Culture connection: Irish arts events to build bridges with Germany and update image

Year-long Zeitgeist Irland 24 programme will feature more than 200 events of concerts, exhibitions and plays

Ireland has unveiled a year-long programme of arts events next year in Germany to build new cultural bridges and to update its image.

The Zeitgeist Irland 24 programme of more than 200 events of concerts, exhibitions and plays represents a joint investment of more than €2.5 million by Culture Ireland and the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“People will be nicely surprised by the diversity of what modern Ireland has to say for itself,” said Sharon Barry, director of Culture Ireland, at the launch in Berlin. Backed by a Tourism Ireland advertising campaign, she hopes the year creates a legacy of “networks of strong collaborations between artists’ institutions”.

Part of a post-Brexit push to build closer and deeper Irish-German ties, the festival comes amid divergent views between Dublin and Berlin on the Israel/Hamas conflict. That has been reflected, too, in the cultural world.

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Three weeks ago Irish group Lankum saw a German concert cancelled in a dispute over its solidarity with Gaza civilians. Amid a growing wave of cancelled events and artists in Germany, Zeitgeist Irland 24 participants will not be asked to avoid any issues.

Irish Ambassador to Germany Dr Nicholas O’Brien said next year’s programme was “very much about presenting Irish art in Germany”.

“Any event is a collaboration between the artist and the presenter,” said Dr O’Brien. “And the presenter will have an understanding of the environment in which they are operating.”

While Ireland will cover presentation costs – including travel and accommodation expenses – performance fees and other arrangements are subject to contract directly between the artist and the venue.

Tension has been building in the German art and performance worlds over freedom of speech and artistic response to the October 7th Hamas attack on Israel. The selection committee for the next Documenta contemporary art show walked out over concerns about “diverse perspectives, perceptions and discourses” in Germany.

Last week a leading contemporary photo exhibition was cancelled after organisers described a curator’s social media posts as anti-Semitic.

The most high-profile cancellation to date is an upcoming show with South African artist Candice Breitz after organisers said she had “not clearly recognised Hamas’s terror as a rupture of civilisation”.

Ms Breitz, who is Jewish, says she has “condemned Hamas loudly and unequivocally on a number of occasions” and said the “level of German self-righteousness is beyond absurd” on the Israel-Hamas war.

Should disputes arise between Irish artists and venues next year, in particular on Israel-Hamas, the Irish Embassy says it has no plans to intervene.

Despite the current tensions, well-established Irish artists in Germany are hopeful Zeitgeist Irland 24 will create opportunities and change perspectives in both directions.

For singer and performer Wallis Bird, her adoptive home of Berlin is a place “freedom and responsibility ... which made me feel really open and inspired”.

“The way people think here is slow and intuitive,” she said, “and I like that.”

Dancer and choreographer Sheena McGrandles is developing MINT: A Folk Opera on Money based on her journey from working class Belfast to the contemporary art scene in Berlin.

Living in Germany, she says, has helped her “develop a criticality around my work ... thinking about dance in a more expanded form”.

Ahead of a staged kick-off on January 18th in Berlin, performance highlights next year include the Purcell opera Dido and Aeneas, directed by Patrick Mason, in a semi-staged production by Opera Collective Ireland and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin.

Playwright Deirdre Kinahan will use a residency in Mainz to develop a play about the 1709 transport of more than 3,000 Palatine migrants to Ireland.

Among the music highlights are an Irish band showcase and a festival of new Irish music on top of the regular Other Voices x Haldern festival of indie and pop music.

Writer Audrey Magee, participating in February’s Brigidsfest of female creativity, sees a chance to continue a dialogue that began with German writer Heinrich Böll’s 1957 Irish Journal, largely set on Achill Island.

“He wrote about his idyll of Ireland ... but the Irish people went against him, saying ‘we don’t want that’,” said Ms Magee, author of The Undertaking, a novel set during the second World War in Berlin. She hopes Zeitgeist Irland 24 “will be a continuation of this dialogue with Heinrich Böll that goes on today”.

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