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Art & Integration

ID Festival Berlin, a creative model for progressive thinking

Ohad Ben-Ari performs at ID Festival Berlin

As an artist, I feel that art has a special power to influence and change our world, and therefore it’s always inspiring to see artistic initiatives that promote important ideas and messages. ID Festival Berlin stand for Israel and Deutschland (Germany), is a vivid example of this concept. The festival was founded three years ago by pianist and composer Ohad Ben-Ari, to promote a cultural and social integration of the Israeli artists in Germany, bridge the two communities, celebrate diversity, and initiate partnerships with German artists and art institutions. ID Festival Berlin has become a unique success story, attended by Jews and non-Jews alike, who come to enjoy art.

Ohad Ben-Ari, a music influencer, the founder of the festival and also my talented brother is all about integration through music and art. His solo career brought him many accolades and performances around the world, including a performance as a soloist with the Berliner Philharmoniker under the baton of Sir Simon Rattle. In the US Ohad produced my debut album on Universal Records, “The Hip-Hop Violinist”. I asked Ohad to share his experiences and explain the connection between art and integration.

Tell us about ID Festival Berlin

The festival was founded in 2015 as a showcase platform for the works of Israeli artists who live in Germany. The festival includes series of events in music, dance, film, theatre, visual artworks and panel discussions around topics related to the festival’s themes.

2017 theme and program?

Our 2017 program will be running October 9th-25th and January 26th-28th. While our past themes were about Identity and Migration, this year’s festival theme is all about Integration. We are very excited to join Habima, Israel’s national theatre company, for its centennial celebrations with a special performance of the play “Alone in Berlin.” Habima theater plans to visit the three cities that were pivotal to its formation: Moscow, NY, and Berlin. In fact, it was right here, in Berlin, during the 1920’s, where the Hebrew theater received sufficient funding in order to relocate to Palestine. “Habima in Berlin,” a book that was recently published in Israel, and in Germany, talks about this interesting period.

A pretzel logo?!

Our 2017 festival’s logo was designed by Berlin-based Israeli artists Adar Aviam. It is a creative blend of the most prominent Jewish symbol, the Star of David, and the most typical German symbol: the Pretzel. This, in my opinion, demonstrates integration between the two cultures, nationalities, and ways of life.

How did the idea for the ID Festival Berlin come about?

When I moved to Berlin in 2010 I was amazed to meet so many Israeli musicians, especially compared to the time I lived in Germany as a student. I was wondering if there were enough Israeli musicians in Germany to form a symphonic orchestra, and came to realize that there were enough people to form a superb orchestra, because many of the Israeli musicians here are considered top musicians in their fields. I shared the Israeli orchestra concept with MP Rüdiger Kruse, main culture correspondent of the German Parliament, and we started working together on a series of interdisciplinary art events around the orchestra project. This was the beginning of the ID Festival, officially sponsored today by the German government through the Ministry of Culture.

What makes it special?

I think it is the story that ID Festival Berlin tells: the story of Jewish artists who had played a major role in German cultural life until the rise of the Nazi regime in the 1930’s. Many, who were able to save themselves from the horrors of the Nazis made it to Palestine and became a part of the creation of the new Jewish state. In Israel, a new culture was formed, based on principles that were originally brought from Europe, fused with local elements of the Orient. Today, three generations later, young Israelis return to Germany, which is a very interesting phenomenon.

Why is it important for the German government to sponsor ID Festival?

Berlin, as other major metropolises, serves as a Zwischenhalt (stop-over) in the lives of many people, especially for the artist’s community. At first I was wondering why would German decision-makers support this temporary migration, and if they would feel exploited in any shape or form, until they told me “Even if you’re here only for a year or two, it’s beneficial for us; it enriches us, it makes us more colorful, it allows us to learn from each other and grow together”. Now, this is an example of progressive thinking!

Your goals?

Globally: to set an example of a multi-cultural experience that builds bridges between communities and offers more original content, created especially for the festival.

Locally: we strive to assist artists to produce new works, promote cooperation, partnerships with German artists and establishments, and foster better integration of Israeli artists in the local cultural scene.

Tell me about the Israeli Community in Berlin today

The community may be small compared to other places, true. People speak of maybe 15,000 Israelis who live in Berlin, 25k nationwide. However, it is a very significant community, considering our history, because it shows that situations can change. It is not only a story of redemption that is being told here, but also a story of hope. After the “Shoah” (Holocaust), no one ever thought Germany and Israel would develop such strong relationships in a relatively-speaking short time. For many years, most Israelis refused to visit Germany or even buy German products. Living in Germany was considered a taboo. This has changed. Today, Germany is perhaps one of Israel’s best allies, after the US. Its capital, Berlin, has transformed itself from a place of terror and horror to one of the most liberal, and progressive thinking places that I know. This should give us hope. As an Israeli, it gives me also hope that things between the Israelis and the Arabs could change too.

Compare to Jüdische Kulturtage?

Although it sounds confusing, let’s not mix “Israeli” and “Jewish”: The “Jewish Culture Days” (Jüdische Kulturtage) runs for almost 30 years serving the purpose of showcasing all Yiddish Culture, on the other hand, the ID Festival Berlin presents works of art made by Israelis with European roots.

Describe your decision making when it comes to selecting artists and programs?

More than 150 artists took part in the past two seasons of ID Festival Berlin. We saw performances from Deutsche Grammophone’s star mandolinist, Avi Avital, violinist Guy Braunstein, a world-renowned soloist and former leader of the Berliner Philharmoniker, internationally acclaimed filmmaker Udi Aloni, award-winning choreographers duo matanicola, and many others.

As the artistic director, I strive to choose from the various disciplines of arts, the best quality works, and artists that also fit our yearly theme. The first ID Festival Berlin theme was Identity: we wanted to celebrate the identity of the new Israeli community and reflect on various identity-related issues that we face as individuals and as a collective. The second ID Festival Berlin theme was Migration: this topic was naturally close to our heart because we are essentially migrants, and our migration stories have been an inseparable part of our history since biblical times. This year, we are exploring the topic of Integration.

What is the ID Festivals Berlin audience like?

Our audience is quite mixed: a very wide range of age and backgrounds. This is due to the fact that we offer a wide variety of performances and all events are in English to accommodate everyone. It’s important for us to stay in touch with our audience via social media.

Cultural differences between Israelis and Germans?

Of course,☺ our production is German, and generally speaking, Germans are more detail-oriented, and precise, while Israelis are more spontaneous and flexible. Cultural differences between peoples can sometimes lead to funny misunderstandings. As a whole, I feel that we work very well together, and complement each other’s qualities, which is the spirit of ID Festival Berlin.

Did the recent migration wave from the Syria impact the Israeli community, and ID Festival Berlin?

Yes, it has impacted the lives of all people who live in Europe today. Being a part of the Israeli artist’s community here in Berlin, a progressive and tolerant community, makes you think about it quite often. I feel that Israelis wish for good relationships with all of their neighbors, including the newcomers.

Future plans for the ID Festival Berlin?

Following the success of our first two runs, we are happy and grateful to announce that the German parliament has committed to continue its support for the ID Festival Berlin. We are looking forward to this year’s festival, many more years to come and to keep making a social impact through art and culture.

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