Where: Am Sandtorkai 48, 20457 Hamburg
Read more: www.amerikazentrum.de
Whether you plan on spending some time in the US, want to get to know the country and its culture (no, that’s not an oxymoron – Ed) or are simply trying to improve your English language skills: The Amerikazentrum in Hamburg’s HafenCity is the place to go. tba spoke with Manfred Strack, Chairman of the Amerikazentrum.
tba: Mr. Strack, what exactly is the Amerikazentrum?
MS: The AZ is the follow-up institution to the Amerika-Haus which was closed in 1997. The AZ was founded that same year as a registered not-for-profit association (eingetragener gemeinnütziger Verein) with the aim of continuing some of the functions of the Amerika-Haus. Back then, a large library was an essential part of the AZ. This, however, has changed. The growing importance of the internet led to a decreased demand for books and our current premises could not accommodate a large library. Right now we are working on a new concept for our library, i.e. we might specialize in aspects such as the Hamburg-Chicago relationship or create media bundles with material related to the “Abitur” exams of the Northern Federal States. This would be a concrete service to the schools.
tba: What kinds of events take place in the AZ?
MS: Due to our move to a new location and the construction works involved, we just started hosting events in September 2010. On the one hand there is a lot of cooperation with German publishers who want to promote their American authors. Recently, Rebecca Skloot was here to read from her book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the true story of an African-American woman whose cells were – without her knowledge – the first to be immortalised and commercialized. Then we had David Vann, who read from Sukkwan Island. On the other hand we host exhibitions such as “The Civil Rights Struggle, African-American GIs, and Germany”, which is part of a research project that looks at the Civil Rights Movement from a new international perspective. Sometimes we even organize concerts: Recently we had a piano player from Chicago, and we just had a jazz night with a band called the Jazz-O-Maniacs.
tba: Why might the AZ be of interest to students from the University of Hamburg?
MS: Well, looking at the events we see that the AZ is a place to meet authentic American authors, a place to have real encounters with real people. Other than that, the AZ – as an independent institution – deals with studying and working in the US. We give people practical advice on how to do it, where to get scholarships, what the restrictions are and so on. We offer preparatory classes for the TOEFL [a standardized test of English that many colleges demand, tba], and of course the TOEFL itself. There is the monthly lecture “Studying in the USA” which tells people how to get into a North American college, and those who would like a personal session with our counselor can make an appointment with him as well. Furthermore, we offer a lot of information material about North American universities and colleges.
tba: Does the AZ cooperate with the University of Hamburg? If so, in what form?
MS: Yes we do. First and foremost we work together with the IAA [Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik], but also with historians and political scientists. In the summer semester there will be a jointly organized lecture series which deals with migration and American culture. The lecture series will be open to the public and thus we want to build a bridge from the University to the city. I believe that the United States, as a prototypical immigration country, can provide experience and knowledge from which we can learn.
tba: If students or young people would like to actively participate in the work of the AZ, how could they do so?
MS: We generally offer internships at the AZ. After the usual application process we decide whether he or she fits into the AZ. Interns should carry out and attend to a certain project while they are here. We usually discuss a couple of ideas and then jointly determine the nature and scope of the project. Since we organize so many different events we prefer applicants from the Hamburg area, as they are the ones who we might call if help is needed here.
tba: The AZ stands for intercultural exchange and understanding. Why, in your opinion, is it important to deal with other cultures in general, and with the United States in particular?
MS: Well, intercultural exchange is more important than ever. Nowadays you are always in contact with other cultures, and the USA in particular is one nation that cannot be ignored. For historical reasons the USA has become a vital partner for Germany. The U.S. has had an enormous impact on German culture after the war, and there is hardly an issue that is not in some way related to the United States. The country is fascinating, even with – or because of – all its seeming contradictions. Being an immigration country, the USA shows a dynamic creativity which grows out of the encounters of so many different cultures. It is fascinating.
tba: What do you think, just very generally, of the current situation in the US and its relation to Germany?
MS: I think the Unites States is in a period of transition. After eight years of Bush there was a longing for change. Despite, or because of his biography, Obama was a fitting candidate. He certainly saw the wish for change and launched a very effective campaign, especially through the internet. But following the high expectations that were condensed in words like “change” or “yes we can” there was something like a reality check, and he came to see that politics of a super power are not that easy. Just take Guantanamo, which he planned to shut down. As to its relations to Germany, I think Germany is still the US’ most important partner in Europe. Of course, relations have changed since the wall fell, and Germany does not occupy such a prominent position in US foreign policy anymore, but in most areas the relationship is alive and well, just take the many American cultural goods such as literature or the movies. Even when Chancellor Schröder and Bush did not talk to each other, people still went to see American movies and German-American trade was not affected.
tba: What are your short term and long term plans for the AZ?
MS: Well, in the short term we would like to offer an attractive program, i.e. we want to cover exciting and current issues alongside a solid base program that includes our language courses and so on. From time to time a highlight would be nice, a famous person for example. In the long run it would be nice to see the AZ as a firmly established institution in Northern Germany. Whenever you think of the USA in our area, the AZ should be among the first things that come to your mind. Furthermore, I would like to see the Hamburg-Chicago partnership strengthened.
tba: Thank you very much for the interview.
Marius Städler (tba* interviewer)