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The Catholic Martin Mosebach and the Muslim Navid Kermani are fascinated by one another’s faith. A conversation about true and false tolerance – and about how Islam is misunderstood in the West. The following interview was conducted by Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin and is translated and republished here with permission. A review of What Was Before, Mosebach's first novel to be translated into English, appears in the February issue of First Things.

Mr. Mosebach, your fellow writer and friend Navid Kermani has just published a great meditation on Christianity: a book called Ungläubiges Staunen (“Unbelieving Awe”), in which he approaches the beauty and sensuality – but also the mystery – of Christianity, through masterpieces from Botticelli to Caravaggio. Does it take a Muslim to show Christians how fascinating their own religion is?

Martin Mosebach: It seems so, unfortunately. The average Christian no longer knows his own religion. His religious knowledge has trickled out as from a split-open bag. And so it happens that Navid has an advantage: he’s a Muslim. He can let these images affect him so intensely, because at first they have nothing to do with him.

Navid Kermani: I could never have written such a book about Islam. I would have fallen into an obnoxiously pious tone. I can only get enthusiastic about the other, about the foreign. Love for one’s own – whether it is one’s own culture, religion, or even one’s own person – is expressed through critique. Love for the other can be much more unreserved.

Is your book a response to what is happening in Iraq and in Syria?

Kermani: In any case what is happening there has not left me unmoved. Other Muslims are kidnapping Christians, so it is all the more urgent right now that Muslims pay attention to Christianity.

Mosebach: It’s a very fortunate idea to approach another religion through art, since theology can only divide – indeed, it must. This book is unique, since it is to my knowledge the first attempt by a Muslim to gain an understanding of Christianity through the medium of Christian art.

Were you afraid that in your great enthusiasm you might be untrue to your own faith?

Kermani: It was just the opposite. Through my engagement with Christianity, I came to know aspects of Islam that I had never understood in all their profundity.

For example?

Kermani: The more enthusiasm I had for works of Christian art, the more appeal I found in the aniconic tradition of Islam. And the more churches I visited, the more clearly I understood the structure of a mosque: unlike in a church, in which paths lead up to the altar because God is present there, in a mosque, there can be no center, because God is present everywhere. No matter where one sits in a mosque, one sees the dome equally well from anywhere – just like one sees the heavens.

At one place in the book you write: “In Rome, I became envious of Christianity.”

Kermani: Before I lived a year in Rome, I was aware of Christianity as something good, and ethically valuable, but not as something beautiful. As a young man who grew up in a very Protestant city, I often thought: “Christians are nice enough, but why are their worship services so boring?” In Rome, I gained a sense of how old the Catholic tradition is, that the divine does not mean that something falls from Heaven, but that it transcends one’s own memory; that rituals, forms, prayers have an origin that, at best, we may be able to investigate, but which no research can ever fully analyze. Unfortunately, we live in a time in which both the Catholic and Islamic traditions are breaking off; this is not just unfortunate, but dangerous, because traditions that have been broken off usually return as fundamentalism, as something reactionary, and then violence arises.

But a return to the sources is exactly what fundamentalism claims to want.

Kermani: Yes, but in the process it wants, so to speak, to skip over tradition. It turns decidedly against the tradition, insofar as it claims to return to a first beginning.

Then should one not simply allow traditions to be torn down?

Kermani: Tradition cannot be kept alive artificially. But where it still exists, one can respect, protect, and renew it. Tradition is the mediation of divine revelation across the generations; it is more than an individual can know or come up with for himself. But today, everything must be in accordance with our sound human reason, and we do not consider that this reason, like all human reason before it, is temporally conditioned. Religion should be just as we’d like it, it should pronounce what we already think, it should be compatible with our time. But it is of the very essence of religion that it is not compatible with our time, or with any time. Jesus was quite obviously not compatible with his time.

Mosebach: In the West it is believed, among both Christians and atheists, that religion can be allowed to pass away into philanthropy and human rights. But Christianity does not want to propose solutions for the overcoming of social difficulties; it wants to lead the individual person into the presence of the living God.

Kermani: The challenge would be not to follow a religion unthinkingly, but to succeed in taking seriously a text that was written two thousand years ago – in taking seriously every word and every story – and nevertheless to live in the present in a humanitarian and enlightened way. Nobody says that this is easy, but human consciousness is capable of it. Religion is never just the Word of God. It is the ever-changing relationship of humans to this word. It is from just this movement of the human spirit that the great cultures have arisen.

Why does the stereotype of an antimodern Islam persist so stubbornly?

Kermani: Because so many Muslims today interpret Islam in an antimodern way. And because they have no idea of their own theological tradition. It is necessary to spend only five minutes with these people who hold the Qur'an on high on the sidewalks: their knowledge is limited to at most a few key words and rules, which they cling to as a manual. They have no idea that the Qur'an is not a book, but a liturgical performance in its own genre; that from the first Muslims until well into the twentieth century, it was sung rather than read. They have no idea that it makes a mockery of every traditional treatment of the Qur'an to distribute it on the sidewalks like an advertising brochure. If their parents had still been pious, they would have known that in a Muslim household the Qur'an is stored in the highest place, wrapped in precious cloth, and is only touched with the greatest reverence, sometimes even with gloves. For Muslims, it is the Word of God, but it ends up in the next garbage can on the sidewalk. These people reduce a text that is highly poetic, that in Arabic is highly linguistically complex, and incidentally rhymes on every verse, into a law book that one Google-searches for key words.

