Kosmopoles in Bochum: European culture with a Polish focus from the Ruhr area
What is a Kosmopole?
The question of what a Kosmopole actually is, is not so easy to answer. There will be at least as many definitions as there were members in the association, and probably a few more besides. Hidden behind this term is more than just a type of person, it is a concept, a state of mind. The term was coined by the author and essayist Andrzej Bobkowski (1913–2013), perhaps as early as 1960. In that year, he published the Biography of a great Cosmopole (“Biografia wielkiego Kosmopolaka”) in “Kultura”, the Polish exile magazine in Paris. He was talking about Joseph Conrad, who was born a Pole in the Russian Empire but ultimately, living in Great Britain and travelling through Africa and South-East Asia, became one of the most important English language authors of the 19th century. (His “Heart of darkness” was made into the film “Apocalypse Now”.)
The word Kosmopole is made up of kosmopolita and Polak, i.e. cosmopolitan and Pole. But Bobkowski does not just intend it to mean a travelling, worldly person of Polish heritage. Instead, he seems to have found another word for Poles in exile: Joseph Conrad “was, of course, not an Englishman. But he was not quite Polish either. He was a perfect example of a ‘Kosmopole’ and should be seen as such a perfect example.” And indeed it is something that Poles speak about shamefacedly, even though there were so many Kosmopoles, including a few prominent ones. In this context, Bobkowski mentions Frédéric Chopin, for example.
According to Bobkowski, the Kosmopole is a Pole in exile who is no longer completely Polish but is not a true Englishman, American, German, “Ruhri” etc. either. But because of the different associations that he arouses, and the diversity of the Polonia – the Polish community abroad – the term established a precedent. Kosmopoles can be both. They can be people who combine conflicting elements within themselves. They can be both and even more. In 2016, Artur Becker published his volume of essays entitled “Kosmopolen: Auf der Suche nach einem europäischen Zuhause“ [“Cosmopoles: On the lookout for a European home”] For him, Kosmopolen is “a space for relaxation, inspiration and above all a space for retreat”. After the essay was published, Becker also became a member of the Bochumer Initiative which was known to him prior to this.
The Initiative understood the indefinable, multifaceted nature of the term. On the one hand, they play down the meaning of the name: “A name is, however, just, and in the best sense, an opener, a key term. It quickly arouses interest and should not be taken too seriously, which is our intention. What Kosmopolen is, was, or will be depends as it always has on our ideas and on the way in which they are actually implemented, in which goals are set. But it depends on the content. “ Then again, this explanation is – paradoxically – at the end of a long derivation of the name on one of the subpages on their website.
The fact that the association chose this name, can be attributed to a conversation between Emanuela Danielewicz and the actor Joachim Król. Danielewicz recalls that he suggested the name when he sat for a portrait with her one day. “We’ll take the name, if you’ll be part of it”, she had said. When Król said, “Of course”, it was a done deal – even when the actor, how has Silesian roots, was later quoted in an interview with the Tagesspiegel as having said: “Just don’t tell anyone where you come from.”
 Andrzej Bobkowski, Biografia wielkiego Kosmopolaka, in: Kultura (1960), 19–32, hier 32.
 Kosmopolen e. V., Geschichte des Namens: Kosmopolak, zu deutsch Kosmopole, in: Kosmopolen.org, Stand: 01.03.2021, http://kosmopolen.org/kosmopolen-bochum/geschichte-des-namens/.
 Markus Ehrenberg, Erzähl’ bloß nicht, wo du herkommst, in: Tagesspiegel.de, Stand: 09.05.2011, https://www.tagesspiegel.de/gesellschaft/medien/interview-erzaehl-bloss….