What are you currently working on?
My new project pertains to my return to Germany after a near 40-year absence. Germany is no longer the country from which I left as a young woman. However, German history is now catching up with me big time. The continued difficulties in the wake of reunification show how enduring the process of dealing with the past is. Thus, I think we need to extend a lot more patience and sensitivity to countries — in the case of my expertise, North Africa — that embark on the difficult transition to a transparent and democratic society.
What do you think is the world’s greatest discovery?
Since my daily bread is teaching and writing, I consider Gutenberg's invention of the printing press as groundbreaking.
What are you currently learning, that you couldn't do that well before?
What would you have been if you hadn't become an academic?
Before becoming an academic, I worked as a journalist and foreign correspondent, in South Africa and then for almost ten years in Kenya. And I was a full-time mother for a few years. I would choose all of those three professions again.
What great thinkers would you have loved to work with? Or with whom would you like to work in the future?
E.O. Wilson, the American researcher of insects and socio-biologist. I admire his passion, dedication, and patience with which he studied the social structures of ants for several decades.
What do you do to empty your mind? What do you do in your free time?
Cycling, hiking and swimming are meditative practices for me. Since moving to Berlin, I also enjoy going to concerts.
Is writing books still relevant?
Writing in and of itself is timeless. As with music, there are trends and fashions. Some authors deal with current controversial issues. I focus on themes that are important to me, regardless if they are of contemporary interest or not. In the past I have focused on women’s rights in North Africa, the rights of people who were victims of state terror, and how victims deal with trauma.
I write because that is how I can make sense of the world and – hopefully – also allow my students to grasp things better.