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Cultural scene reacts to Germany's elections

Philipp Jedicke
September 28, 2021

Following the German elections, DW has collected various reactions from cultural insiders, such as filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff.

Deutschland BdT Lollapalooza Berlin 2018
Image: Imago/Star-Media

Due to the "almost compulsory participation of the Greens" in the governing coalition, a "political cultural change" is to be expected, says Götz Aly, a political scientist, historian and journalist whose research focuses on antisemitism, racism and German colonialism.

Aly expects this change of government to have an impact on the issue of restitution of colonial art, but also more generally on the reflection surrounding Germany's colonial history, leading to increased public awareness and a stronger promotion of historical research on the country's former colonial states.

Historian and author Götz Aly
Historian and author Götz AlyImage: Andreas Labes/S. Fischer Verlag

More specifically, Aly refers to the recently opened Humboldt Forum museum, where there is still a lot to do regarding the restitution of cultural artworks to their countries of origin. "It is important that we demonstrate this openness. That, however, requires providing access to all inventories in the collections and translating all listings into English," says the historian, who adds that the colonial violence linked to the acquisition of the items also needs to be documented in a transparent way. "The Humboldt Forum is worlds away from this," points out the author, who closely follows the developments of the new Berlin institution, having written a book on a boat obtained from German colonialists that serves as a centerpiece of the new museum.

Aly also believes that independent commissions should be charged with deciding on restitutions. "This idea has not been on the political agenda yet, but I think this is something that could be discussed with the new government," the author says.

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Stronger social security for artists

Olaf Zimmermann, managing director of the German Cultural Council, also believes that cultural policy issues will play a greater role under the next government.

Ahead of the election, the Cultural Council posted on their website an assessment of the cultural policy positions of the various parties.

Olaf Zimmermann, managing director of the German Cultural Council.
Olaf Zimmermann, managing director of the German Cultural CouncilImage: Felix Zahn/photothek/picture alliance

One of the most important issues for Zimmermann is whether cultural policy will remain assigned to the Federal Chancellery or if the new government will create a new ministry of culture. As the director of the Cultural Council points out, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) has clearly positioned itself for the creation of a ministry of culture, just like the Greens. "That means things are moving on this issue," says Zimmermann.

Oscar-winning filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff (The Tin Drum) also views the potential changes optimistically: "The environment is part of culture. In that sense, the progress of the Green Party is also good for culture," he said in an interview with DW's Arts and Culture.

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In addition to the climate protection debate, the COVID pandemic demonstrated that important gaps in Germany's cultural policy prevail, according to Olaf Zimmermann, "especially in providing social security for artists and other people working in the cultural sector."

The Cultural Council director expects the new government to improve this. "For this, social legislation must be changed. A form of unemployment insurance for freelance artists must be created, for example. That would be a big change. And every day counts in this case!" Olaf Zimmermann therefore hopes that the coalition negotiations progress quickly and are completed before the Christmas holidays at the latest. "The parties will have to hurry, because the population in Germany is restless. Everyone knows that a lot needs to be done."

Stronger focus on culture expected

Joachim Helfer, member of the advisory board of the German PEN Center, on the other hand, believes it will take a long time for the government to form its coalition. "It's realistic to expect that Ms. Merkel will hold the chancellor's Christmas speech and that [coalition negotiations] will drag on for a while," says the author, who not only worked as a polling clerk on Sunday but also contributed to a 2017 essay that reflected the political hopes of various German intellectuals.

"In terms of cultural policy, I expect a simple continuation of the path established by the previous government," Helfer says. He nevertheless hopes that Olaf Scholz will have a stronger focus on culture than Angela Merkel, who was not exactly the "chancellor of culture," he adds. The SPD's program is quite clear in this regard.

Education and culture connected

Helfer sees more potential for political change in the cultural field through young hip hop musicians with a multicultural background, such as Nura, a German rapper of Saudi-Arabian and Eritrean descent, than through the German literature industry, which is "to this day unusually white, and unusually educated upper middle-class."

According to reports on education by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Germany is the industrialized country with the strongest correlation between parents' educational degree and the one obtained by their children, demonstrating deficits in the education system.

Germany's nonchalant approach towards education also directly affects culture, points out Helfer. "This is something a government led by the SPD really needs to change. And the Greens will certainly agree on that too."

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