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Meeting of International Pen in re-united Berlin

some thoughts about Reunification and German literature

By: Hatto Fischer, Athens

And what is amiss amidst all those formulas referring to Germany having been unified and exemplified as to what Berlin entails now and in reflection of its controversial history, to say the least. In his welcome letter the German Pen President, Johano Strasser, refers to United Berlin as if the city has become a kind of company housed in a container out of which can come all kinds of figures that have marked its turbulent history. The image can be compared in reverse to what Peter Weiss described in ‘Aesthetics of Resistance’ when Brecht left for Exile in America and thereby ended his stay in Sweden: books wandered into the waiting containers and suddenly Hegel found himself beside Goethe and other authors were suddenly brought together in such proximity they never had imagined when still alive.

Literature, what is this in a world having no longer someone like Robert Minder? Thomas Mann doubted upon returning from exile that cities like Hamburg could communicate anything coming close to a sense for the world. The world is not provincialism but cosmopolitan impulses as felt by writers when crossing streets in New York with the sun shining into the eyes of the taxi driver coming from Greece or China or Poland.

Openness to the world can be felt in the language once the windows are opened and a fresh breath of air fills the room. It is also the spot of warmth on the floor where the sun shines and the dog prefers to lie to warm up the fur. There are always those favourite spots in which a relaxation of the mind means gathering strength for the next leap. Tigers and other cats have such elasticity in them, but does literature?

The fate of the Academy of Arts since 1989 but also before just shows something is missing when writers like Uwe Johnson and Ernst Schnabel are no longer around. You miss the smell of the pipe and the sharp wit by which literary criticism is combined with not forgetting who Walter Jens is. Robert Minder did say the main cell of German literature has been the house of the preacher where the children growing up learn better than anywhere else a language which does not divide people but is open to all kinds. High German is still too difficult a language for the truck driver reading only boulevard papers filled with scandals, football news, light porn and what can be bought cheaply. The house of the preacher allows there something else: openness. No wonder that the Catholic bishop of Shanghai whom Chancellor Merkel visited during her recent visit to China remarked to her she need not to apologize for being Protestant; he knows that her father was a preacher of that religion. Like Stolpe and many others these children of preachers found their way if not literature then into politics. The school of rhetorics does wonders how far such trained person can get once that spasm and split between written and spoken language can be bridged in a highly articulate way to make possible politics without hindsight. This was the case of Walter Jens once he became President of the Academy of Arts and out of which has developed a long feud as to what should be the role of the Academy now not only in United Berlin but at a new location. No, Berlin as city should not be reduced to being something like a football club called United Berlin even if it evokes association to a team called Manchester United.

Unity was always a problem of German writers. Most impressive in this case is one book by Guenter Grass because half narrative, half a collection of the poems by the poets mentioned in that narrative. The book is called in German ‘Treffen in Telgte’ – and describes this meeting of writers, critics and publishers during the Thirty Year War caused by one religion being hostile to another while the Swedish armies imposed their own stamp of religion making it necessary of everyone to change at least three times within a short distance their religious identity if they wanted to survive and to pass the guards on the road of this or the other religious faction when on the way to the next village. The writers at Telgte wanted to discuss a language which unites but they did not touch upon the crucial problems such as High German being an abstract and therefore artificial construct never to be filled with life like a house which has never heard the sounds of children growing up within its walls. That missing unity has plagued German literature ever since. The missing unity cannot be brought about by United Berlin. There needs more reflection as to what is amiss.

