Then he tells us how
The Americans are actually very interested in Germany: German art and German electronic club music. And above all they have a burning interest in Berlin. What's true is that the Americans aren't interested in German literature whatsoever. They don't translate it and they don't read it.
Then he (or the interviewer) talks about how Berlin is still living off the image Christopher Isherwood gave it before the war - arty, erotic, cheap. He's not wrong there - even the mayor plays along with his "poor but sexy" slogan.Wackwitz himself is an accomplished writer; you can read samples (in German of course) from his forthcoming book Fifth Avenue Spaziergänge durch das letzte Jahrhundert on the Wyoming Building blog. It sounds from the interview, though, as if he's succumbed to the common phenomenon of cultural pessimism when it comes to foreign literature in the States. Call me a dreamer, but is there any reason why people can't harness that existing enthusiasm and interest in Germany's art, music and capital city to promote its books too?
Why not sell writers on the back of their coolness? Half the younger generation does the odd spot of DJing - why not get the likes of Wladimir Kaminer or Thomas Meinecke to bring a few records along? Clemens Meyer has written about both techno and art - presumably a dream combination... (OK, he's been to NY twice already.) Or someone like Maike Wetzel, whose short stories are undeniably Berlin and who makes - gasp! - films too. And although nobody springs to mind immediately in what's rapidly turning into a rant here, there are bound to be plenty of German writers with links to the art world, of various generations.
Luckily, there is balm for my soul: the excellent work of Edna McCown and Katherine Lorimer at the Goethe Institut New York in promoting literature, as showcased on their beautiful Current Writing blog. For all I know from all the way over here, they're already doing all that stuff I naively suggest above.
I'm waiting to see how the Goethe Institut commemorates the fall of the Berlin Wall around the world... plenty of scope for mega-budget literary events there! David Hare + Thomas Brussig, John Le Carré + Julia Franck, Margaret Thatcher + Helmut Kohl – aaah, the possibilities are endless.
Update: As an interested reader points out in the comments, you can read Wackwitz in English: his An Invisible Country is published by Paul Dry Books (trans: Wendy Lesser).