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Wladimir Kaminer: "I have no goals"

Wladimir Kaminer: "I have no goals"
Photo: © Jan Kopetzky

One knows him: Vladimir Kaminer. He turns 50 next year. 26 years ago he came to Berlin from Moscow, started writing at the age of 32 and has published 26 books. He now lives half of his life in Berlin. And half of his life he lives in Prenzlauer Berg. We met the author for a talk: Why did he come to Berlin? How does he experience the change in the city today and how does he think about the current situation in Russia? 

Interview Jens Thomas


CCB Magazine: Hello Vladimir, I'm happy to have the chance to talk to you. Is it always so easy to make an appointment with you?

Wladimir Kaminer: Oh, when I'm here and I have time, of course. The sun is shining and we can talk. I like to talk.

CCB Magazine: You have been in Berlin for 26 years now. You came to Berlin from Moscow in 1990. Why did you choose Berlin?

Wladimir Kaminer: I just wanted to get away. And when we in Moscow heard that the former GDR, which at that time still legally existed, would accept Jews from the Soviet Union as humanitarian refugees, I left. By train and with Michael, Michael is a friend of mine. I am a Jew and for me that meant that we could get a right to stay here in Germany. Otherwise I would simply call my way to Berlin an escape.

CCB Magazine: Escape from what?

Wladimir Kaminer: I moved out of my parents' house very early at the age of 14, I was a hippie. Do you know a hippie who still lives at home?

CCB Magazine: Not sure, maybe.

Wladimir Kaminer: Well, that doesn't exist in Russia. But that was actually not the reason. For me, Russia was like a prison. And when you break out of a prison, you don't think about where you're going to escape to, the main thing is to get away. I could have gone to Paris or New York back then. I went to Berlin instead.

I would call my way to Berlin an escape

CCB Magazine: How did you experience Berlin when you first arrived?

Wladimir Kaminer: That was great! I remember it very well, it was the day of the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina 1990 in Italy. Germany became world champion. Today 26 years ago! Michael and I were sitting in the train and didn't know anything. When we got off, everyone was celebrating. At first we thought that maybe it had something to do with the fall of the wall, because it had to be such a formative experience for the people here and people were simply still happy. So many great people at once, we thought, and everyone is so nice to us foreigners. And everywhere there was free alcohol, in every pub. That could have remained in such a way.

CCB Magazine: What happened then?

Wladimir Kaminer: I moved with Michael to Lychenerstr. 73 in Prenzlauer Berg. At that time, Berlin was simply a free territory, especially in East Berlin; Berlin was an interest group. Here in this street there was one pub after another, with readings, and each pub was a meeting place. Lectures were held, films were shown, people discussed. An immense empty space was created during this time. And in this gap, between the old and the new, between East and West, people were able to rearrange themselves and develop in a new way.

CCB Magazine: Did you miss Russia back then?

Wladimir Kaminer: No, I was 23 and a growing man! I wanted out. And the Russian society at that time was changing rapidly, to the negative. The Russian Federation began in 1992, and the internal political conflicts increased. At that time Yeltsin violently suppressed uprisings, until Russia slipped into insolvency in 1998. My father's generation was very much overtaxed by this. Moreover, we were dissidents, in a closed country. I am an adventurer, a wanderer, I had to move on.

CCB Magazine: What did your parents say when you decided to leave?

Wladimir Kaminer: My father? He said: "Boy, go for it. You're going to Germany now. I'll hold the fort here!" My mother had no opinion at all at that time. She just kept piling up food and nailed the apartment up. A year later she visited me in Berlin and almost stayed. She could not believe how beautiful this place is.

CCB Magazine: You then became a writer. How did this come about?

Wladimir Kaminer: I have always loved to tell stories. And at some point I realized that the main products of people are their stories. Everything else is volatile. Look over here, the cars, in 20 years they will all be scrap. Today's food will be spoiled tomorrow and people will die anyway. But their stories, they stay. Provided they tell them to someone who writes these stories down and prepares them for an audience, so that the next generations will want to deal with these stories.

The main products of people are their stories. Everything else is volatile

CCB Magazine: Did you only start writing stories in Berlin?

