Daniel Kehlmann Interview: On Germany

“It’s really not a political decision, it’s a decision of empathy.” Watch German author Daniel Kehlmann – one of the most significant contemporary writers – speak candidly about the world’s treatment of refugees, and how the common perception of Germany has radically changed.

“Somehow, by a weird ironical twist of history, Germany is seen by many people as a bastion of liberal democracy in the world.” Kehlmann, who resides in New York, is experiencing how people suddenly get excited when you tell them that you’re German: “On purely personal terms, I have to say, it’s a very good moment to be a German writer.” This change in attitude, he finds, is due to how Germany did not close their eyes to what happened during the war, but faced the past: “Of all countries that went through dictatorships, no other country has done as much as Germany to confront the question of what happened, and who was guilty.” This, Kehlmann adds, was also the case following the fall of GDR: “The archives weren’t closed, they were opened and accessible to everyone.” This was a painful but important thing to do, and the writer argues that it is a big part of the reason why Germany is now one of the most open and liberal societies in the world. This being said, he is acutely aware that more things should and could have been done: “So it’s not a reason to congratulate Germany and be happy. But it was still more than any other country ever did in a situation like that.” Finally, commenting on the current refugee situation worldwide, he stresses that there is a great importance in raising empathy as a writer. Something that is lacking in in situations when ships full of refugees are turned away, and where it’s about compassion rather than politics: “That’s what it all comes down to in a moment like that.”

Daniel Kehlmann (b. 1975) is a German author. He has written international bestsellers such as ’Me and Kaminski’ from 2003 (’Ich und Kaminski’) and ‘Measuring the World’ from 2006 (‘Die Vermessung der Welt’) for which he was awarded numerous prizes. The latter book furthermore sold around 3 million copies in Germany alone and roughly twice that worldwide, having been translated into more than 40 languages and made into a film in 2012. In 2017, he published the critically acclaimed novel ‘Tyll’, which the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine proclaimed his best novel so far. In 2018 Kehlmann was awarded the prestigious Frank-Schirrmacher-Preis in connection to which German Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier described him as one of the most important contemporary German voices. Moreover, his novels are on the school syllabus in Germany.

Daniel Kehlmann was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner in connection with the Louisiana Literature festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark in August 2018.

Camera: Klaus Elmer
Edited by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2018

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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