First Published: 2009-09-17

Arab-German dialogue through literature

Germany's 'International Literature Festival Berlin' to focus on books from Arab region.


Middle East Online

By Mohamed Massad - BONN, Germany

According to the head of the 'International Literary Festival Berlin', Ulrich Schreiber, this year's event–which began on 9 September–aims to be a milestone for literary communication between Europe and the Arab world.

The focus of this year's programme for the International Literature Festival Berlin is on the Arab region. What does the programme hold in store?

Ulrich Schreiber: The International Literature Festival Berlin (ilb) is the most international of all international literature festivals around the world. Every year we invite over 150 prose and poetry writers from around 50 countries on all continents to present and discuss their work at almost 300 events. In our "Reflections" category we address key political topics. This year that includes visions for the future of dialogue between the West and the Arab world.

The "Speak, Memory" section consists of readings from texts by authors who are no longer alive–all the way from the ancient Greek poet Homer to the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish who died last year.

Another important part of our programme is "International Children's and Youth Literature"–more than 10,000 of our over 30,000 visitors are of school age, storming our morning readings at the Haus der Berliner Festspiele, an exhibition venue in Berlin. In recent years we've placed more emphasis on young literature, inviting authors who aren't yet known on the international circuit but have grabbed people's attention with debut novels in their home countries.

The festival has already featured various authors and musicians from Arab countries in the past. And now we want to intensify the contacts we've forged and the knowledge of Arab literature in the West.

We'll be focusing our efforts on setting up a stage in Berlin, offering our guests from the Arab world a chance to present their literature, their intellectual, cultural and political standpoints, in an authentic way. We want to ask: what issues are moving the Arab world?

Is that the only reason why you chose the Arab region as the focus of this year's festival?

In view of recent developments I think it's become absolutely essential to promote greater understanding for Arab cultures in the West, if I may put it in very simple terms. And what art form is better placed to do that than literature, which tells us all about people's most intimate wishes, hopes and fears?

So the aim of the focus on the Arab region at the 9th international literature festival berlin is to open up the cultures of the Arab region for an interested audience, promote mutual understanding and encourage contacts between artists, players in the cultural industry and authors.

What were your criteria for selecting Arab writers?

To start with, I'd like to say that we always go to great lengths to get something approaching an overview of the literary terrain of our focus region, this year as every other year.

And our main criterion is naturally literary quality. We were advised by former guests from the Arab region, translators from Arabic, European publishers of Arabic prose and poetry, the Goethe Institutes in the Arab region and local authors recommended to us in Cairo, Alexandria, Ramallah, Dubai, Beirut, Damascus and Israel as well, where there are also many Arab writers.

We wanted to persuade outstanding authors from the region to participate, including writers from the younger generation not yet familiar with Germany.

What is your assessment of previous encounters between Arabic and German literature?

There are already various cultural projects focusing on the dialogue component of relations between the West or Europe and the Arab region. Our Focus programme aims to follow in the spirit of these projects–for example, project manager Peter Ripken's work at the Frankfurt Book Fair or the West-Eastern Divan, a Berlin-based project devoted to improving mutual knowledge of the literature of the Middle East and Germany, through encounters between authors from the two regions.

Admittedly, we have seen an increase in interest in the literature and cultures of these countries since 9/11–the clearest expression of that being the Frankfurt Book Fair's Arabic focus in 2004. But in essence, the reception situation has changed very little: Arabic literature is barely published and read outside the region itself. The encounters have been too marginal in character to date.

What are your hopes for the festival's Arab focus?

That it will be a milestone in literary and cultural communication with the Arab world, that friendships will be forged and plans made by the German visitors to travel to these countries and intensify their contacts there.

What is your answer to authors from the Arab world who aren't in Berlin this year?

You mean writers who might be disappointed not to have been invited? My answer is this: the festival will go on forever!

Mohamed Massad is a freelance writer. This article, translated from German, is distributed by t Common Ground and can be accessed at GCNews. It appeared in


Two Danes stabbed by man shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ in Gabon

UN considers rejecting Trump Jerusalem decision

Israeli air traffic halted due to strikes

Iran's schools suffocate in smog

Christmas in Jordan dimmed by Jerusalem crisis

Turkey slams Austria ‘discrimination’

Tunisia elections delayed

Istanbul summit strong on the rhetoric, weak on concrete steps

Morocco’s Islamists elect new leader, walking away from predecessor’s populism

Palestinians call for protests against Pence Jerusalem visit

Palestinian billionaire detained in Saudi Arabia

Egypt opens Rafah crossing for four days

Turkey court releases 7 suspects in New Year attack trial

Palestinian activist killed in Gaza protests

Foreign fighters a worry as IS struggles to survive

Over half Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in 'extreme poverty'

Palestinians killed in continuing protests over Jerusalem occupation

Bourita: Extraordinary meeting between ECOWAS, Morocco to be held beginning of 2018

Saudi-led air strikes, clashes as Yemen forces battle rebels

Sahel force funding shows terrorism fight is Saudi 'priority'

UN 'appalled' at mass execution of jihadists in Iraq

Iraq's Sistani says Hashed should be under government control

Middle-class Egypt adapts as costs soar

Somalia's budget meets IMF terms

Israel PM questioned in graft probe

US says Iran supplied ballistic missile to Yemen rebels

Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration

US to present 'irrefutable evidence' of Iran violations

Istanbul 'to remove Gulen links' from street names

Iraq hangs 38 jihadists

Pence to visit Middle East despite controversy

Hamas chief calls for continued Jerusalem protests

EU to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya in two months

Syria Kurds fear US ally will desert them after IS defeat

Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut 14,000 jobs over two years

Turkey rescues 51 migrants stranded on rocks

Saudi, UAE hold talks with Yemen Islamists

18 killed after bomber strikes Mogadishu police academy

Israeli air strikes target Hamas military facilities

US-led air strikes kill 23 civilians in Syria

Israel union calls nationwide strike over pharmaceutical giant job cuts

UN envoy urges Putin to press Assad for elections

Yemen's Huthi rebels release pro-Saleh media staff

Israel intelligence minister invites Saudi prince to visit

Saudi-led strikes kill 30 in rebel-run Yemen prison