German-Israeli writers: To get things in perspective | Books | DW | 20.04.2015
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German-Israeli writers: To get things in perspective

What binds, what separates Germans and Israelis of the third generation? Anat Einhar and Marko Martin, authors from both countries, try to analyze the new laid-back relationship.

Deutsche Welle: The younger generation of Israelis and Germans is said to be closely connected by a global pop culture. Do you feel this is also true for writers of your generation?

Anat Einhar: Many of the Israeli writers, most of them living in or around Tel Aviv, feel quite Western European. They are hybrid creatures: On one hand they are living in Israel, which is a very isolated place, and on the other hand they are a product of Western culture. We embrace Western culture. Yet there is something of an illusion about it because I believe we belong more to the Middle East than we want to admit. Israeli and a European culture is probably more different than the Israelis would like to believe.

Marko Martin: I think the term 'pop culture' doesn't even come close to describing our literature. When you read the texts of my Israeli friends and colleagues you will realize that they are of course hip and relaxed when it comes to some subjects, but very serious when it comes to others. If you equate pop culture with an incarnation of endless irony, it doesn't describe the contemporary Israeli literature at all. I also wouldn't like to accept this label for my own writing or the writing of my German colleagues. Our generation is serious about whatever we write but our books are written without any old fashioned rhetoric. That might be the difference.

EINSCHRÄNKUNG Deutsch-israelisches Symposium in Berlin - Anat Einhar

The author Anat Einhar lives in Tel Aviv

Do you think there is a difference in the way stories are told in Israeli and in German literature?

Anat Einhar: If I look at our collaborative anthology "We don't forget, we go dancing", I think that the Israelis were rather telling small scenes without really describing the big picture or the historical framework. For the German writers, it was much more important to describe the historical and political background of their stories – without being aware of it themselves. Maybe it's because the Holocaust has been so widely explored in Hebrew literature. It's almost impossible to say something new about the Holocaust in current Hebrew literature. So much was said about it that for some reason, there is a really heavy, old and worn-out sentiment associated with dealing very seriously with the Holocaust.

Marko Martin: I absolutely agree, that's the way it is. Now, it's not about new information, it's about perspectives. Different perspectives: I think this is the new way to deal with the past because the past is not just the past, as we know from William Faulkner.

Speaking of differences between Israelis and Europeans: Is it possible to speak about the Middle East conflict without inhibition?

Anat Einhar: Of course it is possible to talk about it. There is a lot to say because it is constantly changing. As an Israeli, you can never tell what is going to happen tomorrow. The conflict in the Middle East is an ongoing unpredictable thing, not a historical event. On the other hand, writing a book takes time. You start to write it, then a year goes by, two years, so there is always a gap between the book and reality. As a writer, you always have to digest things to understand what is going on. You can't do that on the spot. So I think that Israeli books on the conflict are always one or two years behind, but they have a certain perspective. You have to capture this perspective, otherwise you're just a journalist. As a writer you wish for other things.

Marko Martin: I'm afraid I have to be a bit polemic. Most German writers grow up in a socially and ethnically homogenous world. And then they get to travel by invitation of the German Goethe-Institut, get some fellowship to meet other colleagues. What they bring from Germany is their conception that there must be peace. If there are problems it is just because there was not enough dialogue, so maybe there were misunderstandings. This ignorant point of view concerning the complexities of the world totally fails, especially in the case of Israel.

Deutschland Autor Marko Martin

The journalist and writer Marko Martin spends a third of the year in Tel Aviv

I think it's a shame that so many German writers immediately have an opinion on Israel. I would not even describe their position as pro-Palestinian – they also never travel to Gaza or to Ramallah – nevertheless, they have an opinion. I think this is absolutely ridiculous. It has nothing to do with being rightwing or leftwing, it is just a kind of ignorance. People in Israel grew up with the conflict and all of its complexity. They see many contradictions inside the Israeli society, all the gaps between rich and poor people, between Ashkenazim and Sephardim. It is a pleasure for me to speak with my Israeli colleagues because they are not ignorant at all. They have a clear ethic conscience and at the same time a pragmatic point of view concerning what's happening and I strongly admire that.

Close to 30.000 Israelis live in Berlin now. What is so fascinating about the German capital?

Anat Einhar: There is something very friendly and very welcoming about Berlin. Even my father, who is a holocaust survivor, visited Berlin some 15 years ago, long before the hype. I remember him coming back and saying, "Berlin is such a sweet place, you must go to Berlin". Now, I agree. There is something very laid-back about Berlin, it's a very welcoming place. But I think that Israelis are feeling comfortable here because life in Israel has something very limiting about it – when it comes to borders, when it comes to opportunities, even to culture. It is very closed in. I think when Israelis come here, they feel they are joining the Western, the European world. And the whole idea of boycotting Germany – I remember times when many older Israelis would not come to Germany and would not buy any German products – the younger generation doesn't feel that way anymore. I think coming here and leaving Israel behind makes many Israelis feel like they are not dependent on Israel and that they are citizens of the world, instead of just being citizens of Israel which finds itself in a very complex and tense situation.

Mr. Martin, you wrote a book on Tel Aviv. What fascinated you so much about Israel and especially Tel Aviv?

Marko Martin: A lot of my stories are set in Tel Aviv where I have returned to several times every year since 1991. I have to confess I'm addicted to this town. For me, Tel Aviv is the only place in the world where you can find hedonism – I mean the art to appreciate life in all its aspects mixed with a conscience. It's not a brainless city of party people – and even when they do party and worship their own physical existence they don't leave their brain at the coat check. I think that's really great. This awareness that they live in an open, in a liberal society and at the same time a society in danger from the inside and especially from outside – this ambivalence of the mind makes Tel Aviv and its inhabitants very sexy.

Anat Einhar, born in 1973, lives in Tel Aviv and is a writer and an illustrator. She recently published her novel "Summer Predators." Marko Martin, born in 1970, works as a writer and journalist in Berlin and Tel Aviv. Both have contributed to the anthology "We don't forget, we go dancing."

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