Eva Schweitzer, is a seasoned journalist, author and founder of the Berlin based publishing company Berlinica Publishing, which introduces English-language books about Berlin to Americans. Bi-continental and always on the move, we had to belt along to catch up with Eva in NYC before she boards her next flight back to Berlin.
S2S: Your career as a journalist started in Berlin, writing for the taz and the Tagesspiegel before you moved to New York nearly 15 years ago. What made you decide to live in the Big Mango?
Eva Schweitzer: I came to New York City for a Ph. D. I‘m a major in American Culture—yes, that exists!—and my thesis was on the Disneyfication of Times Square. I went back to Berlin, and after I was done with the Ph. D., I decided to come to New York again and stay. Little did I know that I would be running my own publishing company, Berlinica, devoted to all things Berlin, in New York today. So, now, I’m splitting my time between New York and Berlin. It is a lot less glamorous than it sounds, though.
S2S: Now, Times Square, that’s a place in New York City that is beloved by all New Yorkers – Not! Is there any hope for Times Square? Or is it intentionally only attractive to tourists who seek the spectacle?
Eva Schweitzer: Times Square is the commercial heart of the city and it was always the heart of the entertainment industry, also on a national scale. Everything has been, or is, headquartered here; Broadway, TV, newspapers, movie theaters, film studios, book publishing — Bertelsmann is on Times Square or nearby, the New York Times, Viacom, CNN, News Corp. The run-down state of the 1970s was just transitory and partly fueled by real estate greed.
S2S: Is it true that when you’re in New York, you live in a hotel near Times Square where Lee Harvey Oswald stayed? Coincidence?
Eva Schweitzer: I walked by the place and decided I wanted to live here. I applied, and only three years later they got back to me, and after a lengthy application process, I moved in. It is not a hotel any more, though, it’s a residential building. The Lee Harvey Oswald thing is coincidence, of course. I did, however, meet Oliver Stone quite recently. He does not think Oswald did it.
S2S: Your publishing company, “Berlinica Publishing” introduces English-language Berlin books to Americans. What is your best-selling book, so far?
Eva Schweitzer: It’s “Rocking the Wall. Bruce Springsteen: The Berlin Concert That Changed the World.” The book is about a legendary concert The Boss gave in East Berlin in 1988. It was attended by half a million East Germans who were ready to storm the Wall after that experience. The author is Erik Kirschbaum, a Berlin-based Reuters correspondent from New York. So, it’s about an American in Berlin. After that, I have been thinking about a book on Michael Jackson in Berlin. There were quite a few famous Americans in Berlin, by the way, starting with W.E.B. Dubois.
S2S: What other kind of books do you publish? Do you also do fiction?
Eva Schweitzer: We have a book on a little know trip Mark Twain did to Berlin 1891 and a very funny story collection by Kurt Tucholsky, a German-Jewish writer of the 1920s. These are so-called narrative non-fiction books. We sell a travel guide, a picture collection of Berlin angels and a novel about the Wall, by Holly-Jane Rahlens, also a New Yorker in Berlin. And there is, of course, the history book “Jews in Berlin” and “The Berlin Cookbook.” It has nine different potato recipes.
S2S: Are you more devoted to literature than history books?
Eva Schweitzer: I find novels more interesting, but they are more difficult and more expensive than non-fiction. Translations costs a lot more, and it‘s a harder sell. Even if the author is well-known in Germany, Americans might not know him (or her). I still hope I can do more Berlin-themed novels in the future. I’m in talks with three Berlin-based authors right now, although I can’t disclose names.
S2S: Who is your readership and what are Americans mostly interested in?
Eva Schweitzer: I don’t know our actual readership, since our books are sold by Amazon and Barnes&Noble, but I know what is interesting to Americans: the Nazis, World War II, the Berlin Wall and how it came down. This is why we have a book on the Cold War and a book with pictures of whats left of the Berlin Wall. Right now, we are preparing a book with never-seen black-and-white pictures of 1945s Berlin. It is very harrowing. Hard to imagine that the city once looked like that.
S2S: What else are your plans with Berlinica Publishing for 2014?
Eva Schweitzer: We are preparing a second Tucholsky book, “Rheinsberg.” When it was originally published, it was regarded as the first modern love story of the 20th century. We are also publishing a book about an enchanted girl from Brandenburg who travels with animals, and speaks to magical creatures. Part of it takes place in pre-war Berlin, and a magical mermaid from the Spree shows up. We are also planning a second book with Erik Kirschbaum, about German-Americans in World War I.
Eva Schweitzer: Manhattan Moments was published by Droemer-Knaur in Munich, it is in German. The stories are true, but a bit embellished and comically exaggerated. The book is following the adventures of five people in and around Times Square for one year, from the Chinese New Year to St. Patrick’s Day, the Coney Island summer, Halloween and Thanksgiving. But it’s not a real year; it starts after 9-11 and ends with the New York Times building been finished, which really happened about five years later. Also, some of the people are composite characters. The book is loosely based on my Ph. D. research, but a lot funnier.
