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Culture

Festival to Play Up Germany's Philosophical Heritage

Germany will kick off its first philosophy festival, the "Elation of Ideas," with the aim of bringing weighty topics out of the ivory tower and into the public sphere.

Close-up photo of a Leibniz cookie

When is a cookie like a philosopher? When its name is Leibniz

Starting Thursday, May 29, some big names in academia will take part in more than 30 philosophy events for audiences of all ages.

The Elation of Ideas festival, in the northern city of Hanover, will run through Sunday, June 1. Entrance is free of charge.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzche is a well-known German thinker

The event was inspired by the Festival di Filosofia, which attracts over 100,000 people annually to Modena, Italy.

Philosophy of everyday decisions

Julian Nida-Ruemelin, a philosopher who was once the German chancellor's chief adviser on culture and is to open the festival, says philosophy is anything but an irrelevant scholarly pursuit.

Wherever people weigh the ethics of an everyday situation, they conduct a small philosophical inquiry, Nida-Ruemelin says.

"Everybody is a philosopher in a sense, whether you want to be or not," he said. "Even four-year-old children ask questions about the meaning of life or why we die. But instead of being glad about the stimulating questions, we often slap down their curiosity."

"We often deter them from asking again. We say, 'What a silly question' or 'Don't be rude' or 'There isn't any answer.'"

Laying claim to intellectual heritage

Immanuel Kant portrait

Kant's "Critique of Pure Reason" is a philosophy course standard

The country that produced such giants of western philosophy as Kant and Hegel has largely turned its back on philosophy, asserts Nida-Ruemelin, who teaches in Munich..

"Yet German-language philosophy is so important in the rest of the world that you find a lot of Italians especially learning German just so that they can read works by Martin Heidegger in the original," he said.

"We neglect this vast intellectual heritage."

Peter Nickl, a philosophy lecturer at Hanover University who devised the festival, has chosen popular themes such as soccer (lecture: Physical Activity and Psychic Turmoil) and depression (the Ill Soul), as well as the classics (Leibniz's Concept of Mind).

Hanover profiles a famous son

The Hanover city council, which is hosting the festival in partnership with the university philosophy department, aims to remind locals about one of the city's greatest sons, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716).

The philosopher is better known among literate non-Germans than among his own countrymen, festival organizers say. Hanover University was formally named Leibniz University after him, but many Germans only associate the name with the popular Leibniz brand of cookies.

Portrait Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Hegel may be Germany's best-known philosopher

Top speakers booked for the festival include the Catholic ethicist Robert Spaemann, 81, and Franco Volpi, one of Italy's top contemporary philosophers.

A variety of venues planned

"We want to overcome prejudices and prove how useful philosophy really is," said Nickl.

Events are planned on a main city square, in cafes, gardens, churches and museums.

There will be an art show, concerts and theater performance, and a gourmet dinner, "At the Table with the Great Thinkers," in a Hanover restaurant.

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