Social worker Jupp Meul retires and takes stock

The failure of open youth work

At the end of the year, Jupp Meul says, he will retire, and after 33 years he will be finished working at the DRK Youth Centre. With a precise look at the social changes of the last three decades, all of which have been reflected in his work with young people, the social worker and medical educator takes stock during a discussion at the Youth Centre.

Just in time at 2 p.m., the heavy wing door to the youth center opens with unmistakable squeaking in the hinges. 

The first children enter the recently painted green hallway of the former clubhouse of the local football club. Some sit on the first floor in the computer room, the others stay downstairs, in the dining room next to the kitchen. Then a colleague of Meul helps the students with their homework.

In the kitchen, Jupp Meul not only smears studs, it has always been a shelter for crisis interventions.

Jupp Meul stands in the kitchen and smears Nutella on wholegrain toasts, provides the studs with a second slice each and puts them in the hot sandwich toaster.

“Since when do you like Nutella?” he asks kindly to the child, who receives the warm bread at a table next to the kicker. He knows the habits of the visitors well.

Since Corona, a transparent foil has been stretched long over the table kicker on wooden slats to prevent the transfer of droplets between the players.

Kicker with transparent foil on slats.

Children are currently coming, yes, but of the daily up to 18 young people hardly one, notes Jupp Meul.

Meul is the “whole” of what he says are “one and a half workers” and head of the DRC Youth Center, before 2015 there were still two, he says.

One and a half jobs in the social focus

In the meantime, he is in favour of a change, a transformation of youth centres into civic centres for the targeted promotion of children and their families, with more staff.

The open youth work in the square focus, which is characterized by the high number of people with migrant populations, has been going downhill for a long time, says the now 65-year-old.With the tactic of “storage and fun through technology”, he hardly achieves today’s young people any more.

Turning point

He sees the turning point at the end of a very special offer of the DRC Youth Centre in 2003. In decades of trial workshops, the skill riding on off-road motorcycles on a Belgian motorcycle course near the border, he and his former colleague still managed to gain access to the young people.

The workshop was able to convey a healthy dose of self-confidence and, where necessary, it was possible to prepare offers of help, a visit to a drug counselling centre, the placement in substitution programmes for drug addiction or therapeutic help for victims of sexual abuse. A number of young people, “we always had an extreme audience”, had sought a personal engagement with them, says Jupp Meul. They had demanded conversations, care, life support, engaged in role-playing games and arguments. 

“Boring and ignorant”

Today, the youth is “boring and ignorant”, Meul does not mince words, the constant digitization of young leisure behavior has left its mark. At the very least, heroin use in the house, which was once branded a “drug cave,” had been done. But then the devil was driven out with Belzebub.

At the beginning of the millennium, the computer room in the youth centre, with its online access to the World Wide Web, was still a highly sought-after and sociable affair. By the middle of the decade, however, he had already observed the “limitless consumption” of digital content among young people.

Due to the self-evident availability of the smartphone, many of his protégés today have suffered damage, which he otherwise only knows from previous encounters with heroin-addicted youths, jupp Meul explains. The adults blamed it on them. With emancipatory and political or even education, these young people hardly reach any more.

Yes, of course, there are also the other young people, he admits, those who advocate climate protection, animal welfare, social change. But they represent, this is not to be overlooked, almost a minority, often coming from bourgeois to well-placed parents, in which emphasis is placed on political discussion or at least on verbal conflict resolution, says Meul. He himself had a 16-year-old daughter, who was located in that very environment.But this is a youth scene that no longer seeks access to facilities of open youth work.

“I’m not diplomatic.”

Jupp Meul, social worker

Jupp Meul looks at his time in youth work without resentment.He had survived physical attacks in quadrath, such as a shard of glass on his neck or wooden screws in the car tires.”I survived Quadrath,” could be the title of a book with experiences of his work, he thinks aloud.

Social workers with political ambitions

From the beginning of his work from the mid-1980s, as a medical pedagogue and educator in a daycare center in the social focal point in Cologne-Zollstock, in the “prison work” with HIV-infected inmates or in cooperation with Ursula Enders and the Cologne Association against Abuse “Zartbitter” he always understood himself as a “social-political social worker”.

Outside the youth centre, he also advocates for the needs of young people. In 1997, together with ten others who were involved in the social field, he founded the association “FreiO”, in which he actively advocated for the protection of victims of sexual violence. 

Although he did not belong to any party, he had shown Frechen’s attitude early on in the political scene: “At 14 I read the Communist manifesto and in the early 1970s I sat at the table with the later Landrat and SPD member Klaus Lennartz in the professional prohibition committee.” In later, many round tables with politicians, administrative staff, urban youth workers, and police officers on drugs or sexual abuse, he always offered “attack surfaces”: “I am not diplomatic.”

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