There’s this idea that everything we do, that every human action is motivated by two things: love or fear.
I don’t know if that’s true. But I like the idea. I use it often. Very often. Both on myself and others. But I didn’t think of it it when I was asked to write a lead column on ‘Togetherness’. At least not at first. First, I was surprised.
Why me? I know far less about togetherness than about hierarchy und competition. I’ve lived in Germany for thirty-five years now and have developed, fought for, paid off, claimed and occasionally cheated for a kind of ‘living next to each other’.
But maybe this story begins somewhere else. Maybe it starts in my grandparents’ house, where there was this room where the door was always locked. It was a large imposing room on the first floor, with a glass wall overlooking the courtyard. Possibly the nicest room in the house. There was a chesterfield suite covered with bedspreads to protect it from dust. The best carpet in the house was rolled up in here – for the same reason.
Every now and again the door was unlocked, the carpet was rolled out and the bedspreads disappeared. The table was set and sumptuously spread. The room was sprinkled with rose water. Because now we had guests. And welcoming those guests was a serious matter. Our reputation was measured by the warmth of our hearts, by our hospitality. By our welcoming gestures, by the length of their stay. We offered a lot; the guests accepted little. For their reputation was also measured by how they were able to strike the right balance: by not accepting too much, not taking too little; by not leaving too early but not staying too long.
I don’t know how much this locked room taught me, but its lessons went beyond hospitality, duty and privilege. This room taught me about style, elegance and the interplay of dignity and moderation.
In sixty-eight something changed for us. We came to Germany and became guests who were not able to define what the right balance was. We couldn’t leave when our hosts yawned, opened windows or began to clean up around us. And that is what affected our dignity; we had to rely on goodwill, understanding and concessions.
And that was far from what we discovered. We experienced a morose, reluctant, disrespectful, cynical, neurotic and sometimes violent host. The best we got was apathy. We adapted to hierarchy und competition. Germany – possibly the only country where ‘You are a guest here’ sounds like a threat – had no love to offer: But we hadn’t come for love: we had left out of fear.
And now we were the reason for new fear. All the expressions used to describe us had their origin in criminology, suspicion, and natural disasters: asylum fraud, the alien problem, the wave of refugees, inundation, flood, economic refugees, social parasites.
Translation: Malte Hahs & Ian Watson
Behzad Karim Khani
was born in 1977 in Teheran, his family came to Germany in 1986. He studied media sciences and lives in Berlin-Kreuzberg today. There, he writes and runs the Lugosi-Bar. For his novel Hund, Wolf, Schakal (2022) he was awarded the Debütpreis of Harbour Front Literaturfestival. He came to Bremen for globale° 2022.