When the International Pen meets in Berlin and has several public events where authors introduce other authors, notice should be taken that two different strands of topics will dominate the public readings. Literature from Africa is the one strand; the other is what those writing in German but not Germans bring about in terms of identity. Amiss is this other identity which can be created in literary spaces once no longer burdened by the weight of history. It is not as if historical ballast has been thrown overboard but there is a need for a freshness in the approach to people in order to make visible other possibilities to encounter oneself in human reality. That is not the woman writing with red lipsticks her wishes on the mirror she gazes at every morning. It is not the scream of parents at their children once both are out of control, outside any possibility of self reflection to take back what was said just before. It is not the declaration not to care in order to demonstrate toughness against a world which does not apparently care what one does. It is not the indifference by which publishers treat would be writers. It is not the scratch of the key by some kids against the new car parked at the corner. It is not the taxi driver from Afghanistan smiling at the costumer as he climbs in at Savignysquare. Rather it is that ‘nicht mehr’ sometimes mistaken as the ‘Meer’, the ocean of feelings where many tear drops have landed and thereby overcome the feeling of isolation. ‘Nicht mehr’ – no more. That is what the Blues are all about when the refrain attests that ‘you love me no mo!’. Cannot it be that the return of the human voice in literature depends on finding those turn about from sadness to happiness since that ‘no separated from more’ becomes the love for more of the same. Stesso. Continuity as consistency of literature once the conscience speaks up and embraces life as it is: no more but also no less. As to International Pen one wishes it such uncompromising position.

Some things to be added as information:

Welcome letter by Johano Strasser and the program of public readings throughout the week from May 23 – 28, 2006 in United Berlin:

Welcome to a United Berlin

"Dear PEN colleagues,

The delegates of International PEN last met in Germany in 1986. The 49th Congress of International PEN, which took place in Hamburg, was devoted to the general theme of Contemporary History in International Literature. Germany was still divided at that time, as was Europe. When you come to Germany this year, you will find a country that has changed in many ways, and nowhere is this change more visible and vivid than at the location of the International PEN Congress, in Berlin. Today, this city - once separated by a Wall most drastically manifesting the division of Germany and Europe – has not only been re-established as the capital of Germany, but has simultaneously turned into a thriving meeting-place between East and West and North and South.

Anyone coming to Berlin will discover numerous traces bearing testimony to German history. Here in Berlin, history in all its facets – from the great achievements of German artists, philosophers and scientists to the crimes of the Nazis – has left its mark on the urban landscape. Here you will find the venerable university where Humboldt and Fichte taught, places where famous musicians, literary figures and academics lived and worked, world-renowned theatres such as the Berliner Ensemble, two major opera houses, the Berlin Philharmonic Hall built by Scharoun; and you will also find localities serving as a reminder of the darkest aspects of German history: the Holocaust Memorial in the city centre, the Jewish Museum and the Plötzensee scene of execution, where the conspirators of 20 July 1944, the day of the failed attempt to assassinate Hitler, lost their lives. The International PEN Congress itself will take place from 22 until 28 May 2006 in Berlin's historic centre, at the Hilton Hotel on the Gendarmenmarkt, against an architectural backdrop emanating the spirit of German history. Major evening events accompanying the Congress will be held at historical venues such as the Berliner Ensemble, the Academy of Arts and the French Dome. We are confident that we will be able to offer all delegates and visitors to the Congress a captivating programme. There will be three major evening events: a long night of literature with many prominent authors from throughout the world, an evening, which is specially devoted to African literature, and an evening during which writers of German literature, who have immigrated from abroad to Germany or have a non-German cultural background, will be presented. Three afternoon events (literary sessions) have been scheduled as part of the Congress daytime programme: a session in which prominent PEN members each present an author of their choice, an afternoon of essays and discussions, which is devoted to the motto of the Congress Writing in a World without Peace and a lyric poetry afternoon. We are very happy and grateful that Günter Grass, recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature and a long-standing member of the German PEN Centre, has consented to give the opening address at the Congress. The 72nd International PEN Congress will be held under the patronage of the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Horst Köhler, who has kindly consented to give a welcoming address. In addition, many prominent writers have confirmed their attendance and participation. A reception in the Federal Chancellor’s Office has also been scheduled. The motto linking events and discussions at the Congress, Writing in a World without Peace, not only re-emphasises the efforts to achieve peace and reconciliation to which the Charter of International PEN commits its worldwide membership, but also demonstrates that art and literature, beyond all ideological conflicts and clashes of interest, retain their own irreplaceable human value. This holds true in particular in those parts of the world, where people are suffering from war and civil war, where states are disintegrating and bands of criminals have been taking the law in their own hands, where war becomes business and business becomes war. Writing in a World without Peace also implies that we as writers have to address this reality. Dear colleagues, all of us at the German PEN Centre will do all in our power to turn your stay in Germany and Berlin into an unforgettable experience. In addition to the chance to acquaint yourselves with Berlin’s history and present, an outing to the City of Potsdam and a steamer trip along Berlin’s extended waterways will be offered as part of the accompanying programme of the Congress as well as post-Congress tours to Dresden and Weimar.. So that we can make all the necessary organisational arrangements to make your stay in Berlin as pleasant as possible, and to avoid the additional pressure on accommodation as the result of the FIFA World Cup which is to take place after the Congress, we would very much appreciate it if you could register and confirm your registration as soon as possible. We are very much looking forward to your visit! And we are looking forward to the conversations and discussions with all of you!"

