Combating Illiteracy in Germany
Having lived in Berlin, a city where anything goes, for some time now, I find that it takes a lot to shock me. A visit to the infamous Berghain club on an average Saturday night will leave almost no taboo unbroken. But a few weeks ago, I heard something genuinely shocking. I was chatting to the general manager at Concorde, Carsten Colmorgen, when we got onto the subject of adult illiteracy. Carsten, who has been ambassador for literacy in Germany since 2007, told me that around seven and a half million people in Germany – nearly 15% of the adult population – cannot read or write properly.
“Surely that’s impossible,” I protested. “Seven and a half million illiterate adults? Germany is one of the richest countries in the world. Schools are free and there are libraries in even the smallest cities…” But it’s precisely this myth – that illiteracy no longer affects people in developed countries – which makes the problem so difficult to tackle. Many people are unaware of its existence, and those affected by it are often too ashamed to speak out or seek help.
The Bundesverband Alphabetisierung und Grundbildung e.V. is a charity dedicated to tackling illiteracy in Germany, offering a range of services for those affected and, equally importantly, increasing public awareness of this taboo subject. Hotel Concorde regularly organises events to raise money for the charity’s invaluable work. Indeed, all proceeds from the hotel’s launch party back in 2005, where over 600 guests came together for a “Night of Literature”, were donated to the Bundesverband Alphabetisierung und Grundbildung e.V. More recently, at this year’s literary aperitif at Concorde – the inofficial start to the Internationales Literaturfestival Berlin – acclaimed author Priya Basil read from her latest work, The Obscure Logic of the Heart. All proceeds from book sales on the night went towards the charity, with the added incentive of having your copy personally signed by Priya herself.
Peter Hubertus, one of the founders and directors of the Bundesverband Alphabetisierung und Grundbildung e.V., was also in attendance and, before the reading took place, he shared with us a few of the charity’s success stories – of which there are plenty. People who have learned to read at 80, 90 years of age. People who, after years of hiding their illiteracy from family, friends, colleagues, finally confronted the issue. He also talked about the various causes of illiteracy in Germany. Did you know, for example, that adult illiteracy is not always linked to a failure to learn to read or write as a child? Some people learn basic literacy skills in their youth, but, for various reasons, forgot them or get out of practice.
By the end of the evening I felt I had a much better understanding of this seemingly invisible problem, which can be isolating, demoralising and inhibiting. To find out how you can help support the work of the Bundesverband Alphabetisierung und Grundbildung e.V., just visit their website for more details.