Festival of Hope 2 / 27 February 2021

The City Was Empty

Q&A with Authors

Festival od Hope 2

Eight authors, six continents, one narrative. Amid the coronavirus lockdown, writers from all over the world write a story – together. 

“Literature always helps”

Back in late March, when we were planning this issue, the world had come to a standstill all of a sudden: Lockdowns had been imposed in many countries, including in Canada, which was the original theme of the issue. We asked ourselves: what should we publish at a juncture when people are still struggling to grasp what is going on around them? Then we thought: Literature.

Literature somehow helps in those moments when reality gets wilder than fantasy. And so we decided, for once, not to stick to our usual approach of reporting on cultural exchange (in German KULTURAUSTAUSCH). Instead we opted to kickstart our own cultural exchange project. In a crisis situation, where states began cutting themselves off from each other, we wanted to forge a narrative connection across the continents: sending a story around the world. And so we invited eight writers to create a story together. Only the first sentence was set in stone: “The city was empty.”

From then on, a narrative unfolded, from Serhij Zhadan in Ukraine to Mathias Énard in France Tope Folarin in the USA, continue to Glenn Diaz in the Philippines, Patricia Grace in New Zealand, Yvonne Owuor in Kenya and Claudia Piñeiro in Argentina all the way to Ben Okri in Great Britain. We've translated every piece from its original language into German and English. The German version of the story is in our printed magazine and the English version will be uploaded, chapter by chapter, online. The story charts a historic catastrophe that stretches far into the future - and which repeatedly snakes back to the present too. Brought to life by illustrations by the wonderful artist Elisabeth Moch, dive in and immerse yourself!

Jenny Friedrich-Freksa


Ben Okri
Claudia Piñera
Glenn Diaz
Adhiambo Owuor


Kulturaustausch - the world in one magazine

In every issue we focus on one theme and invite authors from around the world to explore it from their unique perspective: How is the climate-change debate unfolding in Brazil? How do people in France mull over migration and home? Who is the leading voice on feminism in Ethiopia? Leading international names are featured alongside local voices, giving insight into their day-to-day. We stand for diversity, internationality and a close-up take on journalism, making KULTURAUSTAUSCH the magazine for international perspectives.

KULTURAUSTAUSCH is published by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e. V. and CONBRIO Verlag in a public-private partnership and financially supported by the Federal Foreign Office. The publisher is Ronald Grätz, Secretary General of the ifa. Jenny Friedrich-Freksa has been the editor-in-chief of the journal since 2005. The magazine is published four times a year and reaches readers in more than 100 countries. It is available on subscription or can be bought in selected magazine stores in Germany.

Founded in 1951, the magazine started out under the name MITTEILUNGEN and from 1962 to 2006 as ZEITSCHRIFT FÜR KULTURAUSTAUSCH. Over the years it has published articles and interviews with leading figures from across the spheres of culture, media, science, politics and society, featuring Swetlana Alexijewitsch, Kofi Annan, Noam Chomsky, Teju Cole, Siri Hustvedt, Eva Illouz, Pankaj Mishra, Marie NDiaye, Laurie Penny, Saskia Sassen and Charles Taylor among others. Each magazine features a stand-out photo gallery showcasing international photographers such as Edward Burtynsky, Martin Parr or Lord Snowdon. Art Director Heike Reinsch won the Red Dot Design Award in the Communication Design category for her design of the "What Remains of War" edition. Starting in 2019, KULTURAUSTAUSCH has also been published online in English.

Editorial board
An advisory board including experts from the spheres of politics, science, media and culture advises the editorial staff on the selection of the main topics.

Johannes Ebert, Goethe Institute General Secretary, Munich

Prof. Dr. Naika Foroutan, Political scientist, Humboldt University, Berlin

Theo Geißler, Publisher, Regensburg  Martina Hackelberg, Foreign Office, Berlin

Jagoda Marinić, Writer and journalist, Heidelberg

Evelyn Roll, Journalist, Berlin

Ebba Scholl, Federal Foreign Office, Berlin

Dr. Claudia Schmölders, Cultural scientist, Berlin

Aleš Šteger, author, Ljubljanaris Fioretos, author, Stockholm