70 years of people from all over the world and topics that move them, 70 years of cultural exchange. The magazine for international perspectives celebrates its anniversary in 2021 and editor-in-chief Jenny Friedrich-Freksa highlights what makes KULTURAUSTAUSCH special, reviews core topics of the past years and talks about the task of media.
Jenny Friedrich-Freksa: Being in exchange with people, namely people from other cultures. We publish voices from around the world, transmitting opinions, stories and points of view from other languages. The fact that you can read a translation, in our case more often in German, that someone originally wrote in Chinese, Arabic or Spanish is a form of exchange, and it brings readers closer to that culture and its stories. Actually, we experience exchange at various levels, not only in terms of content but also in the sheer production of the magazine. For example, the editorial team is in constant conversation with people all over the world. That is why I think the title is so great, even if it sounds a bit old-fashioned, but it describes exactly what we do.
ifa: Is this exchange a unique selling point of the magazine?
Friedrich-Freksa: I think what makes the magazine special is that we consistently feature non-German journalists and writers for the majority of the stories in each issue, and our focus is not merely on the Western world. We work with people in Botswana and Taiwan, placing the opinion of a historian from Oxford next to that of a journalist from China. This makes for a special blend, and it is also a form of equality, setting equal terms that are rare in other media. We have been doing this for quite some time, but the relevance of this work has become much more political and apparent today than it used to be. There is a clear demand for more equality, including when it comes to publishing points of views.
'It Is Cultural Conflict Issues that We Are Tracing'
ifa: Essentially, the people from all over the world who write for KULTURAUSTAUSCH are at the centre of your work. Do you stand behind everything that is written in the name of the magazine?
Friedrich-Freksa: I stand behind the fact that everything we publish is worthy of publication. And it goes without saying that we have no intentions of spreading hate and agitation. Even apart from that, I do not share all of the opinions we publish. The editors are not there to impose such things. It is precisely diversity that we want to present, along with interesting or even contradictory voices.
Of course, there are interviews, for example, expressing questionable viewpoints, but what is interesting and important is not only limited to what someone thinks he or she likes or can relate to. The most helpful thing is to make enquires as an interviewer, journalist or editor. By doing so, we can indicate to readers of an interview or article that we find something problematic.
There are topics that are pretty sensitive for us here in Germany. And we see that in other countries, issues can be addressed quite differently than they are here. The other way round too, incidentally; sometimes as an editor you naively make a call to ask a question and are told, 'Sorry, but you cannot say it like that at all'. That, too, is cultural exchange.
Although I personally find that sensitivities have increased quite a lot, I think it is important to uphold the journalistic craft by being able to address everything. The question, of course, is always how. The aim is not to ban topics or points of view completely, but to find a way of examining them well together, to create spaces for discussion and to make topics readable for a broad and diverse readership with various opinions. This is not an easy task, but if a topic is handled well and a story is written understandably, different sides can form an opinion about it. Our job as journalists is not to filter that in advance.
ifa: Are there any central recurring themes that you deal with in the magazine?
Friedrich-Freksa: In recent years, we have made several issues on climate change. For example, there was an issue on growth and its limits as well as one on how climate change has altered people's culture. Therefore, it is particularly interesting to break away from the discourse we are familiar with here in Germany and to learn how people from other countries view particular topics. Another focus has certainly been everything regarding remembrance culture. Recently, there have been many postcolonial issues and debates. But we have also addressed memory culture in and of itself quite often: 'How do people deal with their cultural memory? What is retained? How is identity created through remembering?'
In the broadest sense, we frequently look at cultural conflict issues. Sometimes, in the end, it boils down to conflicts over resources. Many cultures are not hostile towards one another per se, but tangible reasons, such as injustice and the lack of resources, can lead people to act aggressively. There are numerous stories of indigenous people protesting against governments, and these are often presented as culture clash issues. But the simpler fact of the matter is often that an indigenous population is protesting because something is being taken away from them.
What Was and What Will Be
ifa: The magazine has been around for 70 years, which is quite a long time. Your focus until now has been on the print edition. However, the magazine is currently in the process of expanding its online presence – more and more content can be found on the website, and as of this year, there is an app. Is it still a tangible magazine for you or is the format changing?
Friedrich-Freksa: Both. Having our content online allows us to reach a wider audience. Through our English-language presence, we are also reaching more and more people who do not speak German. Nevertheless, we are a print magazine with regular circulation and a very loyal readership.
Print is not 'out'. The issue is comparable to books: there are people who enjoy reading hard copies and others who like e-books. This is not only about the text but also about the design. I think you have to be very attentive to what works online and also how you evaluate success. Our aim is not simply to have as many followers as possible but to reach people who are interested in our topics and texts, people who genuinely read.
Of course, there are great digital things out there, and a very professional, beautiful virtual presence can be created. But getting at the heart of a magazine and seeing if it speaks to you works by holding it in your hands and flipping through its pages. Funny enough, the editor of an online magazine told me the other day that they actually print some of their texts so that people can get a better sense of their magazine. Imaginability is still strongly linked to haptics.
ifa: So your digital options are growing, as is your English-language presence. What else can readers look forward to in the future?
Friedrich-Freksa: One big area I would like to tackle is implementing sustainable manufacturing and work processes. How can we better integrate new environmental techniques, conscious behaviours and climate neutrality into our work? Another issue is diversity. As an editorial team, we naturally deal with very different people all over the world, and we have always had a number of women writers. However, we will continue to strengthen diversity. Be it in the recruitment of new staff or in cooperation with editorial offices abroad, I think it is only right to continue to play a part.
born in 1974 in Berlin, studied Social and Business Communication at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin. Following stints in Paris, Geneva and Rome she worked for several years at the Süddeutsche Zeitung in Munich. She has been KULTURAUSTAUSCH Editor-in-Chief since 2005. In 2019 her book 'Pferde' (horses) was published by Hanser publishing house.
Every issue focusses on one theme and invites authors from around the world to explore it from their unique perspective: How is the climate-change debate unfolding in Brazil? How do people in France mull over migration and home? Who is the leading voice on feminism in Ethiopia? Leading international names are featured alongside local voices, giving insight into their day-to-day. KULTURAUSTAUSCH stands for diversity, internationality and a close-up take on journalism, making it the magazine for international perspectives.
KULTURAUSTAUSCH is published by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e. V. and CONBRIO Verlag in a public-private partnership and financially supported by the Federal Foreign Office. The publisher is Gitte Zschoch, Secretary General of the ifa. Jenny Friedrich-Freksa has been the editor-in-chief of the journal since 2005. The magazine is published four times a year and reaches readers in more than 100 countries. It is available on subscription or can be bought in selected magazine stores in Germany.