Gaudiopolis, or “The City of Joy” (1945–1950) was the name of a Children’s Republic founded in the aftermath of World War II in Budapest by Lutheran pastor Gábor Sztehlo. His orphanage provided shelter and home for hundreds of children regardless of their religion, social background, or nationality, who lost their parents to the war. Children dwellers of the “City of Joy” formed their own government, elected their representatives, and adopted laws that applied to everybody (including teachers). This community set out to learn democracy anew and, eliminating all social barriers in the spirit of Christ’s gospel, to educate children to become “independent, self-conscious, practically trained, and theoretically qualified citizens striving for better self-understanding and self-criticism.” Gaudiopolis achieved a certain level of self-sustainability through the residents’ common work. Although it did receive some funds from the state, it functioned independently until its 1950 nationalization. The story of the Children’s Republic was immortalized in the film Somewhere in Europe (1948, dir. Géza Radványi), in which many of the children of the community also took part as actors.
The story of Gaudiopolis is relevant even today. This mini-republic of trust, generosity, responsibility, and care serves as inspiration to both the projects and the working method of OFF-Biennale. Even though war tragedies today reach Europe primarily through the masses of refugees or media reports, our micro- and macroenvironment are infused with social and political crisis once again; that of liberal democracy, which is also manifest on the level of education. Thus, we must reassess the implications of personal commitment, education, community development, and the sustainability of democracy, as well as rethink, in this context, the potential role of children, playfulness, joy—and art. The creativity and the freedom of thought embedded in art inspire to find new ways. As Gaudiopolis before, OFF-Biennale itself and the projects introduced here, too, carry out “laboratory” experiments of change, by creating situations that may become social models. Be it street theater, a punk band, or living memorials, what the artists create explores the possibilities of the future. Forms of living together that establish a society comprising common trust, generosity, taking responsibility and care.