Odeuropa x Berlin Center for Cold War Studies (BKKK) Workshop: Malodours as Cultural Heritage?

By: Christina Kotsopoulou & Sofia Ehrich

Sort: Strawberries ‘Elsanta’ / Place of production: San Giovanni Lupatoto, Verona, Italy / Cultivation method: Foil green house / Time of harvest: June – October / Transporting distance: 741 km / Means of transportation: Truck Carbon footprint (total) per kg: 0,35 kg / Water requirement (total) per kg: 348 l / Price: 7,96 € / kg; Photo courtesy of Klaus Pichler.

On December 15th and 16th, 2021, the Odeuropa project in collaboration with the Berlin Center for Cold War Studies (BKKK), hosted its second workshop: Malodours as Cultural Heritage?. The goal of this workshop was to explore and challenge the topic of stench from varying angles and provide methods and techniques using malodours as an important means of storytelling within heritage institutes. The workshop targeted different questions such as: what do malodours tell us about transitions and advancements within urban, social, cultural, and environmental contexts? How can the sense of smell act as a measurement of analysis for histories of the past and present? And how can malodours be used as a storytelling technique within heritage institutes? 

The workshop consisted of twenty nine ‘lightning talks’ from thirty one experts with interdisciplinary knowledge about malodours.  The presentations were categorised into five different sessions with the first two sessions taking place the first day of the workshop: 1) Malodours as Cultural Heritage? and 2) Smell Cabinets, which consisted of two parallel sessions that the audience could choose to attend –  Smell Cabinet A : Smells from ‘Hidden’ Infrastructures – Sewers and War and Smell Cabinet B: Smells of Leather and Body Fluids – , 3) Malodours and Environmental Relations: Past and Present, 4) Shaping ‘Otherness’ through Smell and lastly 5) How to Incorporate Malodours in Heritage Institutes?. Each session was followed by an opportunity for the audience to ask questions.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the workshop was held entirely online. Regardless of the online form of this workshop, Odeuropa stayed faithful to its nose-on approach by developing a ‘Do it Yourself’ curriculum for remote smelling which online participants could follow before and while attending the workshop.

Odeuropa intern, Christina Kotsopoulou smelling the remote DIY scent of mould as suggested in the program of the workshop for the talk of Cecilia Bembibre on “Fluffy Growth and the Threat of Decay: An Exploration of the Smell of Mould”. Photo taken by Sanj.

Over 160 participants registered to participate in the workshop. All participants were ready to exchange knowledge about malodours – odours which many heritage institutes and perfume makers tend to avoid due to their intensity and the current lack of knowledge surrounding them. This workshop opened new doors in considering malodours – as well as fragrances – as an integral part of our cultural heritage. Keep reading for a summary of the two-day workshop.

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Odeuropa Team Milestone: Our First In-Person, Hands-On Meeting


Parisian street art: “Pendre au nez. Les murs ont des oreilles” or “Hang onto the nose. The walls have ears.” Photo: Inger Leemans.

After more than nine months of remote working due to the pandemic, we finally brought part of the Odeuropa team together. This October, 11 Odeuropa team members, representing all work packages and almost every project partner, met in Paris to smell things, co-create annotated data, bridge gaps between core concepts, and even challenge each other to a game of foosball. This lockdown period has been a burden for all research teams, but for a project researching smells and olfactory heritage, the audiovisual-biased world of online working has been a severe challenge.

Odeuropa team members Lizzie Marx and Victoria-Anne Michel smelling books during the smell walk at the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Photo: Inger Leemans.

We approached this first in-person gathering ‘nose-first’ with the help of our PhD student, Victoria-Anne Michel who organized an olfactory workshop and smell walk for the team. During the workshop, we were able to smell perfumes and raw materials which we then categorized and made associations with through our sense of touch. During our smell walk through the different spaces within the Bibliothèque Nationale de France (site Richelieu) we stuck our noses into a few books, old and new. While walking around the place, we first inhaled the general atmosphere, which sensory researcher Kate McLean calls “smell catching.” We then went “smell hunting” in specific spots. Through this exercise, we felt the contrasts of olfactory atmospheres, or “smellscapes”; from the sleek and modern Performing Arts reading room, the wax wooden rotunda, the futuristic corridor leading to the old-fashioned Manuscripts reading room, and, finally, the impressive, bright, cathedral-looking Labrouste reading room. The discussions that followed were a mix of poetic impressions, technical considerations like the different types of air control systems, and personal scent memories. With this, olfaction functions as both an emotional and spatial sense! Special thanks to the curators Sylvie Bourel, Hervé Grosdoit-Artur and Mathieu Lescuyer, without whom this smellwalk would not have been possible.

This trip not only allowed us to get to know each other and train our noses, but also to truly invest in interdisciplinary knowledge exchanges within Odeuropa and beyond. Throughout the few days, we were able to  meet with researchers, heritage groups and other parties involved in the perfume and scent culture industry.

Cecilia Bembibre in the flamingo room at the press launch of the Sensory Odyssey experience. Photo: Sofia Ehrich.

Some highlights from our trip:

  • We received a warm welcome at the Osmothèque – the historic perfume conservatory based in Versailles – discussing future collaborations around olfactory heritage with the President, Head of Scientific Committee and Communications director of Osmothèque (and smelling some of the nose-boggling perfumes and odorants safeguarded by the institute);
  • We attended the press launch of Sensory Odyssey, a multisensory immersive event in the Natural History Museum of Paris;
  • We met with the representatives of the Centre des Monuments Nationaux to discuss olfactory approaches to heritage representation;
  • We had drinks with the acclaimed French historian Annick Le Guérer, to discuss her participating in one of our future Smellinars, among other things (more to be announced later);
  • We visited the Voyages Immobiles exhibition to see how smells were presented and communicated in an event for general publics
  • We annotated 371 perfumed gloves in paintings;
  • Lastly, we had four trips together to the supermarket, ate loads of croissants and had some adventures with Vélib bikes.

Alas, three days was surely not enough for all our ambitions – so much is going on in the realm of olfactory heritage in France. So: we’ll be back!


Part of the Odeuropa team having lunch together at a Parisian restaurant. Photo: Marieke van Erp.