"Violence Elsewhere" Blog
"We Have to Knock Holes into these Walls"
Interview with Annika Reich
19 October 2019
© Jenny Endom
Annika Reich is a German author and activist. She has published four novels and two children’s books and is one of the creators of the feminist column ‘10nach8’ (ten past eight) published twice a week by ZEIT Online. In 2015, prompted by the crisis in migration policy in her hometown Berlin, Reich, together with a network of 100 women from the arts, culture, science and public life, founded WIR MACHEN DAS (we are doing it).
Weiter Schreiben is one of the projects maintained and promoted by WIR MACHEN DAS. It provides a publishing platform to authors from war and conflict zones and offers them ongoing support in navigating the German literary scene.
Annika Reich is the co-founder and artistic director of Weiter Schreiben. Here she answers our questions about Weiter Schreiben, describes the relationship between writing and "violence elsewhere" and explains why literary texts move us in a different way than journalism.
Below is a translation of the interview. Read the German original here.
Your project 'Weiter Schreiben' offers a platform to authors from war and conflict zones which allows them to keep writing. What makes writing so important to these authors in particular?
Annika Reich: 'In 2017, we asked authors from war and conflict zones what they wished for. The most common response was: “Weiterschreiben” (to keep writing). But to keep writing also means to be read. Because writing and being read go hand in hand. It is essential for authors that the process of writing is not abandoned. Writing is not only an artform but a way of life, a way of perceiving the world, to comprehend it and thereby to relate to it. This applies in particular to authors from war and conflict zones. For them, the writing process was not only interrupted by the political situation, for some writing became an extremely dangerous activity. If they were forced to leave their home countries, they often suffer from the additional loss of their own language realm, which makes it even more important to build bridges, through translation, that connect them to the new language realm.'
"Languages, borders, documents. It all restricts, oppresses, excludes. We have to knock holes in these walls, through these holes we have to tell stories and join hands." Martin Kordić
The texts published on weiterschreiben.jetzt do not exclusively engage with violence but many of them relate to war and expulsion. What can texts about these topics achieve that other media perhaps cannot?
Annika Reich: 'We left it up to the authors to decide which topics they write about. Many texts about war, expulsion, violence and flight emerged, which, in very different ways, spoke of the horror or specifically not of the horror, but are written in such a way that it is perceptible between the lines. But we have also received other kinds of texts: an erotic declaration of love from one woman to another, portraits of German writers, a letter to Heinrich Böll, texts about garden hearts, refrigerators and clotheslines and about the red-light district in Amsterdam. Our authors come from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen and Afghanistan. We also publish Roma and Sinti authors, who live in Germany, Austria and Hungary because conflict zones are not always elsewhere – for some they are in the middle of Europe.
The literary texts’ density and atmosphere give a different kind of access to experiences in war and conflict zones than journalistic texts are capable of. The imagination is addressed in a completely different way here. Or as one of the participating authors, Martin Kordić, wrote: ‘Languages, borders, documents. It all restricts, oppresses, excludes. We have to knock holes in these walls, through these holes we have to tell stories and join hands.’''
Our research project, “Violence Elsewhere”, engages with Germany’s particular relationship to violence after 1945. Do you think Germany has a special responsibility to engage with violence elsewhere? Does Weiter Schreiben see itself in this context?
Annika Reich: 'The project was a reaction to the crisis in migration policy in 2015, which became very tangible in Berlin. I can therefore answer this question only indirectly. Near my apartment in Berlin, thousands of people, who had fled the war, were lying on the ground for days, families were sleeping in parks and some did not even have the bare necessities. In this moment, my own sense of arrival in my self-understanding as a cosmopolitan, respecting-the-rights-of-the-individual European fractured and I could see as clearly as never before how high the price is that others pay for it. Of course, I knew the price for my own sense of having arrived even before then. I knew about the ongoing colonialism, the structural racism and the Christian-white purity notion of Europe. I knew about the dark sides of a Europe that perceives itself as humanistic and enlightened, I knew about the dark sides of my identification, and yet there was a part of me that, until then, had never experienced what that really meant. I have only ever questioned my privileges, but never distanced myself from them because they were the vantage point from where I questioned them. I am now astonished that this could work. After all, I was politicised, like most Germans, through the engagement with the crimes of National Socialism and the Shoah. How we got from this point, which explicitly instructs us to never again exclude anyone based on their belonging to a specific group or religion, to this kind of self-understanding has since become a mystery to me.
Until the summer of 2015, the war had only moved me, but had never come close to me. It now seems so improbable to me that one can live this long without being confronted by this aspect of life, but that’s how it was. Now it is different.'
"Until the summer of 2015, the war had only moved me, but had never come close to me. It now seems so improbable to me that one can live this long without being confronted by this aspect of life, but that’s how it was. Now it is different."
© Piero Chiussi
What are your hopes for the future of Weiter Schreiben?
Annika Reich: 'My wish would be that these kinds of projects become unnecessary, that authors across the globe can keep writing but instead the opposite is the case: In addition to those from Arabic authors in exile, I am receiving more and more requests from Turkish and Kurdish authors, but also from Hungarian and Polish writers. I hope that we can continue with the book publications in German, the scholarships and prizes, the public readings and festival appearances. I hope that the work in pairs*, this wonderful personal-professional exchange, continues to blossom and I hope that the German literary scene and the German readership continues to let itself be unsettled, touched and informed by the perspectives of these authors. Because I am convinced that we cannot read enough about what it means to live in a war or a conflict zone, what it means, as in Syria, to have been part of a revolution, what the everyday in exile looks like; but also how a Syrian-Palestinian author perceives Amsterdam’s red-light district or what a letter from an Iraqi authors to Heinrich Böll sounds like.'
*Weiter Schreiben pairs its authors with established/published German authors to facilitate access to the German literary market.
What is something that you wish others knew about your authors and/or violence elsewhere that gets left out of everyday discourses?
Annika Reich: 'Weiter Schreiben contains not only a temporal continuum but also a spatial extension, an expansion of perspective. All too often, the voices of those who fled to Germany are missing from the public debate. The authors gathered here don’t accept this. They speak up themselves and thus expand the realms of the imagination shaped by the dominant media discourse. Their texts deepen the transcultural dialogue and thus frustrate stereotypes and reading habits. The gap is therefore bridged from both sides, because most Germans also require a point of access to the living spaces and cultural traditions of those who fled from the Arab-speaking world to Germany; most of them know hardly anything about Arabic literature and even less about what everyday life looks like in a war and conflict zone. “If we knew more about what others know of, and if we could make this knowledge available to others through shared stories, told together, then this knowledge would – perhaps – here and there result in empathy, and empathy in action, the action would however not render the knowledge unnecessary”, wrote Saša Stanišić, one of the participating authors, in this context.'
In 2018, an anthology of Weiter Schreiben's texts was published by the Ullstein Verlag under the title Das Herz verlässt keinen Ort, an dem es hängt, edited by Annika Reich and Lina Muzur.