Ready to lend an ear, Hamburg?
“The greatest problem with communication is we don’t listen to understand. We listen to reply.”
— Roy T. Bennett: The light in the heart
Deep down in an underground station, between two tracks, there’s someone who’s all ears – literally. Hamburg-based author Christoph Busch has transformed a station kiosk into a listening kiosk called “Zuhör-Kiosk”. Over the years, it has become a true Hamburg gem: people from all over the city can find themselves a caring listener here: open-minded, unconditional and 100% private. What began in 2015 as a literary experiment developed into a mission that today drives around 20 volunteer listeners: to lend the city an ear.
Christoph and his team try to hear and see everyone: couples and passers-by, tourists and commuters. “What do I dare to ask? The act of truly listening to someone is a personal challenge”, says Christoph Busch and his gaze sweeps invitingly over the platform. But once people have crossed the threshold into the kiosk room, they are invited to be daring. On 3.5 square metres they find a unique little oasis staffed with chairs and two alert ears. While the underground line U2 hums to the left and right, people may speak openly about what moves them. “Often the stories we hear are sad ones”, Christoph says. However, until he understood that “courageous people come in here who want to do something for themselves. In the end, those are actually very courageous stories”, he adds.
“We live in a time so overflowing with competing messages and feelings that we tend to start distrusting them”, Busch tells us. “Here in the underground I meet people who are fighting for some kind of self-determination of their feelings.” But the Emilienstraße kiosk is by no means just a place for the neighbourhood. People from all over the city, sometimes even from the outskirts, are drawn to Busch’s little, well, care facility: “Whoever comes in here gets to determine the topic. It’s always very personal and one-to-one. That’s what sets us apart from other counselling centres.” And of course it’s the direct line, the low threshold, the accessibility. Unlike in telephone counselling, for instance, Busch and his team of listeners meet the people directly and can thus enter into an exchange word by word – unfiltered through gestures, facial expressions and body language. This facilitates communication.
Christoph Busch studied law in the early sixties with the aim of becoming a diplomat – and then, impressed by the Protests of 1968, finished his studies. He ran a pirate radio station and an antiquarian bookshop and wrote various successful scripts for radio and television. The father of two daughters lives in Eimsbüttel (where the Emilienstraße station is located) and opens up every week to anyone who would like to get something off their chest. He loves working as part of a team that is always happy to welcome new people.
Station kiosk “Zuhör-Kiosk”
U2 underground station Emilienstraße
Opening hours: Monday through Friday, 12–6 pm
Website: www.zuhör-kiosk.de [in German only]