Reports of the death of print media have been greatly exaggerated if the launch of a stylish new magazine in both Hebrew and German is any indication.
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Aviv is a bilingual magazine focusing on literature and the arts. It’s the brainchild of Hanno Hauenstein, a young German with a soft spot for Israel and the Hebrew language, and Itamar Gov, an Israeli who’s been living in Berlin for a number of years. The Berlin launch party earlier this month attracted 400 young Israelis and Germans, with the Tel Aviv launch scheduled for this Thursday.
Hauenstein and Gov are the coeditors of this beautifully produced publication, which is as much a cultural experiment as it is a platform for the expression of and a debate on art.
“We created a format that, above all, exposes artists and writers to different kinds of audiences,” says Gov. “It is meant to interest Israelis who don’t speak a word of German, and Germans who don’t speak a word of Hebrew. It is an instrument, and if you are a curious person interested in another perspective, we are appealing to you. The bilinguality is meant to make it clear that everything has at least two sides,” adds Gov.
“We wanted to experiment, we wanted to examine what happens to a text that is translated into a language that is outside of its living space,” adds Hauenstein. “You add an additional layer to the text, new and interesting contexts.”
On the Israeli side, the first issue includes contributions from well-known artists and writers such as Etgar Keret, Yael Bartana, Nir Baram and Julia Fermentto, plus beautiful photographs from Nir Arieli, alongside German writers such as Maxim Biller, Max Czollek and Maruan Paschen.
The debut issue has caught the attention of important German media outlets, perhaps due to growing Israeli interest in Germany in general, and Berlin in particular, and perhaps because of its editors’ insistence that they want to bring together the Hebrew and German languages and cultures — in the non-nationalist sense of these words.
“The language is at the center,” says Hauenstein. “We tried to think where German culture is found in places that are not Germany, and where Hebrew culture is found in places that are not Israel. We wanted to detach literature and art from nationalism, from saying ‘A story that is written in Hebrew is an Israeli story.’”
Hebrew literature has a glorious tradition of life in the Diaspora, but does German culture?
Hauenstein: “Yes, and within Germany there is German literature that has other sources. Here in my neighborhood, Neukölln, there is culture that is produced by the descendants of immigrants from Arab countries; that is Germany, but different. What is German culture? It’s an interesting process that is taking place here now, and it’s important to ask questions about it. Apart from this, we wanted to go beyond the usual German-Israeli dialogue.”
“We wanted to go with a cultural dialogue in both languages, to provide a stage where intriguing artists could publish their works. It is a format that allows us to present content that is beyond the usual boundaries of journalism – poetry, opinions, interviews. We try to challenge the readers and to give them something different and interesting,” says Hauenstein.
The first seeds of the project were sown back in 2011. Hauenstein, 30, came to Israel to work as a German-to-English translator at Tel Aviv University’s Minerva Humanities Center. He landed in July, at around the start of that summer’s social protests. Hauenstein had some journalism experience and soon found himself reporting on the protests for German media outlets. He fell in love with Hebrew and began learning the language, and for a few years frequently traveled back and forth.
During this period, Hauenstein began working at the Jaffa-based i24 television news channel. He wrote in English – his pieces were translated into French and Hebrew – and found himself fascinated by the process by which “what I wrote changed merely as a result of being translated into a different language and culture. I wrote, for example, about the debate that developed in Germany over the attempt to prohibit the wearing of the burka in France, and it was fascinating for me to see how the meaning changes and how the piece changes merely because of the language that the reader chooses,” he says.
When he focused on learning Hebrew, he discovered what he says is the similarity between the two languages. He says both of these topics “thrilled me. I began thinking about the bilingual idea, about a culture magazine that is published in Israel and Germany, and that it takes place in both languages.”
Gov, 27, moved to Berlin around five years ago, earned a bachelor’s degree in film studies, lived in France for a year and resumed his studies. For the past three years, he has worked as an assistant to artist Bartana and as a translator. When the work on the magazine began in earnest, thanks to funding from the German-Israeli Future Forum, Gov signed on.
Do you understand the interest that German culture holds for Hebrew culture, and vice versa?
Gov: “It’s mainly the distance from and proximity to World War II and the Holocaust: It’s far enough away for my generation not to be frightening, to be intriguing and for it to be okay to ask and be interested in. On the other hand, it’s close enough to hold interest and be relevant. This is the time when there can be a flowering in this regard, it’s sufficiently far and sufficiently close to talk about.”
Hauenstein: “Germans and Israelis, at least in our generation, have something in common. We are like twins in terms of the weight that we carry and contend with. It’s a bit of a fetish for members of our generation, we search out the closeness. Apart from that, there are also ties that are less clichéd: German culture influenced Hebrew culture from the very beginning. Germans are not always aware of this deep connection, of the fact that they use Yiddish words on a daily basis.”
The next issue of Aviv is scheduled for publication in November. Gov and Hauenstein hope to maintain the pace of two issues a year.