Johano Strasser

President, German PEN Centre


Public Events

Tuesday, 23 May 2006

15.00 May I introduce You to?Ronald Harwood presents A. L. Kennedy | Günter Grass presents Eleonora Hummel |Francis King presents Richard Zimler | György Konrád presents Anna T. Szabó and György Dragomán | Ljudmila Petruschewskaja presents Oleg Sajontschkowski | Facilitator: Ronald Harwood Venue: Berlin HiltonAdmission free

20.00 Literature of the World. A long night with: Carmen Boullosa | Bei Dao | Per Olov Enquist | Drago Jančar | Viktor Jerofejew | A.L. Kennedy | Margriet de Moor | Péter Nádas | Jean Rouaud | Ljudmila Ulitzkaja | Compositions by Frank Wolff Facilitator: Roger Willemsen Opened by the President of the Academy of ArtsVenue: Academy of Arts (Akademie der Künste), Hanseatenweg6 € - Reduced Price 4 €

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

15.00 Writing in a world without peace – An Afternoon of Essays and DiscussionsOn Stage: Adam Krzeminski | Patrice Nganang | Johano Strasser | Dubravka UgrešićEssayauthors and Panelists: Uri Avnery | Fernando Bonassi | Bora Ćosić | Norman Manea | Shi Ming | Sergio Ramírez | Haroon Siddiqui | Hamid Skif | Juli Zeh |Facilitator: Gert HeidenreichVenue: Berlin HiltonAdmission free

Thursday, 25 May 2006

15.00 An Afternoon of poets - L´après-midi des poètesMahmoud Darwish | Duo Duo | Anna Enquist | Katarina Frostenson | Asher Reich | Tomaž Šalamun | Adam Zagajewski | Róža Domašcyna, Dieter M. Gräf and Ursula Krechel are reading German Translations of our Guests Facilitator: Herbert WiesnerVenue: Berlin HiltonAdmission free

9.00 Africa of Smouldering Conflicts. Literature of an Exploited Continent Nadine Gordimer – South-Africa. An Introduction | Meja Mwangi – Kenya | Patrice Nganang – Cameroon | Lesego Rampolokeng – South-Africa | Véronique Tadjo – Ivory Coast |Music by Patrick Bebey – Cameroon | Actors of the Berliner EnsembleFacilitator: Patrice Nganang

Translator: Thomas Brückner

Greeting: Minister of State in the Federal Chancellery and Commissioner for Cultural and Media Affairs, Bernd Neumann

Venue: Berliner Ensemble

15 € - Reduced Price 7 €

Friday, 26 May 2006

19.00 You Write in German, Do You?Zsuzsa Bánk | Sherko Fatah | SAID | Emine Sevgi Özdamar | Yoko Tawada | Ilija TrojanowFacilitator: Wend KässensVenue: French Dome6 € - Reduced Price 4 €


Originally published by heritageradio under the category 'debate & networking' on 23.5.2006



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