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Monika Grütters: 'Culture builds bridges with Israel'

As Germany and Israel look back on 50 years of diplomatic ties, Germany’s Commissioner for Culture tells DW why relations are so strong. She also explains the pitfalls of TTIP - and which book she’ll read next.

DW: Commissioner Grütters, this year we are celebrating 50 years of German-Israeli relations. However, anti-Semitic sentiment is overshadowing diplomatic ties. What can culture achieve in times like these?

Culture builds bridges where diplomacy and politics reach their limits. And of course we see that young Israelis enjoy coming to Berlin more than hardly any other city in the world. And if they go back after a few years because they miss the sun or their family, then they can tell people how it was in Germany. They can talk about a Germany that is relaxed, young, cosmopolitan, and friendly. And we can also learn from each other, of course.

That means there's no reason for concern about relations between the two countries?

Right. There are many exchange programs for artists from all sectors - from literature to music. This year we will be awarding the German-Hebrew translation prize for the first time, which was created especially for this anniversary and will of course continue. To ensure that there are a sufficient number of translators from German into Hebrew and the other way around, we are putting on workshops. In addition, the collection from Tel Aviv's Museum of Modern Art is coming to Berlin for the first time this year and will be on show in the Martin Gropius Bau. And we, in turn, we will be showing 50 masterpieces from our National Gallery in Jerusalem. These are great messages.

TTIP and protecting the book price fixing law are major cultural policy issues at the moment. And of course the issue of copyright law, which you have been particularly vocal on. What is the state of negotiations right now?

DW's Rainer Traube and Germany’s Culture Commissioner Monika Grütters at Leipzig Book Fair. Copyright: DW/K 21

Deep in conversation: Monika Grütters with DW's Rainer Traube at the Leipzig Book Fair

TTIP is important for global politics, but it must also be friendly to culture. I think we can ease our biggest fears by bringing in a sweeping clause for the protection of culture. By ensuring in individual articles that things like the book price fixing law don't become points of discussion or conflict. As far as copyright law goes, it's always essential for me that the artist's achievement, which stands at the beginning of the whole process, is valued. Artists, creatives and intellectuals must be able to make a living, even in the digital age, and not just get by. That's what I'm fighting for.

How important is cooperation with France in this issue?

With TTIP, I'm sure that in close collaboration with France we will be able to achieve a great deal in protecting culture. We worked together to ensure that audiovisual media, particularly film, are excluded from negotiations. And that's why I'm always close to my French counterpart, Fleur Pellerin, when it comes to individual points.

What's the sticking point with copyright law?

Copyright law is less of a problem between individual countries and more between the IT sector on the one hand and the classic culture lobby of artists on the other. Copyright law is implemented to protect the copyright holder. Then there are the retailers and finally the consumers. And there is a large faction that, in our digital world, views the legal framework more from the consumer's perspective. And here we do have to work with France to establish our position.

Ms. Grütters, as commissioner, you must have a lot to read that's likely to be not particularly literary. Do you still have time to pick up a good novel?

You can only endure reading all those files when you take a break now and then and recover with a bit of fiction. I still enjoy doing that very much. And here at the book fair, I've picked up a few things.

Which book are you looking forward to reading next?

I've just received Amos Oz's most recent book. He signed it for me himself and, when I'm in Israel next, we will have a cup of coffee together at his home.

DW's Rainer Traube spoke with Commissioner Monika Grütters at the Leipzig Book Fair.

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