S2S: You frequently report from America for Die Zeit, ZEIT Online, and other papers. What do you find the most puzzling about the United States and its politics?
Eva Schweitzer: I do not only report for papers, I also wrote two books on U.S. policies; the last one was on the Tea Party movement, also in German, with dtv. Interestingly, politics in the U.S. are largely ethnic. Politicians pander to groups depending on their ethnicity and flaunt their own ethnic heritage, even if they have to make that up. Also, everything in the U.S. is dual and either-or; liberal vs. conservative, urban vs rural. German politicians also fight, but Germany has a multi-party system, so it’s not black and white. We even have a wholly new party, the Pirates.
S2S: You also wrote books about Berlin, such as “Großbaustelle Berlin” (“Mass Construction Site Berlin”) and “Hauptstadtroulette” (“Capital City Gamble”). What are your thoughts on what has happened to Berlin since the Wall came down?
Eva Schweitzer: Berlin has really changed, in every respect. Not only did a huge construction wave start after the Wall came down—still going on—, also the population has been turned around. In Berlin, I live in a tenement in Prenzlauer Berg, When I moved in, everybody was from the East except one Turkish family. Now, there are only two Easterners (who have moved in later); but three people from France, one from Australia, one from Chile, and a German-American couple from San Diego. Everybody else is from either West Berlin or West Germany.
S2S: Your bio on the taz blog states tongue-in-cheek that you were part of the squatter movement in Berlin until you developed an allergy towards teargas. True?
Eva Schweitzer: Not only against tear gas, also against a certain type of know-it-all… However, when I came to Berlin in 1982, the squatter movement was mostly over. I squatted one house, but left after I found out that the middle apartment was covered one foot high with dead pigeons. Even worse than tear gas.
S2S: In retrospect do you consider the battle against development a lost cause? In regards to resistance, what could have been more effective if anything?
Eva Schweitzer: It was not a lost cause at all. The squatter movement of the 1970s was directed against city policies; the city wanted to clear old tenements to make room for inner-city highways. It had nothing to do with gentrification. That came much later. After the Wall came down, Westerners went to the East to prevent the Eastern authorities to destroy a really old neighborhood called the Spandauer Vorstadt. This succeeded as well. However, then the real estate market took off. The neighborhood is now wonderfully renovated, but very expensive.
S2S: How long have you been in Prenzlauer Berg? Love it or hate it at this point?
Eva Schweitzer: Since 1996, nearly 20 years. Before that, I lived in Schöneberg, and before that, in Kreuzberg. I still like it. Everything people complain about — too many kids, too many strangers, too many fancy restaurants —I like. It is very multicultural. In our tiny street alone we have a French wine store, an Irish-owned café, and a bookstore devoted to Spanish and Catalonian literature (in German). And a future Berlinica author who lives one street apart is an immigrant from Russia.
S2S: Isn’t it very convenient that you don’t even have to switch to German any longer when you are back in Berlin?! At this point, isn’t Berlin just another borough of New York or is there still something ‘typisch Berlin’?
Eva Schweitzer: I’m native German, why would I find it convenient to not speak German? Generally, the idea that you can get along in Berlin without speaking German is popular, but somewhat misguided. There are some Americans who don’t speak German but they mostly socialize among themselves. As for me, most of my Berlin friends have been with me since before the Wall came down. If I would suddenly speak English with them—or with my brother, for that matter—, they would consider my clinically insane. However, I have been approached in English in restaurants — always a sign that this is a touristy place. And Berlin and New York are quite different. I would not even know where to begin. Going from Manhattan to Prenzlauer Berg is like a vacation in the countryside.
S2S: Has you perception of Berlin changed since you are running Berlinica?
Eva Schweitzer: Berlinica is small, so I’m very hands-on and involved, hence I learned a lot about city history. One of the things I’ve not been aware of is how much the population has changed overall, not just since the Wall came down. In our house, only three people were born in Berlin, and all three have parents who were refugees to Berlin after 1945. And this is common. And not only did many new Berliners come, millions left. Western Germany is basically littered with ex-Berliners.
S2S: Now that Berlin is constantly hailed in the media as the most exciting city in Europe, do you find that there is more interest in Berlin’s history or is it all about where the best clubs and bars are located?
Eva Schweitzer: It is both. Younger visitors are more interested in clubs, older more in history. And with older, I mean over 25. There are a ton of historical tours just about everything. Really everything. I myself have thought of giving tours to some fake Hitler bunker for $500 per person. That would make me rich quick. But of course I would need to find a bunker, break in, repaint it and make sure I don’t get caught.
S2S: You travel back and forth quit a bit during the year. Do you feel equally at home in both cities? Do you have a similar network of friends in New York and Berlin?
Eva Schweitzer: I have more friends in Berlin (and also family near-by), but I also have friends in New York. My professional network is larger in New York; then again, New York is the capital of publishing. What bugs me most is the actual travelling. That can be straining as well as expensive, not to mention the time switch.
To learn more about Berlinica Publishing, click here.