Journalists Exchange Delmenhorst and the East-West Conflict

Elena Taxidou explores Berlin.
Elena Taxidou explores Berlin. | Photo: Elena Taxidou

What is Bremen like through the eyes of an Estonian journalist? What discoveries can a Berlin journalist find in Riga? This year, the journalists exchange programme Close-Up focuses on the countries of the Baltic and on Greece. For four weeks each, ten journalists will report from a different country where they encounter things that are both foreign and familiar.

“Not every doghouse has tiled walls!” That’s the caption of a snapshot Greete Palmiste made in Delmenhorst and posted on the blog. The Tallinn journalist from Estonian Public Broadcasting (ERR) was the guest of the taz in Bremen for four weeks as part of the journalists exchange programme Close-Up. The department sent her to Delmenhorst in part because 14 percent of the citizens there voted for the AfD – a negative surprise. In addition, from the harbour city’s point of view, Delmenhorst seemed to be a poor and ugly town. Greete Palmiste expected to find “beggar children, decrepit wooden huts, shaggy street dogs.”

Instead, she found an urbane town dozing in the sunshine. Her own understanding of ugliness is associated with 1980s prefabricated blocks of flats, “These building weep when it rains and all their tears gather in the basements. In these houses you can hear whether your neighbours hate or love each other.” Although not characteristic of her homeland, there are plenty of such buildings in Estonia, but not in Delmenhorst.

Bremen railway station. Bremen railway station. | Photo: Greete Palmiste A change of perspective

This example reveals what Close-Up is all about: perceiving another city, another country, from another perspective, thinking about one’s own and the other culture, about commonalities and differences, both personally and professionally.

The Goethe-Institut’s journalists exchange programme began in 2008 and in the meantime, more than 60 journalists have taken part in it from the fields of print, television, radio and online journalism. German journalists are guests of departments in other countries for a month and in return are visited by their exchange partners. During this period, they are involved in the routine of the editorial offices. They report for the host medium and sometimes for their home medium on their impressions of the foreign city.

Elena Taxidou, who travelled from Greece to Berlin for the exchange. Elena Taxidou, who travelled from Greece to Berlin for the exchange. | Photo: Elena Taxidou The exchange partners stand by their counterparts as mentors during their respective visits. The articles and pieces (written in the journalists’ native languages) are translated by the Goethe-Institut and then appear regularly in the host medium. In addition, all of the pieces are published in the Close-Up website (link to www.goethe.de/close-up) where there is also a blog (link) where they can capture personal observations and encounters.

“I am Russian! We have the best fish!”

This year, Close-Up looks at the Baltic states as well as Greece. Ten journalists, including from Deutsche Welle in Berlin, from LRT Televizija in Vilnius and from the magazine Parallaxi in Thessaloniki, are taking part. They have reported about a premiere of Faust at Latvia’s national opera, about Estonians’ relationship to refugees and about German soldiers being stationed in Lithuania.

 Latvijas radio in Riga. Latvijas radio in Riga. | Photo: Cornelius Wüllenkemper The histories of the respective countries, which are not always easy to discover from afar, also come to light in their dense descriptions of everyday life. “I have never before seen the traces of the former East-West conflicts as clearly as I do here. Architecturally. Linguistically. In media policy. In interpersonal relationships,” recounts the freelance journalist Cornelius Wüllenkemper in his blog from Riga. “The fishmonger on the central market who proudly announces to me, ‘I am Russian. We have the best fish!’ […] Olga, the young Russian PR manager who ensures me that anyone who trusts the Russian media in Latvia has no relatives in Russia to tell them about the poverty and corruption in the country.”

On the central market of Riga. On the central market of Riga. | Photo: Cornelius Wüllenkemper There where we are not

The unfiltered observations, the unobstructed views of the Close-Up journalists hold great potentials. They sharpen our view for everyday situations, for contradictory opinions, but also put topics on paper that are otherwise seldom heard about. They bring us closer to what we ourselves do not know, both in the big and the small, and questioning every prejudice. They are there where we are not. What was the line in that song by Element of Crime? “I’m always where you’re not / and that’s always in Delmenhorst.”

Alexander Behrmann