Friday, 25 February 2011

Dancing the Sarrazin

My head's still humming from last night's huge launch for the anthology Manifest der Vielen. I don't know about you, but typically I expect a book launch to be about twenty people sipping at white wine in a bookshop while a writer sits at the front and reads a bit. Instead, last night every last seat in the Maxim Gorki Theater was occupied, eight people read, three people were interviewed, there was a dancer and a slide show and live electronic music and a music video (which I'll come back to in a moment). There followed copious drinking and - yes! - actual dancing.

The book, which I've been bigging up for a while now, is a collection of pieces written by - as it says in this fascinating interview with the editor Hilal Sezgin - thirty German intellectuals with international backgrounds, in response to Thilo Sarrazin's mega-selling book Deutschland schafft sich ab. Its subtitle is "Germany reinvents itself". I haven't actually got a copy yet because of cashflow issues last night, but judging by the readings it covers a lot of ground. From Deniz Utlu's fiction to an interview with the actress Pegah Ferydoni to straight personal essays, the writers share their views on multicultural Germany, being a Muslim or not being a Muslim in the country, and just generally how they live their lives.

Not all of it was new - people have been saying for years now that the never-ending calls for integration are offensive and unreasonable, that they are essentially a demand for a homogenous society - but it's good to say it again. Several of the authors talked about how the debate has forced them to think about their own position in German society, how they define themselves. And in fact the event made me start thinking along the same lines, something I hope to come back to here.

But what was most unexpected about the event was that it was genuinely funny. A number of the writers have contributed humorous pieces, laughing rather than crying over what is often a ridiculous situation. And it was all held together by a really funny guy called Ali Aslan. I had to check that because he didn't introduce himself on stage and when I asked someone later she said, "Oh, you mean Ali?" Which was of limited use. Anyway, speaking of unexpected things, the guy is apparently known as the George Clooney of the German interior ministry. I couldn't see the resemblance, but then I was a very long way from the stage and when I saw him close-up later I was far from sober. Anyway, Aslan managed to get a lot of laughs out of some pretty serious subject matter, including the fact that one of the authors - the academic Naika Foroutan from the Heymat project - has received death threats for her part in revealing Sarrazin's misinterpretation of the statistics.

So, thus heartened, we all retired to the bar. Or in fact the canteen, where there was wine and beer and pretzels and rice pudding. And DJ Imran Ayata in the corner, who was having technical problems. But still, the beautiful people danced and danced - my favourite was a version of Oh Carolina in some unrecognisable language. And there were lots of sort of famous people there and I said hello to two of them and one of them even recognised me back.

And here's the most amazing thing I noticed. On one point, Sarrazin is right. A survey by the Süddeutsche Zeitung found out all sorts of interesting things about his readers. My favourite one: they responded negatively to the idea of "enjoying life to the full". Also, they're mainly men and the over-60s are overproportionately represented. So in fact, Sarrazin readers probably are having fewer babies than Manifest der Vielen readers. Because Manifest der Vielen readers are all very, very attractive and enjoy life to the full. Manifest der Vielen readers will reinvent Germany, populating it with attractive, intelligent, fun-loving little brown babies.

To finish off, a link to the video, a song by Volkan T. that plays on a text by Selim Özdogan.


David said...

I'm trying to get my hands on Patrick Bahner's "Die Panikmacher". Evidently he makes mincemeat of Sarrazin and Broder....

Daniel said...

The last time I was in the Gorki Theater was for a really great performance / revival of Brecht's Dreigroscheroper in 2005. What a great event this sounds like. Looking forward to reading the Manifest.

kjd said...

@Daniel: me too!
@David: that's what I've heard too. He's certainly getting most of the Springer press hot under the collar.