representative comes from Latvia, the "Danish" winner is Armenian and the "French" nominee comes from Romania but lives in the Netherlands.

This is something the traditional media don't seem to notice when they write about the Charlemagne winners. All our projects are transnational, and for us, talking about E&M as a "British" or "German" online magazine is meaningless. Austria's winning project is a cycling event in which young people from all over Europe will ride from Novi Sad to St Petersburg to campaign for student mobility. Sweden's project is a European daily newspaper with news from sources across the continent. And the Spanish theatre group which picked up third prize has brought together Erasmus students to create shows which transcend language barriers. These are projects which really make national borders a thing of the past.

The Charlemagne ceremony is organised to create as much tension as possible, with music and even an LED show to delay the announcement of the winners. But finally Jerzy Buzek is on stage, introducing the first prize. He comes up with seven reasons for choosing the winning project, and it's when he says that it provides something for the whole human being that I realise he must be talking about us. The highlight of his speech comes at the end, when he says that the "Europe" of our magazine is less like a soup and more like a glass of excellent white wine.

Well, we've always known that we were delicious and refreshing, and we've always suspected that our loyal readers are nothing less than connoisseurs of a very special European terroir. Stay with us, and help us make the next vintage better than ever before!

lucy_accept_prize
Photo: European Union 2011 PE-EP
Lucy accepts the Charlemagne Prize from President of the European Parliament Jerzy Buzek.

II

"Your project now has a blog section, "Sixth Sense." I only know that from the film - can you explain to me what your blog is about?"

The interviewer looks at me, apparently proud of this reference to popular culture, and so do a large crowd of people gathered in the square beside Aachen Cathedral for the Charlemagne festival. All 27 winners have been called up on stage; it's a beautiful evening and from up here it feels as if most of the population of Aachen has come out to have a beer and gawp at us.

Our "Sixth Sense" section is not all that easy to describe - because it's constantly growing into something unexpected, something which is really expanding the boundaries of our magazine. But wasn't that why we chose the name? We had five body parts, but then we found that our ideas about Europe didn't all fit into the original "me" - so we started searching for an outlet for all those ideas. And I think young Europeans do have a kind of "sixth sense," because we can see so many possible future Europes, the ones we want to build.

The interviewer has reached his final question: "What is the meaning of the Charlemagne Youth Prize?"

I think he expects to hear something about bringing Europe together, maybe something about Charlemagne himself: Aachen is very proud that he chose the city for his home at the end of his life. For me personally the Charlemagne Youth Prize has a simple meaning: "For me it means motivation. All of us - young people around Europe - we're working voluntarily, putting a lot of time into these projects. And the Charlemagne Youth Prize says, 'Yes, go for it! You are Europe!'"

And the Charlemagne Youth Prize says, "Yes, go for it! You are Europe!" 

My final sentence is almost drowned out by the other winners, who immediately start applauding and cheering. I guess they've all had that moment when your inbox seems to contain 1000 emails all in different languages, or when there's only one hour left till the deadline for a massive funding application, or when you realise that your organisation is still not going to be able to afford an office next year. You think: why am I doing this? But then something reminds you that your project really is worth it.

Last modified on Wednesday, 08 June 2011 20:09

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