Prof. Dr. Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, President of the Goethe-Institut
From May to June 2010, the Goethe- Institut Istanbul organised encounters between authors, musicians, photographers, filmmakers, artists and enthusiastic audiences in 24 Turkish cities and eight European cities outside Turkey. “Yollarda – On the Road” is the eloquent title of an outstanding project that connotes travel experiences, chance acquaintances, coincidences, enthusiasm for things that are foreign, people getting to know one another, leaving traces of themselves behind, and gathering intellectual and emotional souvenirs. The creative artists travelled through Turkey by bus like rock stars, and in the places where they stopped they offered insights into contemporary European culture. A gala event in Istanbul, one of the European Capitals of Culture 2010, rounded off the tour. But the journey also went in the other direction, taking 14 authors and various musicians from Turkey to Sofia, Bucharest, Vienna, Venice, Zurich and two other European Capitals of Culture 2010, Pécs and Ruhr.
What was immediately impressive about this project was the large number of direct personal encounters, which developed a unique momentum of their own. For example, Murat Uyurkulak reports on the “joy in being human beings and in being alive” that he saw in the Turkish, Kurdish and German young people in his audience at the reading he held in Duisburg. Sema Kaygusuz in Zurich describes the project as “a surrender to time,” an attempt to give the future a few words in advance. The focus was certainly not exclusively on literature in any specific language. On the contrary, during these journeys the participants represented the literatures of who knows how many different languages. In Mugla in south-western Turkey, Katja Lange-Müller met an enthusiastic collector of bookmarks, and through this acquaintance she began to collect them herself.
Björn Kern is delighted that “Yollarda” gave him the opportunity to present himself in Antalya as another kind of German - one who does not talk about a ‘privileged partnership’ and is not a member of a group of grumbling German tourists. Ayfer Tunç, who visited Duisburg, and Nikolai Stoyanov, who went to the Turkish city of Edirne, talk of the cultural bridges that were built by the encounters organised by the Yollarda project. And Alek Popov considers “Yollarda” a project that aims less at cultural integration than at cultural interaction. He writes that he has always regarded Europe as a gigantic translation project - one in which people communicate to one another their respective understanding of life.
I am convinced that the quality of the neighbourly relationships between the countries of Europe now and in the future will be a measure of the success of the European project. At the same time, we must realise that neighbourliness is not a condition but a process that we need to work on continually. If we want to get to know one another and to resolve conflicts and misunderstandings that arise, our opportunities lie in local connections, neighbourly relations and analogous translations.
The Goethe-Institut implements its policy of neighbourliness within the EU with the help of close partnerships and projects in the areas of education, culture and social policy. Here, even more than in other regions, what counts is the task of bringing people together across geographic and political borders.
Significant neighbouring countries such as Russia and Turkey reflect both European and non-European influences. The Goethe-Institut basically regards such boundaries not as barriers but rather as spheres and regions of transitions, encounters and exchanges, which thus become the forums for a special kind of involvement. Human coexistence is primarily a cultural achievement, an effort of empathy that is not indifferent and respects differences. Our task is to promote this dialogue, the principle of mutuality, and the development of shared questioning and a shared search for answers.
This also applies to coexistence in Germany. Here too we must show that we are capable of dialogue; here too we have to make an effort to build bridges and understand one another better. What do we know about the Turkish families who live next door to us? We have to make an effort to be good neighbours in our own country as well. Integration means approaching one another. People have to learn German and acquire knowledge about Germany, but there also has to be a place where people can keep and value the identities they have brought with them to Germany. The “Yollarda” journeys also worked in this direction. The Turkish author Ayfer Tunç reports on the proud gleam in the eyes of Turkish schoolchildren in Duisburg and Bochum who listened to her reading to them in their mother tongue, even in cases where they could not speak it perfectly themselves. For the first time, they were feeling that “We’ve got authors too!” In Germany and elsewhere, many children of migrant parents live in two worlds. We must learn to regard this fact as something positive, something that expands people’s horizons. In Vienna, Şebnem İşigüzel told her audience of young people, some of them Turkish, “Don’t forget where you come from. You come from the country of Orhan Pamuk and Yaşar Kemal. But don’t forget that you are living here in the country of Elfriede Jelinek, Michael Haneke and Freud.” She describes the smiles that appeared on these young faces when she added that it broadens their horizon if they nurture themselves from both cultures.
A further thought arises from the experiences of the authors: the similarities between young people in particular, between their interests, wishes and ideas. The Bulgarian author Konstantin Iliev reports on the discussion that ensued after his reading in the Turkish city of Edirne: “A few years before, young Germans in Erfurt had asked me almost the same questions.” And Dirk Walbrecker also says about his young listeners in Mugla: “Their behaviour was not very different from that of my German-speaking audiences.”
A key factor in the success of “Yollarda” was that it was not a bilateral exchange programme and that it was not carried out only by the familiar protagonists in the major cities. Different people with different cultural backgrounds in different parts of Europe were “On the Road - Yollarda”.