EnetEnglish.gr, 17:04 Thursday 29 August 2013
Prestigious Goethe medal for author Petros Markaris
Goethe Institute honours Athens-based author
Author Petros Markaris picks up Goethe medal for his 'distinguished contribution to the German language and international cultural relations'
Germany has awarded its prestigious Goethe medal to Athens-based author and translator Petros Markaris for his "distinguished contribution to the German language and international cultural relations".
Markaris, 76, received the award at a ceremony in Weimar on Wednesday evening, an event attended by Germany's deputy foreign minister, Cornelia Pieper.
An official decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany, the medal is a yearly prize given by the Goethe Institute, which promotes German language and culture worldwide, honouring non-Germans for meritorious contributions in the spirit of the institute.
Organisers said that Markaris was recognised for his role as an intermediary in Greek-German relations and for "maintaining a clear, analytic eye on both countries, even at times of crisis".
Speaking at the ceremony, journalist Christiane Schloetzer, Athens and Istanbul correspondent for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, said that many Germans have forgotten that while they went soul-searching in Greece like Goethe did, they left catastrophes behind them, referring to the second world war massacres of civilians in the towns of Kalavryta, Kommeno and Distomo by Wehrmacht troops.
"The fact that Greeks were among the first labourers to help Germany create its economic miracle in the 1960s seems unbelievable, given the historic events. But many Greeks also wanted to forget; they didn't have another choice, after all," said Schloetzer, citing Markaris that "Greeks understood the culture of poverty very well, but are missing the culture of affluence".
Accepting his award, Markaris spoke of his 65-year-old love for and devotion to the German language and literature, which was due to his father who pushed him to learn German.
He also expressed appreciation for Istanbul, his native city, as a meeting point of cultures which "awoke my interest in building bridges between cultures", and for Athens, which he has called home for the last 50 years, a place where his two languages, Greek and German, come together.
"I consider myself a liaison between Germany and Greece and between German and Greek literatures, and this would not have been possible without Athens," he added, where his identity as a writer and intermediary was shaped.
Born in 1937, Makaris is renowned for his detective novels starring the grumpy Athenian police investigator Costas Haritos.
Other recipients awarded with the medal on Wednesday were Iranian translator and author Mahmoud Hosseini Zad and Indian publisher Naveen Kishore.
Goethe Institute president Klaus-Dieter Lehmann called the prize recipients "passionate ambassadors of books in the German language".
The Goethe Medal was first awarded in 1954 and was adopted as an official state award in 1975. It is awarded on August 28, the anniversary of the German writer's birth.
Abridged version of the commemorative speech held for Petros Markaris in Weimar by Christiane Schloetzer, the Istanbul and Athens correspondent for the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, at the awarding of the Goethe medal:
A good ten years ago, a Greek friend of mine placed the first detective novel by Petros Markaris in my hands: Hellas Channel. "Read this!" he said. "Then you'll understand our country better." That is how I got to know Inspector Costas Haritos, the cantankerous murder investigator with a gentle soul who crumbles in the face of his superiors, then deftly ignores their orders. I surmised that this anti-hero with a love of simple Mediterranean fare must be the author's alter ego.
Far from it! Petros Markaris doesn't chug through the Athens traffic jams in a rickety Fiat Mirafiori, now mere legend since the crisis. Markaris doesn't drive at all. He conquers Athens' asphalt jungle on foot. Yes, per pedes, me ta podia! The author is a big city flâneur, who, like Karl Kraus, is a professional pedestrian. How un-Greek! But Markaris is also not a bourgeois Greek like his inspector; indeed he is not even Greek, at least not in the usual sense of the word.
The best way to track down this man – who always seems to be in motion – is to follow in his footsteps, for example by reading his city guidebook Quer durch Athen. I doubt that any writer has recently given any European capital a more loving and informative portrait. Markaris explores the centre and suburbs of Athens along the Ilektrikos, the over-100-year-old city railway. He only gets excited about those districts where opposites are more than obvious, where "faux leather jackets and fur coats" stroll side-by-side, where cheap amusement shanties and squat houses of refugees from Asia Minor have survived between bourgeois villas. Markaris is bored when everything is sleek.
City wanderer Markaris may be walking about Athens, where he has lived since the mid-1960s, but he always has another indelible map in his head: that of Istanbul. That is where Petros Markaris, for whom Armenian was the father tongue and Greek the mother tongue, learned his southern-sounding German at the Austrian Sankt-Georgs-Kolleg.
His Istanbul roots gave him an inner distance to his chosen home of Greece, lending Petros Markaris's books their ironic, sarcastic tone and making the author such a clear-sighted commentator of the crisis years in Greece. The simple patriotic reflex does not work for him. "I stand by Brecht," he says, "rather than loving my home, I describe its character." This has made Markaris a mediator between the fronts, an ambassador without portfolio, in times rife with misunderstandings and moroseness. Germans and Greeks have not railed against one another, mutually misunderstood one another like this for more than half a century. Markaris asks himself why for many Greeks Germans have suddenly become Nazis again when they were only recently received with open arms, and why conversely German tabloids so bluntly agitate against the "slackers" in the south.
Anyone who speaks with him knows how painful this is to him. He repeatedly reminds the people of Greece that millions of their fellow citizens were themselves refugees from Asia Minor. And he asks the Germans not to add fuel to the flames. "Both sides would benefit very much," wrote Markaris, "if the Greeks would add a tad more reason to their passion and Germans a tad more compassion to their reason."
Petros Markaris's father, a merchant in the Istanbul of 1948, saw German as the language of the future. His father was "sorely mistaken" says Markaris. But the choice of a school and a language later took him to Vienna where he chose to study Greek literature on the grounds that he could never imitate elegant Viennese German. In Greece many did not discover Markaris until his novels became bestsellers in German translation. It was less well known that he previously wrote very successful plays and TV screenplays and was a congenial co-author with his friend, film director Theo Angelopoulos. Not to mention the translation of Goethe's Faust I and II, for which Markaris, as he says, "sacrificed five years of his life".
As a crime thriller writer Markaris cites Georges Simenon and Ed McBain as his role models. They too recognized the genre's usefulness for social criticism. Even his pre-crisis novels were highly topical and explored recent history from the civil war to the military junta. Reading them will teach one a great deal about Greece.
Petros Markaris never seems to lose hope. He says, "When I look back at my life, I see that I lived in countries that repeatedly stood at a crossroads, meaning that they repeatedly started over again." Like Markaris himself.
Source: Goethe Institute