It is as if one were to bring an ode of Hölderlin into everyday language…

Kermani: …and were to look up what this Hölderlin has to say about democracy. That is stupid and dangerous, because when man does not take this language for what it is, it turns into dynamite. It is written: “Strike the infidels on the neck,” and the people think they can kill other human beings. But the Qur'an is poetic in its linguistic expression. No Islamic theology has ever simply understood it so literally, and implemented it word for word. Every classical commentary on the Qur'an offers different possible meanings for every single verse of the Qur'an. For the essence of poetry is polysemy.

Mosebach: As well as contradiction: but this is also the source of religion’s strength. Religion is as contradictory as reality, which distinguishes it from ideologies that must strive to be free from contradiction.

You have been friends for years. How did you meet each other?

Mosebach: When I read your first book in 1999, titled God is Beautiful, I was so fascinated that I sat down right away and wrote you a letter. The book struck me like lightning, because it discussed beauty as a proof of God. Our times are so poorly disposed towards beauty. More often than not, it is associated with superficiality. But in Christian philosophy the idea that God is beautiful is always present.

Kermani: After a reading a few days ago, by the way, I was asked by a woman whether we were really friends. She couldn’t imagine it, when you are “so conservative and reactionary.” This keeps on happening to me.

Mosebach: People are very eager to police the party line.

Kermani: She could hardly believe it, when I told her that Martin Mosebach is the most tolerant person in the world, precisely because he stands so firmly in his own faith. That he travels many months a year, and moves quite naturally through foreign cultures, without any arrogance, without any sense of superiority, but with a humility and curiosity that I can only learn from. That does not mean that I share all his views – but, my God, to put up with my views is not always easy either.

Mosebach: Moreover, a faithful Muslim is much closer to me than a Christian with detheologized religion.

Kermani: I still recall what you wrote to me once in a letter, about how much the sight of praying Muslims pleases you.

Mosebach: Nothing is so moving as to watch how a Muslim grandfather teaches his grandson to pray. The old man kneels on the carpet, the book before him, beside him the boy, also kneeling, with a little white cap on his head. The grandfather bows down, the boy watches him and does likewise. That is the most beautiful form that religious tradition can take.

People pray and sing together in churches, as well.

Mosebach: But in the Western world people have forgotten how to kneel. Instead, in a ridiculous manner, the image of the “mature Christian” has been propagated. If there is a God, it is the only reasonable thing to prostrate oneself before him. And the sight of Muslims who fall on their knees before God is for me an endless consolation.

Does it not disturb you that they bow before a false god?

Mosebach: From the perspective of religious history, it is fully clear that Christians and Muslims bow before the same God. Islam speaks of the “God of Abraham,” just as Jews and Christians do.

Kermani: The word “Allah” means “God.” It does not refer to any particular god. Arab Christians also say “Allah” when they refer to God. And when I speak German, I say “Gott” (“God”), not “Allah.” The constant use of “Allah” in German is an expression of exoticism, exclusion, and dissociation that is promoted both by Islamists and by opponents of Islam. When my grandfather traveled through Germany and France in 1963, he constantly brought his prayer rug into churches. My mother went shopping in town, my grandfather prayed in church – and no one ever looked askance at him.

Mosebach: Something like that would be unthinkable today. In the atmosphere of increased fanaticism, many are worried that their churches will be turned into mosques.

Kermani: One would experience it as a provocation, as the Islamization of the West. Even Goethe’s West-East Divan would no longer be imaginable today. A German poet, who learns Arabic, who praises the Qur'an, and has no problem with being called a Muslim—he would probably be put under observation by the security services.

Do you, too, pray in church, Mr. Kermani?

Kermani: Yes, but with my hands not folded but outstretched, and quietly, not ostentatiously. When I need a moment of reflection, I go into a church.

Do you pray in mosques, Mr. Mosebach?

Mosebach: Naturally. Do you know the Jesuit joke? “May one smoke while praying? No. May one pray while smoking? Of course.” So one can and should pray everywhere, and of course especially in a house of God, particularly when the dome so beautifully described by Navid was constructed on the model of the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. A few years ago, I took a long trip through Hindu India. When weeks later I entered the Friday Mosque in Delhi, I had the feeling that I had come home to my own culture.

The journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer has said: “What drives me to the Middle East is this hatred the West has for the Muslim world, this unjustified hatred.” How do you explain the panic many Europeans feel about the Islamization of the West?

Mosebach: It is claimed that when religion is encountered in Germany or France, it is usually Islam.

But in Germany only five percent of the population are Muslims; in France it is eight percent.

