Journalists’ Exchange Programme “We breathe the same air no matter where we live”

One of the countries for the journalists exchange was Lithuania.
One of the countries for the journalists exchange was Lithuania. | Photo: Asta Esu

When in Rome ... or Vilnius, Bonn and Berlin: For the Goethe-Institut’s Close-Up project, journalists swap their workplaces and report from the host country. Two journalists from Lithuania and Germany told us about their experiences at one another’s office.

For four weeks on the international Close-Up exchange programme, journalists swap countries, editorial offices and sometimes even their reporting media. They immerse themselves in a new culture and a foreign editorial routine and write about it, creating a “close-up” of the host country. This year, the programme focussed on the Baltic States and Greece.

Monika Petruliene, television editor at LRT Televizija in Vilnius swapped with Dr Christina Ruta, contributor at Deutsche Welle. At the end of the project, the journalists report on their experiences at their counterpart’s workplace.

Christina Ruta: I was curious about Lithuania, about working here, the people and the culture. This was my first time in this country and the time I spent here was wonderful. Vilnius is a beautiful old city with lots of small cafes and restaurants. It’s even more cosy and romantic when it snows.

I had no trouble communicating even without language skills. A lot of people speak English here, or someone steps in to interpret and doesn’t mind taking the time to do so.

What I couldn’t get used to was how incredibly cold some rooms were. I arrived in Lithuania right during the major change in temperature: mid-October. I was always freezing.

Monika Petruliene: I worked in Bonn for the first two weeks, in the online editorial department of Deutsche Welle. Then I went to Berlin. Although it was already mid-September, I still experienced summerlike temperatures; it was very warm. On the streets people enjoyed the last warm spell before winter. I was constantly amazed at how helpful people were. Passers-by simply spoke to me and offered me advice when they noticed that I hadn’t understood something.

I am in Germany quite often and I was pleased to have this opportunity to get to know this country and its people even better. I find the sound of the German language enchanting. My colleagues sometimes joke that I am really only myself when I speak German.

I like the local tradition of a Stammkneipe – a regular pub. In Germany, it’s quite common for people to go to a restaurant or bar in the evening and chat with people at the neighbouring tables. You don’t have to eat anything either; you can just have a beer mixed with lemonade – that tasted very unusual. In Lithuania we don’t have places like that or this kind of openness. As we live in poorer conditions, we often meet at home. Neighbours visit neighbours.

Christina Ruta: After I had settled in a bit in the country, I began noticing the cultural differences between the people of Germany and Lithuania. Many people in Lithuania are rather reserved, at least when they first meet you. Sometimes they don’t look you in the eye or smile right away. I guess it takes time. But that’s just the one side. At the workplace, especially, I experienced a great deal of warmth.

I was really impressed by the Lithuanians’ passion for home cooking. A colleague once brought homemade pork and pickled cucumbers to work. That was great!

Journalists Christina Ruta (left) and Monika Petruliene swapped workplaces for four weeks. Journalists Christina Ruta (left) and Monika Petruliene swapped workplaces for four weeks. | Photo: private Monika Petruliene: The editorial department at Deutsche Welle is very cosmopolitan. People of dozens of different nationalities work under one roof. There is an Arabic and a Spanish editorial office ... if you get lost, you’ll discover very unexpected spots and hear all sorts of different languages. I arrived knowing that the work was not only aimed at an audience in Germany, but also German-speaking people all over the world. The subjects I’d prepared were simply “too small.” I had to change my mind, think about what’s interesting not just for Germans, but also for world citizens.

The workday routine in the online editorial office of the Deutsche Welle surprised me as well. People work in shifts, change their function every day and do not have a regular workplace, but simply sit down at an unoccupied computer. Each employee has a very clearly defined responsibility.

Christina Ruta: I also noticed these differences. At LRT, people work only in their field, everything is very specialized. In Berlin, we work more in shifts and change positions: today, I’m a reporter, tomorrow a producer, next day an editor. Sometimes I have to work very early in the morning, sometimes at night. At LRT, they all work mainly during the day. I had a lot of time to breathe, felt freer. If you don’t have to constantly be looking at the clock, the results are better.

Monika Petruliene: But, besides the editorial differences, television in Vilnius and Berlin is quite similar. We breathe the same air no matter where we live. It was very nice to sense a community and that you can communicate even without a lot of words.

Translation from Lithuanian into German: Lingoking