Auf der lit.pop in Köln kommen junge Stimmen der Literatur-, Kunst- und Kulturszene zu Wort. Foto: Sabrina Fricke
Cologne's lit.pop festival provides a platform for young voices from the worlds of literature, art and culture. Photo: Sabrina Fricke

lit.pop 2024: young, diverse, political

With readings, discussions and performances on the programme, lit.pop entertains and educates at the same time. Here are five highlights from the young culture festival.

8 March is International Women’s Day or rather “the day of the feminist fight”. What better date for the second edition of lit.pop, in cooperation with the Schauspiel Köln theatre and the c/o pop Festival. Part of lit.COLOGNE, the lit.pop young culture festival debuted in 2023 and is returning for a second outing this year to shine a light on all elements of identity politics, not just feminism. Over the two days of the event, there’ll be readings, discussions and performances related to topics such as sexuality, gender, identity, feminism and politics.

lit.pop 2024 will feature a range of top-class writers, journalists and artists. Here are five highlights.

1. Ilona Hartmann: Searching for an identity in the social media era

Ilona Hartmann’s second novel, klarkommen, is a tale of boredom, FOMO and dreaming of an exciting life in the big city.

Ilona Hartmann excels in describing the zeitgeist of the generation somewhere between Y and Z in just a few words. She regularly shares her thoughts on Instagram and X, and people like to share her humorous posts in their Insta Stories. Published this year, her second novel, klarkommen (“Getting by”) tells the story of Mounia, Leon and the first-person narrator, who move to the big city only to find that they feel like they’re watching other people live their lives instead of actually being part of something themselves. At lit.pop, the author will be talking to Miriam Zeh about “getting by” in a completely ordinary life.

Hartmann’s novel takes a sensitive, relentlessly honest and humorous look at the difficulties of coming of age in the social media era. Stuck between overthinking, FOMO and boredom, it seems like someone is always at a cool party somewhere but somehow it’s never you. That “somehow” pervades the book, marked by banalities in a life in which nothing really happens.

We were too weak for punk and too arrogant for everything else. We were boring and embarrassing.

from Ilona Hartmann’s novel, klarkommen

Although the author is no longer in her 20s herself, the way she describes young people never seems written through the rosy hue of nostalgia or from the paternalistic stance of an older person. Her style is similar to her tweets, to the point, and some of the chapters are only a few sentences long. It matches the characters and stories, which don’t exhibit the overexcited, extravagant traits of many a coming-of-age novel. As the narrator in the story says, “We were too weak for punk and too arrogant for everything else. We were boring and embarrassing. We weren’t rough or cool or gorgeous, we were just there too.”

Friday, 8 March: 6-7pm, Stadtgarten concert hall

2. Sophia Fritz: Toxic femininity and the feminist self-sabotage it generates

In her essay, Sophia Fritz takes a self-critical look at the phenomenon of toxic femininity.

Toxic masculinity has been well-known as a concept for some time and not only to feminists. But does such a thing as toxic femininity exist as well? Author Sophia Fritz will join Maria Popov to explore society’s ideas of what femininity means. Fritz’s book, Toxische Weiblichkeit (Toxic femininity), came out in March and takes a critical look at the demands people who are read as female make of themselves. Smiling politely instead of raising one’s voice loud, seeing women as enemies instead of as friends: how do women sabotage themselves through their approach to their own gender and the associated behavioural patterns?

The essay is a courageous, self-critical examination of female identity that asks why women continue to harm each other so often. Toxic femininity results in typical feminine attributes and behaviours being reproduced, thus sabotaging feminism. Ultimately, Fritz also addresses patriarchy and what it has to do with our view of femininity and women. During their talk at lit.pop 2024, Fritz and Popov will reflect on the part they themselves play in toxic femininity and why femininist unity could be the solution.

Friday, 8 March: 6.30-7.30pm, Stadtgarten gallery

3. Yasmine M’Barek: People protesting instead of listening

Journalist and author Yasmine M’Barek writes for the die ZEIT newspaper and has been voted one of the “Top 30 under-30s” journalists by Medium Magazin. In 2023, she published a non-fictional work on the growing phenomenon of protests in Germany. Photo: Leon Haffmanns

Furious farmers, angry activists and choleric Covid deniers: Germany’s streets are seeing an increasing amount of protest, harsher in tone and more extreme. It seems society has awoken from its slumber of political apathy. Journalist and author Yasmine M’Barek examines the phenomenon in her essay, Protest Über Wirksamkeit und Risiken des zivilen Ungehorsams (Protest – On the effectiveness and risks of civil disobedience), published in 2023. At lit.pop, she’ll be talking to Luisa Thomé about how protest comes about and what purpose it serves.

