Germany's cultural and political role in Europe was the focus of a discussion in Amsterdam entitled Europa: Wir schaffen das, which was organised in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut in the Netherlands. The speakers were the attorney and Muslim feminist Seyran Ates, the writer Simon Strauss, the actor Lars Eidinger and the Belgian historian and curator Chris Dercon. It led to a fiercely argued debate.
Not politics, but culture must unite Europe
If you ask Seyran Ates about her vision for Europe, then the first word that comes to her mind is peace. "That's what we want in Europe." She is convinced that Europe can save itself: for instance in case of economic problems, the refugee crisis and Brexit, France and Germany should work together. However, she has more confidence in French President Emmanuel Macron than German Chancellor Angela Merkel to do so.
Seyran Ates talks about her vision for europe. | Photo: Lotte Dale
Strauss agrees on this point, noting, "Macron is the best role model for new European narratives. He's not as technical as Merkel." Before the panel discussion began, Strauss had made an impressive case for culture as the approach to solving the problems in Europe. Not politics, but culture must unite Europe, he proposed to the audience in Amsterdam. In his talk he referred to the 1932 work The Moral Detoxification of Europe by the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig, which the actor Lars Eidinger recited from.
"I will never be proud to be German."
Ates and Dercon are sceptical about the role culture can play. People do not come to Germany for culture or for the theatre, but because of the country's economic strength. In the middle of this argument, Eidinger climbs onto the stage. Although he is not part of the panel and is only here to recite texts this evening, he feels it is necessary to stand behind Strauss and report on his own experiences as an actor.
Twenty years ago, Eidinger was traveling with his former ensemble in France and it was impossible for them to make contact with the French, "because they thought that all Germans were Nazis. I will never be proud to be German, and I hope that no generation after us will feel proud, because what the Germans did is unforgivable." He then addresses the current debate about the German national anthem and whether footballers should sing it before matches, saying, "If it were up to me, there should be two minutes of silence! I don't need a hymn."
Lars Eidinger joins in from the audience. | Photo: Lotte Dale
"Culture touches people, even without a stamp."
Ates interjects, "So what do you want to do with your country if you deny that you're German?" she asks Eidinger. "Deal with the past," he replies, sitting on the edge of the stage. "The bridge I found is culture." The fact that he now feels accepted in Sweden, France or Great Britain is due to the culture, because, "through culture people enter into conversations with each other."
"But what culture are you talking about?" Ates asks emphatically. "German culture?" She herself is German and Turkish and Kurdish and feminist and has no problem at all saying that she is proud of it. "The question is: does culture have a language?" responds Strauss, adding, "Culture touches people, even without a stamp." Ates sighs at that. She notes that Stefan Zweig took his own life in exile in 1942 because he could not return to his country. Yes, as a citizen he had felt Austrian, said Strauss. Nevertheless, it was important to him that his works were translated. He knew that way he could reach people in America and France as well.
Discussion with Seyran Ates, Chris Dercon and Simon Strauß. | Photo: Lotte Dale
"But they took his home from him," says Ates. Even today, it is difficult for many people who cannot return to their country of origin, for example many Turks. She is not a nationalist and certainly not right wing, she emphasises, "but you are denying that a person can have a feeling for a country. You have to feel the culture – and that's also German." She cannot convince Strauss and Eidinger of it this evening.
The original version of this article was published on 8th June 2018 on Duitslandweb, the journalistic portion of Duitsland Instituut Amsterdam's website. Marja Verburg is the editor of Duitslandweb.