International Literature Festival Berlin: On the resignation of Ulrich Schreiber

It is a surprise, even if such a step seemed necessary for a festival of this size for a long time after more than twenty years: Ulrich Schreiber, the founder and director of the International Literature Festival Berlin (ilb), announced on Monday that he would be stepping down from his post at the end of the month, in the midst of preparations for the 23rd edition of the festival in September and without giving any reason for his resignation.

Now surprise and overdueness may be one thing. The other thing, and against this background Schreiber’s abdication is perhaps not so surprising, are the allegations against him, which became known shortly after the end of last year’s festival.

Employees of his team had complained about Schreiber’s management style in emails to the Berlin Senate Department for Culture and to Minister of State for Culture Claudia Roth. It spoke of “aggressiveness, disrespect, mistrust and unprofessionalism”, but also of “abuse of power” and a “toxic working atmosphere”.

Of course, Schreiber rejected the harshest allegations and promised structural changes, a streamlining of the festival. In fact, from its very first editions, the ilb always seemed a bit too oversized, especially in comparison with the modest financial resources; the evocation of the world, of world literature, of socio-political responsibility was always the least.

Financially, things got a little better over the years, not least thanks to Schreiber’s tireless efforts. The main sponsor of the festival is the Capital Cultural Fund, but self-exploitation and idealism have always been among the cornerstones of this literary festival.

This only works, if at all, in a working environment in which there is good, respectful, non-hierarchical cooperation. With all the merits and commitment of the 71-year-old, his sole rule also seemed anachronistic. It is quite possible that Ulrich Schreiber did not resign entirely voluntarily.

Gerrit Bartels listened to the speech by the Belgian writer David van Reybrouck at the opening of the ilb last year.

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Source: Tagesspiegel

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