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Talking Germany

Blog with Peter Craven

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four things I have learnt in the long run

The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky once famously wrote that, “The best definition of man is: a being that goes on two legs and is ungrateful.” And I have in my life surely had my fair share of moments of ingratitude. But, in one way at least, I have learnt to be grateful. After all, so often when I open my daily newspaper, I’m delighted to spot the faces of former Talking Germany guests and I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to have encountered all these people and to have been given fascinating insights into who they are and how they tick. We’ve now reached the proud total of 250 guests and I am, most of all, grateful to them for sharing themselves with me and, above all, with our viewers.

We decided to mark the 250th anniversary of the show with a daring and nerve-racking experiment: putting me in the chair, making me the guest! So, alongside gratitude, I have learnt another lesson: humility. That table between host and guest is not very wide, but the two roles are so far apart. As the guest you are quite literally at the mercy of the presenter and it is scary! I found myself wondering why, in many instances, they (the real guests, that is) do it. Of course, there are a lot of very good answers to that question. Still I did conclude that I must in the future strive to be even more sensitive when I step into people’s lives with my list of carefully-researched and “probing” questions.  

In the five years or so that we’ve been doing Talking Germany, I’ve also learnt a lot about method. One thing in particular is linked with the vulnerability that I just mentioned. No matter how accomplished somebody might be, no matter how many interviews they might have given, talk shows they might have appeared on, they are all, or nearly all, fearful of being misunderstood, or perhaps even hurt. So, I have come to realise, the very best thing that I can do when meeting people is to communicate as early, and as sincerely, as possible: “I mean no harm!” It’s fascinating to see how important it is for people to hear, or to sense, that message. What’s more: it’s a lesson for life.

The last big thing I have learnt much more about during the past five years is the limitless variety of human experience. We are all products of our families, of our countries, of history, of chance. But every story is different and unique. Another 250? Yes, please!


November 18, 2013