Nine Questions for ...

Judith Maiworm on Havana: “The Cuban People Are Very Enthusiastic about the Arts”

Flickr / puyol5Copyright: Thierry Hinder
Street scene in Havana (Photo: Thierry Hinder)

6 August 2012

The economic and political situation of the country is not exactly positive. Yet, the Cubans are optimistic people. Judith Maiworm tells us why it is important to open a Goethe-Institut in Havana, if only to give the people there access to books and the Internet.

What is your own favourite place in Havana?

My garden, which has wonderful tropical plants. My second, public favourite place is the garden of the Hotel Nacional de Cuba. You’re sitting in the centre of Havana and still right by the sea: behind the esplanade, the Malecón, you can see the Atlantic. It also has a great view of the old town. Havana’s old town is beautiful in general.

Copyright: Reinhard Maiworm
Installation by the Cuban artist Kcho on the esplanade, the Malecón (Photo: Reinhard Maiworm)

What are the Habaneros concerned most about right now?

Cubans are most concerned about organizing their daily lives. Where can I get food? How will I mend my house? How can I get from A to B? All of these things. In addition, they are concerned about their uncertain future. Yesterday, the eleventh biennial just ended. Prominent topics of the exhibitions were exile, flight, home and family. Many Cubans are leaving the country, which tears families apart. The familia extranjera is a crucial cornerstone of supplies: Cubans can often only survive because their family members overseas send them money. The most astonishing thing about all of this is that in spite of their tough lives, Cubans are incredibly happy people, possessing enviable optimism and great joie de vivre.

Copyright: Reinhard Maiworm
Habaneros gather to chat (Photo: Reinhard Maiworm)

What can we learn from the Habaneros?

To enjoy life in spite of the difficult daily grind and to exude congeniality.

What do the Habaneros love most of all?

Everything that is entertaining. Baseball above all, which they call pelota here. But they also love the theatre and cinema. When the International Film Festival takes place, thousands queue up in front of the cinema. We’re talking about cinemas that hold over 3,000 people. Then, the festival is a real folk festival. The same applies to musical events, of course. This incredible enthusiasm of the Habaneros for the arts is what makes working here so fulfilling.

Copyright: Reinhard Maiworm
Cultural consultant Maiworm: “The Cubans love everything that is entertaining.” (Photo: Reinhard Maiworm)
What Cuban book should we be reading?

Paradiso by José Lezama Lima, for example. Many novels by Alejo Carpentier have also been translated into German. But the book that we as the Goethe-Institut are most intensively dealing with is by Miguel Barnet. This writer has a large community of fans in Germany and was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit. Based on his novel El Cimarrón about the history of slavery in Cuba, an opera was written in 1973 by Hans Werner Henze with a libretto by Hans Magnus Enzenberger. We will produce this opera for the first time in Cuba next year. Miguel Barnet is writing new texts for it.

What German book are people in Havana familiar with?

Das Kapital by Karl Marx, naturally. Havana’s biggest theatre is named Teatro Karl Marx. All Communist literature is generally very well known here. Heiner Müller is an important figure in theatre.

Copyright: Mickaël Thomassin
Row of houses in Havana’s old town (Photo: Mickaël Thomassin)

What question about Germany do you hear particularly often?

The most important question is always “How can I get there; what opportunities do I have to visit this country?” Germany is very present here due to the close ties to the GDR. Very many Cubans, an estimated over 30,000, were in the GDR at some time to study or work. Now, many wish to get to know this very changed Germany. And we try to support this with visitor programmes and scholarships.

What do you look forward to most when you come to Germany?

To my family. My daughter is studying in Berlin. And to seeing my friends again. But also to the television programmes. Programming here is so minimal that I’m very happy when I can watch the Tagesschau daily news again when I’m in Germany. I even enjoy the commercials then. They don’t exist here, of course.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut
An installation on “Flight and Exile” (Photo: Reinhard Maiworm)

What would you like most to still experience in Havana?

I haven’t been here very long; only for a year now. The reason I came to Havana, and what I would like to experience, is us opening a Goethe-Institut here. Of course, two of my predecessors also said that – I am the third Goethe employee to be sent to the embassy here. Although in many fields we can work in Cuba as if there were a Goethe-Institut, but what is missing here most is a place for encounters; a place to go that offers access to information. Unfortunately, it is not commonplace in Cuba to have access to books and to the Internet. I would like to offer a physical place where the Habaneros can meet and share with one another. That is my dream.

Elisa Stahmleder asked the questions.

This year, Judith Maiworm celebrated her 25th anniversary with the Goethe-Institut. She began her career at the institute in Munich, where she completed teacher training. Following positions in Cincinnati, New York, Berlin and Santiago de Chile, in July 2011 she was appointed the cultural consultant and head of the Liaison Office of the Goethe-Institut at the German Embassy in Havana.

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