Wladimir Kaminer: Yes, in 1997, I was 32. At the beginning I had only performed my stories on stage, at that time still on the reform stage Heim und Welt in Torstraße. At some point I was approached by a woman from Frahling and asked if I wanted to make a book out of it. That's how it all began.

CCB Magazine: You still live in Prenzlauer Berg. Isn't that boring in the long run?

Wladimir Kaminer: Oh no, I really like it here! I've also moved six times at Prenzlauer Berg.

CCB Magazine: Why didn't you go to the West then? Are you afraid of the West?

Wladimir Kaminer: Now that you ask, a little. The West is somehow scary for me, that's probably a quirk of mine. Tiergarten, Schöneberg, Charlottenburg, that's so incredibly musty, don't you think? There are hours when there is nobody on the streets. There's always something going on here in Prenzlauer Berg: music, the people, I like that.

CCB Magazine: But also the neighborhood here has changed.

Wladimir Kaminer: Oh, yeah, where? Show me a reasonable expensive restaurant in this shitty Prenzlauer Berg! I can't find one here for 25 years. We still have five kebabs, four Vietnamese and three Indians in this street that promise successful poisoning. Where is it, the gentrification?

CCB Magazine: Prices have been rising for years.

Wladimir Kaminer: For apartments yes, but the beer still costs 1 Euro something in the late afternoon. There are a lot of children here, that's true. The people multiply incredibly well. I like that. I like children. I have some myself, my son is 17 now. For me a residential area should be just like here when you have children. You can't live in ghostly areas like Zehlendorf or Grunewald. That reminds me somehow of the Soviet Union.

Zehlendorf or Grunewald: That reminds me somehow of the Soviet Union

CCB Magazine: In what way?

Wladimir Kaminer: Also in Russia it's often spooky on the streets, for example in Moscow you can find many men on the streets with a preference for extreme sports. That is spooky.

CCB Magazine: Could you imagine going back to Russia some day?

Wladimir Kaminer: Not really, and the longer I'm here, the more I like this country. Usually people are caught in a dilemma between their needs and their possibilities. The needs are usually greater than the possibilities. The Germans reconcile this. They do not want more than they can, and they cannot want more than they can. In the long run, this is a very sensible thing to do. In Russia, on the other hand, people no longer even ask themselves what they might actually want. It's like with a bird: if you keep hitting a bird's wings for a thousand years, at some point it no longer feels like using its wings. When asked about the wings, the bird then says: What kind of wings? Huh, never heard of them. Wings? That's the way it is in Russia. Russia is a country without history. In Russia, history has been rewritten, bent, put in order according to current political events, packed into archives and twisted so often that at some point no one knew what had actually happened. You then have naked people on naked earth, without a past.

CCB Magazine: How do you feel about the current situation there. Does it scare you?

Wladimir Kaminer: It can be dangerous for anyone who criticizes Russia at present. Many Russian artists who criticize the state end up in jail. Especially recently, many laws have been passed that pose a danger to every single citizen. And the more inhumane a regime is, the more one looks at formalities, so that one can say, yes, look at the West, that's all legal what we do here, we just stick to the rules, but the rules are made by us. I honestly don't know how dangerous Russia is at the moment. In such a propaganda war you can never really find out the truth. Most of what is said is like a cloud of dust. You never know what is behind it.

CCB Magazine: Is story writing a means for you to deal with this kind of truth in a humorous way?

Wladimir Kaminer: Yes totally! One laughs about the tragedies of life, that's important and healthy. Otherwise, life is a total dead end.

Laughing about the tragedies of life is important and healthy. Otherwise life is a dead end

CCB Magazine: Vladimir, what's next?

Wladimir Kaminer: I change my employer every few years. I currently write for the magazine Abenteuer und Reisen, and for EPD, the Protestant Press Service. For EPD I write film reviews and have a column. I have been doing that for a few years now. Apart from that I have no goals. I never had any before. I always have only certain moments of happiness and creativity and let everything come to me. Maybe next year I'll go to Russia and shoot a film about the current situation there. And right now I'm on a reading tour. Do you want to come?

CCB Magazine: With pleasure! My parents are here right now, but I'll figure it out.

Wladimir Kaminer: Alright, Jens.

CCB Magazine: Wladimir, thank you for the interview.

Wladimir Kaminer: Thank you.

All informations about Wladimir Kaminer:

Category: When I moved to Berlin


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