Cornelia Funke: America is different. Germany is too!

January 28, 2019

image © Cornelia Funke

Peter Koepf interviewed author Cornelia Funke to discuss her experiences in finding literary success as a German author living in the United States and the inside view of German-American relations.

What kind of clichés have you noticed?

For example, I’ve noticed that many people think Europeans are more social and humane than Americans. But my experience has shown me that the exact opposite is true. I would say Americans are friendlier, more polite and more willing to help. And I would argue that we Europeans are often very unfriendly to one another, that we’re very ill-tempered in our deal­ings with one another. In contrast, I have the sense that the US still has a very high level of social cohe­sion. Perhaps it’s the legacy of the pioneering era – an age in which one needed to work together with others in order to survive – that’s still very present in people’s minds. In the US, people deal with each other at eye level. Social differences are considerably less noticeable and often simply ignored. I still find it very moving to see how deeply Americans believe in humankind and the future.

Germans are critical of the US and yet our lives are immersed in American culture. We watch American films and listen to Ameri­can music. How do you reconcile these two forces?

It’s hard to understand. On the one hand, European culture embraces American culture, and many Ger­mans identify with the US. On the other hand, those same people often argue that the US is populated by hillbillies alone. It’s a schizo­phrenic posture, it’s pharisaical, or doctrinaire. I’ve notice on several occasions that people in Germany – in contrast to other European coun­tries – simply have no idea of the richness of American culture. Many world-famous artists, such as Guill­ermo del Toro and Neil Gaiman – neither of whom is American but both of whom are very famous in the US – are hardly even known in Germany. This betrays a strange degree of provinciality. Indeed, we only feel like Europeans when we’re in America.

But that’s changing. The number of German high school students going to the US for a year is rising. Young people are watching American TV series on Netflix…

I hope so. Nothing – no political program or official government statement – can compete with human contact. We need more exchange programs that allow both sides to learn first-hand what is valuable in the other. Only people who’ve never ventured beyond their own borders are able to maintain a stubborn national approach. But culture has always been multina­tional. For example, for a classi­cal musician, it’s perfectly normal to work with musicians from all over the world. In fact, it’s almost impossible to sell artists any form of nationalism as a fixed identity.

Furthermore, when I attend, say, a literary festival in Sydney, I don’t limit myself to the German stands. Instead, I venture out and speak to other authors as peers, no matter where they come from. Plus, my readers come from all over the world. Business is also fully interna­tional these days, and nationalism simply no longer plays the role right-wing forces would like it to. We’re seeing the reemergence of an old order, like a monster out of the sea. But we all know the future will be multinational and multicultural.

Read the full article on The German Times here

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