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Changing the world, with Katja de Bragança

Or: we’re all different
DSC01782She’s had a fascinating life. These days she lives in the former German capital Bonn. But she spent the first twelve years of her childhood in Goa. And her Indian background seems to shine through when she tells me: “I accept things that I cannot change.” Turn that statement on its head, of course, and you have the other side of her personal credo: “I do NOT accept things that I can change!” Katja de Bragança – my latest guest on Talking Germany – has had a real impact on the world around her.

DSC01769Sixteen years ago, this colourful, charismatic and very committed woman founded Ohrenkuss – literally Ear Kiss! – a magazine with contributions written entirely by people with Down syndrome (ohrenkuss.de). It’s been a great and lasting success.

DSC01799Katja and I, we discover, both have a passion for books and she tells me about the novel she’s reading at the moment: “It’s all about a circus, a kind of freak show, and the man who runs the circus puts his own children and their extraordinary features on display. One of them has tiny feet and hands, another is an albino dwarf. There are Siamese twins who can play the piano. And the amazing thing is that people actually want to be like them.” The book she’s talking is a 1989 novel called Geek Love by the American author Katherine Dunn. It’s all about how people see others who are ‘different.’

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It’s something that is very close to Katja de Bragança’s heart. As a young biologist, she wrote her doctoral thesis on how people with Down syndrome are seen by others. About the widespread prejudice that Katja was shocked to discover that she in part shared: “Most people, including me,” she says, “believed that if you have Down syndrome you can’t read or write.” With the creation of Ohrenkuss Katja de Bragança has helped to show that that is simply not true. She’s changed people’s perceptions – changed the way people see each other.

Date

July 18, 2014

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