Life In Berlin: Peng! Collective

57 minutes ago

Right in the middle of the bustling heart of Kreuzberg, a group of political stunt activists have set up their office in a loft-like, industrial brick building. They call themselves Peng! Collective, and just as playful as their name sounds, are the actions they take. Jean Peters is one of the founders of the group with the mission to change the art of political protest and civil disobedience.

“One of the main reasons we started is because we were quite frustrated by what the NGO world is offering as tools for campaigning," explains Peters. "There is a lot of good work, but still it’s very lame, [like] if you look at all the tiger baby pictures and little black children with big eyes so that people donate more. 'This cannot be all,' I thought. So, we just decided to do research on that by asking, 'What else can you do that is good for the world and fun in mobilizing for more, so you can say stuff in a more uncompromising way?'"

A photo of a Shell gasoline station in Germany.
Credit PATRIK STOLLARZ / AFP / Getty Images

The multinational oil company Shell experienced firsthand how uncompromising that can get. In 2013, Shell presented an event called “Science Slam” in Berlin – a competition for young scientists to showcase their projects and research on renewable energy.

Jean Peters, together with his partner, came on stage to present a tool that apparently helps cars to reduce their carbon dioxide emission. That itself sounds pretty ambitious, but when the members of the Peng! Collective started their tool, the machine began spilling liquid that appeared to be crude oil, splashing on the activists, jury, and audience. 

The message was clear: Shell’s drilling in the Arctic could result in the next environmental disaster. To stop the spill, Jean Peters simply pulled the plug that kept their invention going and claimed:

"We can pull the plug out here, but not in the Arctic!"

It's popular for protesters to wear costumes, however Jean Peters, one of Peng! Collective's founders, claims alternative options that focus on moments of press attention are much more effective.
Credit Peter Steffen / AFP / Getty Images

The publicity they got for this hoax was huge. The video of the event went viral and enabled a discussion on an issue that is complex and difficult to explain, rarely drawing attention until an oil spill actually happens.

“We give journalists a chance to report on an issue that they couldn’t report on otherwise, because it’s so boring. We do an interesting action, then there are reports on it that they can share, have a laugh, but then start thinking about it," says Peters.

This is a tool that Jean Peters also wants other organizations to work with. Peng! Collective offers consulting to bigger NGOs in order to join forces and create new forms of action and activism.