The author and visual artist Feridun Zaimoğlu hates Berlin and loves Kiel. We had the opportunity to ask him why, and now know why he writes and how he reacts to criticism of his work.
Feridun Zaimoğlu, we are in Berlin-Mitte. Do you like it here?
To put it bluntly, no! Berlin-Mitte is a zombie zone. Every time I come here, I walk around looking for pictures and can’t find any. I need pictures. And what do I see? Nothing! The girls all look the same and think they are being original; the boys all read the same magazines. Everyone is wearing Acne Jeans and reading Italian Vogue and they are all busy buying awful batik rubbish. Berlin-Mitte is hip, that’s the problem. Being hip kills any kind of originality.
You live in Kiel. I suppose you prefer it there?
Oh, Kiel was always crap. I love Kiel! I moved there in 1984. I got a place at university to study medicine. Then I fell in love with a woman, it lasted three years; then the next relationship happened and the third, and suddenly ten years had gone by. Today, it’s been thirty years. The reason I’m still in Kiel is the sea, the harbour and the seagulls. That smell! It’s just great! It smells of seaweed and iodine and everything to do with the sea. The Baltic Sea is not just any sea; it has a very special character. The water where Kiel lies is not sweet, it is dark and shifty. It can change at any time. I am a romantic, I like that. And then there’s the North German countryside, as flat as it is, and the sky stretched out above. Fuck! The sky, the water and the storms get to me every time. I am the kind of person who enjoys having the rain whip around my face on a forced hike in the dark. So, yes, I love Kiel, the North German aura and everything that goes with it.
You were enrolled to study medicine in Kiel. Why did you become an author instead of a doctor?
My parents were bloody hard workers and they always told my sister and me: You are going to have a better life than us. So I was to be a doctor and my sister was supposed to study political science and become a diplomat. That didn’t work out. I’m a writer and she’s an actress. I didn’t finish my medical degree. My dream was to become a painter. And in fact, I did make some sort of living as an artist for eleven years. I did everything from acrylic to I don’t know what.
And why do you write these days?
I suffer from anxiety, and writing calms me. Everyone knows what it is like to be constantly restless. I don’t want to end up poisoning myself and have managed to find an antidote. It’s not as if I gave up painting to become a writer. I still paint. It’s my dream to be an artist. It’s just that I am better-known for my writing.
How do you deal with criticism of your work as a writer?
Unfortunately, it’s not just a little bit of criticism; I always get a great deal. No one could really cope with that amount of criticism and neither can I. However, I have developed several strategies, so as not to take criticism to heart: I go for long walks or look for challenges away from writing, I paint or draw.
Your novels often express a sense of melancholy or gloom. »Hinterland«, for example, is a romantic, sometimes sinister dream world. What does this tell us about Feridun Zaimoğlu?
I am a bit of everything: hate, change, anger, pessimism and much more. I’m old-fashioned, whatever that means. I believe in God, and say so. But my faith is more like a child’s faith and not determined by theology. And I love mankind, even if I’d like to shoot us all at times. I’m just an old-fashioned, uncouth humanist. You have to hate the right things and love the right things like crazy and then a moment later you’ve got to clean the bathroom or get your hair cut. Right, now I’ve told you all about me. Let’s go and have a cigarette!