Displaced. Sold. Betrayed? – African Book Festival Has to Change Venues at Short Notice
Yesterday.Today.Tomorrow is the motto of this year’s African Book Festival, which was supposed to start on Saturday at Napoleon Komplex in Friedrichshain. Suddenly, however, a prohibition of use from the building authorities arrived there yesterday (Tuesday). The operation of the popular venue at Modersohnbrücke is thus shut down until further notice.
This drastic action, interpreted as excessive by the directors of Napoleon Komplex, is part of a policy of displacement and gentrification in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg that has been going on for years and to which the popular African Book Festival almost fell victim.
It is only thanks to the solidarity of Berlin’s cultural scene that it can still take place from 26-28 August. Within a few hours, the Alte Münze in Mitte agreed to host the festival on Saturday and Sunday.
Nevertheless, the shock runs deep. “There is no apparent reason for an immediate shutdown. Deficiencies that were claimed by building authorities were immediately remedied. Diversity and neighbourhood culture are knowingly being squeezed out here,” says one of the directors of the popular venue for exhibitions, concerts and parties. Stefanie Hirsbrunner of InterKontinental bookstore, who organises the African Book Festival, goes one step further. She points to the still precarious working and income conditions in the cultural sector, especially now after the pandemic: “Not only does Berlin seem to be increasingly becoming a city that tramples art and culture. The decision-makers in this city also seem indifferent to the fact that they contribute to the poverty and unemployment of so many creatives here, but also, as in our case, in African countries.”
The festival sees itself as an initiative for more diversity. Through literature, an anti-racist push is also made here. The festival is funded by Hauptstadkulturfonds with a sum of 65,000 Euros, but in fact the 3-day festival has a total capital of more than 200,000 Euros, created by voluntary work and donations. Seventy volunteers are helping out this year. Many of them are taking part for the first time, taking time off or travelling to the festival. “For ten months, we have been working continuously, often in our spare time and with private financial commitment, on the implementation and content of this festival. We are deeply outraged by the behaviour of the authorities,” says Karla Kutzner, director of the festival.
Under the hashtag #gesichtfürkultur, those affected are now ready to fight. They call on the people of Berlin to show solidarity. Venice Trommer, board member of InterKontinental, demands: “Come to the African Book Festival, no matter where it takes place. Support us with your presence. Show that this is no way to treat art and culture and the people who work in this sector. Berlin cultural spaces must be preserved!”