Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Frankfurt - An Interview with Mariam M.Kobras

- Mariam, you were born in Frankfurt and know the town really well - how would you describe Frankfurt to someone who doesn't know it?
Frankfurt is a very modern town. It is dominated by its Financial District and the high rise buildings that make up the impressive skyline - and by a lively intellectual scene, enlivened by the annual Book Fair, the most important one world wide. Sadly, not a lot of the old town is left. You won't find a lot of historical buildings or a lovely medieval part in Frankfurt, but you will find diversity!
Growing up in Frankfurt, we were very strongly influenced by the American Way of Life because of the presence of the US Military in our surroundings, and you still get a lot of that now. Of all German cities I have seen. Frankfurt had the liberty to embrace the ease and pace of America early on. Thus, the high rise building? Never thought of it like this before, but it makes sense.
Today, Frankfurt is a little like New York, I think. It is the closest to New York that I can see in Europe.

- When you're there, Mariam, are you aware of a special feel about it? Meaning, is it different from other (German) towns?

All cities feel different from each other, I think, and a good thing, too.
There is something about Frankfurt though that is indeed special: I never got a feeling of "old" history in Frankfurt, like, say in Nuremberg or Munich. It has a distinct "After WW2" feeling to me, as if the city re-invented itself then.
There are some historical highlights, of course, like Goethe's birth place and the Paulskirche and City Hall, but that's about it.

-Would you say there is a "Frankfurt mentality"?
Not.... really. Or is there?
I think there is a strong intellectual mentality, which has its origin in the Philosophical Scene that developed around Adorno and his group, and of course the ever-present Book Fair. Way in the East of the city, where it borders on Offenbach, you'll find Oberrad, which is a bit of a surprise because it is indeed something like a farming area. That is where the famous "Green Sauce" herbs are grown. A small heart of the old Frankfurt, where you will also hear the original dialect being spoken. These people are "natives", and indeed have a mentality of their own.

- That's facinating! Is there anything in particular you yourself like especially

It's home. It's where I went to school and to the movies and shopping, and I love to return whenever I can. I've long since lost the native language, but when I'm back, I'll fall into the patois within the hour. There is one place I love particularly, the Kleinmarkthalle, a farmers' market inside a huge, old hall right in the center of the city where you can buy EVERYTHING that is edible all year long. I've never seen anything like it anywhere else in the world. Oh, and I lied further up about history: Frankfurt has one of the most wonderful Gothic cathedrals ever, and a number of German emperors and kings were crowned there. ("Kaiserdom")
And I like the food in Frankfurt. The local, hearty fair, but also the curries, sushi, the Malaysian, Arabian, Indian, Thai (especially that!!!) American, French, Italian.... oh you name it. Another thing I like very much are the museums along the Main river. The city has done a brilliant job there.

Mariam, this has been absolutely fascinating. You talk so animatedly about your home town. I could imagine, quite a few people have now become quite curious to see what it's like... in fact I'm very much looking forward to going there myself in a couple of weeks

Mariam M. Kobras is a writer and teacher. Check out her profile and blog

Sunday, 14 February 2010

I'm sorry - Nationalism is Not Acceptable

Nationalism - especially in its celtic varieties exudes a certain panache that chimes in with a lot of people. Moody landscapes, knitted Aran jumpers, hauntingly romantic songs, and maybe the odd rugged-looking native. What's not to like?

Since I've been living in Scotland, I was able to observe it at close quarters - and have totally changed my mind. Nationalism is based on the belief of the supremacy of one's own nation above all others. In its day to day appearance, it is ugly, spiteful, and hurts anybody who is not of that nation.

"Everybody here is nationalist, in one way or another", a journalist friend told me recently, "and everybody dislikes the English". Oh right. So that is acceptable to say things like that, is it? No way.

Whilst support for the actual Nationalist Party in Scotland has waned, this is just a reflection on the fact that most voters now know that secession from Britain is no longer economically possible. Nationalism as such, however, is on the rise. And there is nothing to curb it, as "everybody thinks that way".

So "everybody" here thinks nothing of it when obese thugs (nationalism is much stronger in poor, uneducated strata of the population) glower at people who, say, speak on the mobile in a foreign language. Bus drivers habitually profess not to understand you when you speak with an English accent. Any criticism, if only of the weather, is met with utter hostility, and a threatening glare. When two English people talk to each other in a shop, the other shoppers fall silent, and everybody stares at the offenders. Officially, the line about Eastern European workers is that they are very welcome. They don't feel welcome, I've spoken to many of them.

The hatred is sharp, visceral and ubiquitous. You don't have to go football matches or obscure pubs to feel frightened by it.

I understand that nationalism and chauvinism come about through feeling marginalised, economically disadvantaged and bitter. But bigotry, xenophobia and hatred of people who aren't like you cannot be an acceptable form of voicing your frustration.

For me, the ugly face of nationalism is definitely a big problem when it comes to living in Scotland.