Protest is a “fuck you!”. It’s impulsive, vulgar, raw and honest.

Yasmine M’Barek in Protest – Über Wirksamkeit und Risiken des zivilen Ungehorsams

M’Barek never tires of stressing the importance of listening to each other though – especially to people from outside one’s own bubble. Protesters and the silent masses need, she says, to get off their high horse of “moral opinions supposedly shared by the majority” in order to be able to engage in an honest debate. As well as the protest movements themselves, her focus is on how the media deal with them since: “A society always gets the protests it deserves”. In other words, if journalists deprive society of certain protests, the logical consequence is that those protests become increasingly more radical. In M’Barek’s opinion, journalism that considers all the angles is the only way to ensure a dialogue between protesters and the silent majority. It is her firm belief that communication and listening to each other are the key to a democratic co-existence.

Saturday, 9 March: 6.30-7.30pm, Stadtgarten concert hall

4. Ole Liebl: A plea for more love in friendships

Ole Liebel is well-known for his gender/relationship content on Instagram and TikTok. Unlike his social media channels, his book, Freunde Lieben, deals mainly with heterosexual relationships and friendships. Photo: Privat

Love and sex – hardly anything else gets as much coverage in literature, film, music and the media. Content creator and author Ole Liebl is no exception. His videos on Instagram and TikTok give his audience the lowdown on various aspects of relationships, gender, sexuality and queer feminism – all in the space of a few minutes. But the book he brought out in February 2024 is more about friendship that romantic relationships. Freunde Lieben. Die Revolte in unseren engsten Beziehungen (Loving friends. The revolt in our closest relationships) is a blueprint for a utopia in which friendship is afforded the same level of significance as romantic relationships. But that doesn’t rule out love and sex. In this era of “friends with benefits”, polyamory and sexual freedom, traditional types of relationship seem to be on shaky ground. So why shouldn’t we redefine the term “friendship” to include physical affection and sexual needs? “The book is an ode to love and to friendship, which can do more than we give it credit for,” says Liebl in his presentation on Instagram.

At lit.pop, he’ll be talking to Maria Popov about the potential “friends with benefits” offers. Liebl sees it as an incentive to revolutionise traditional, heteronormative forms of relationship with the ownership issues, gender ratios and legal obligations they bring. Love and physical intimacy in friendships could provide a way out of relationship norms rooted in sexism and a way forward to happier romantic and friendly relationships. So, in Liebl’s eyes, “friends with benefits” isn’t about a generation that’s incapable of having relationships; it’s about redefining friendship, love, relationships and everything in between.

Saturday, 9 March: 7-9pm, JakiStadtgarten

5. Necati Öziri: On family, identity and home in Vatermal

Necati Öziri’s debut novel, Vatermal, made the shortlist for the 2023 German Book Prize. Although it’s an autofictional work, the author takes a step back from his characters and their experiences, not wishing to impose his own story on them. Photo: Bahar Kaygusuz

“How do you say ‘Dad’ without there being an audible question mark?” Arda wonders in Necati Öziri’s debut novel, Vatermal (Father-mark). Arda has a gap in his identity: who was the father he never met? And who is he because of his father? When a serious autoimmune disorder results in Arda spending weeks in hospital, waiting to die, he begins to work through his experiences by writing letters to his father. The book isn’t just about growing up without a father – it’s also about his single mother, a Turkish immigrant forced to start a new life in the hopeless grey of the Ruhr region. Arda also writes about his sister, Aylin, who ran away from home and the fights with their struggling mother and grew up in a foster family. As he searches for his identity and that of his father, Arda is forever confronted with the broken dreams of migrant life in Germany.

Necati Öziri is a playwright and grew up in the Ruhr region, the son of a single mother with Turkish roots – much like Arda. The autofictional Vatermal, which was nominated for the 2023 German Book Prize, is his debut novel and is based on his 2016 play, Get Deutsch or Die Tryin. In it, Öziri writes in a gentle yet angry manner of a generation that grew up without fathers. The novel concentrates not only on Arda’s story but also on the lives of women like his mother and his rebellious sister. The result is a portrait of a family history determined by social and political injustices. At lit.pop, Öziri will be reading from his book and talking to Miriam Zeh about identity, family roots and growing up without a father in a country between home and hopelessness.

Saturday, 9 March: 7-8pm, Stadtgarten gallery

Don’t miss…

Apart from this five authors, the lit.pop programme will cover a wide range of topics like porn, psyche in patriarchies and different ideals of beauty. The events are sold out but there are still a few tickets to be had on Instagram and at the lit.Cologne “ticket market”. And make sure you don’t miss the FLINTA* Partykollektiv Précey after-show party either.

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