Why then should Dresden still be European Capital of Culture?
Paradoxically, it is precisely this conflict that makes Dresden so archetypically European. I also live in London, where I’ve experienced the time before and after Brexit – the news images of PEGIDA and the Vote Leave movement are virtually interchangeable. I lived in Italy under Berlusconi, spent a few years in France when Jean-Marie Le Pen was on the up and up, and I worked in Holland and Switzerland. Almost everywhere, you feel this rift running through society, and everywhere it has the same causes. I believe that a Capital of Culture must be able to represent the continent as it is today; only then does it deserve the title of European Capital of Culture.
What is the role of culture in such a situation?
Culture is an instrument for shining a light on differences so that they become visible and comprehensible. Through the medium of culture, we can tell each other about ourselves – and at the same time find ways to overcome these differences.
So, culture as a sort of therapy?
It is at least capable of triggering an important maturation process. We were in a similar situation during the demise of the GDR. At that time, everyone was talking about unification and trying to eliminate the differences between the two halves of Germany as quickly as possible. Yet it wasn’t that simple: we were coming from a different starting point; we had experienced different things and had different stories to tell. Of course, recognising differences and showing tolerance is diffcult, but in my opinion, we missed a chance then.
Although there were plenty of authors who wrote about life in the GDR and in West Germany…
Agreed, but in the sense of a division of labour: some write about their experience in the East while “Generation Golf” do their own thing – but basically both are speaking only to their own audience. is was more introspection than dialogue; ultimately, the two groups did not become any closer.
Dresden is a city that is not only renowned for culture but also for being at the cutting edge of technology. How does this affect your perspective of the city?
This combination of history and ultramodern technology is, in my opinion, the distinguishing feature of the European city, not only of Dresden. We need a concept of culture that extends to technology. In Dresden, we have good conditions for this, because there are so many research institutes that are working on the technologies of the future. But that must not be something that scientists do in their labs without the city being aware of it. The job of culture is to connect city and technology.
And how does that work?
You can only convince people of the benefits that accrue from innovation by showing them that it helps them to solve problems that would otherwise be insoluble. Participation politics, grassroots democracy – the scope for all of this has been enhanced by modern technology. ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and later grassroots movements also sprang from the concept of digitisation.
Digital technologies are increasingly accused of dumbing down debates and playing into the hands of populists…
Of course, every invention has the potential for both good and evil. As I see it, the most important argument to be levelled against the critics of technology is that, because populists tend to exploit innovation for their purposes, it gives us every reason to use the same innovation in a different, open way. These advances are coming about anyway, so simply saying no won’t stop them happening. And your rationale risks being misunderstood.
If Dresden’s application is successful, it will become Capital of Culture in 2025. What do you expect to be of special importance in that year?
By 2025, half the population of Dresden will be under 45. This means that they will only know the Cold War from a childhood perspective or from listening to accounts from older people. At the same time, these people will be ‘digital natives’. That means you can’t just leave the job of drawing up the programme for 2025 to someone like me. Instead, I need to be asking today’s 16 year olds to imagine the future and to tell me what they would like to do. If I don’t listen to that, I am doomed to fail.