Mosebach: Whereas in Western Europe the Christian religion has become practically invisible. It keeps its head down, and shows itself to be as assimilated as possible. The bishops constantly emphasize that the Church would like to make a contribution to this or to that, but it is no longer the force that determines how people should orient themselves. Religion that demands that people let themselves be seized by it is frightening to the public. With it, something would return that was believed to have been completely eradicated.

Can it be that secular society is unconsciously envious of these people, since they live more earnestly in their religion, since they find an identity in it?

Mosebach: Perhaps. We sense this religious force in the people who come into our country, which strengthens our phobic behavior. I fear that the word “Islamophobia” indicates less a phobia of Islam than of religion per se. We constantly speak about tolerance, but in reality we are indifferent. But tolerance means that one tolerates something even though one thinks it is false.

Kermani: To tolerate something that one holds to be true is easy.

Mosebach: But while we act as if we were tolerant, we wish that Muslims would submit to our civil religion and accept it, so that religion would never do more than play second fiddle.

Does the West feel a moral superiority to the Muslim world?

Mosebach: Yes. We constantly speak of parallel societies that must be assimilated. But what is the reason for the great ethnic massacres and wars of the twentieth century, for the hatred between Germans and Jews, Turks and Armenians, Serbs and Croats, Indians and Pakistanis? All of these were conflicts between highly assimilated groups, with the same language, the same culture, the same habits. It was always the last little differences that led to hatred. One should consider whether the existence of parallel societies does not keep the peace better than assimilation could. The USA consists largely of parallel societies. There are Jews, black people, Latinos, and they all live—so far—relatively peacefully with one another. But we are trying for a kind of public-broadcasting mentality that makes the religions indistinguishable.

With what consequences?

Mosebach: We end up with folk-dancing groups that everyone can join. We demand the trivialization of religion, since we refuse to let ourselves comprehend it according to its own law. Instead, through the fatal concept of civil religion, we elevate indifference itself to a religion that, with the complete intolerance of an old religion, demands that religions be subordinated to it.

Kermani: There is a desire to avoid conflicts, where one can and should allow disunity to exist, so long as there is a framework to prevent people from butting heads. One can let what is different be different, and must not necessarily call into question everything that is questionable.

Mosebach: According to the Christian logic, one must love other people on principle, even when they are wrong, indeed especially when they are wrong.

Kermani: In my travels in war zones I have had the experience that there is a certain form of piety, the same in any religion, that is necessarily accompanied with good. Among Christian monks and nuns, this characteristic of unconditional love towards strangers and unbelievers was especially remarkable to me. “Love your enemy” is a revolutionary thought, which through Sufism has also entered into Islam, but which was always recognized by the Sufis as Christian wisdom. The Prophet Mohammed says: “The ways to God are as numerous as the breaths of a man.” In diversity is mercy, but that does not mean that we must find everything equally good.

In your book you describe how your Muslim daughter was invited to the Eucharist during a Mass.

Kermani: After the prayer she had recited, my daughter cut ahead a bit in line, and somehow it happened then. It was not an agenda, but an oversight in a multicultural situation.

Mosebach: That is inexcusable.

Kermani: You are surely right, but I know why this sort of thing happens. One doesn’t want to exclude a Muslim girl on social grounds; it’s well-meaning, although certainly wrong.

Mosebach: It’s very nice, in the manner of a barbecue with the motto “Everyone gets some, everyone can take part.”

Kermani: That sounds so negative now. I am well-disposed towards good intentions. Better to will the good and make mistakes, than to will evil and do everything right. Nevertheless, that is certainly the wrong approach.

Mosebach: That’s the kind of thing that happens in this general banality, when it is no longer clear even to catechists that the liturgy is a mystery for the baptized, who participate in union with the Godhead. The rites of this mystery demand commitment, but in the West it seems outrageous when a religious rule turns away from the fashion of the times.

Kermani: A little while ago, at a panel discussion about religion, I used the word “duty.” You would not believe what kind of murmuring went through the room, but of course religion is first and foremost a duty. It is not in the first place about us, but about God. And about our fellow man. The word “Islam” translates as “to give up, to submit.” And there are two kinds of love: the kind that only loves itself, the narcissistic love. And the kind that sacrifices itself. There is no need for us to discuss which one of these is more real. And faith is, strictly speaking, even the annihilation of the ego, but now I must be careful about what I say.


Kermani: Annihilation of the ego – that sounds rather like Fascism. But it is just this: that our individuality becomes richer when we turn it towards the universal and disregard our own little ego. We become richer by becoming less, because we then become one with the world: that is the mystical, and also the esthetic thought. It is the case even outside of religion, for example, at a concert, where those moments are experienced as the richest in which one loses, forgets, dissolves oneself – in which one becomes one with the music, with the surrounding world. By forgetting time, we taste something of eternity. As Adorno writes in his Aesthetic Theory, there is a retrieval of subjectivity through its loss.

Mosebach: John the Baptist says about Christ: “He must increase; I must decrease.”

Kermani: Every day, I realize through my children how powerful egotism is among the younger generation.

Now please don’t say that everything was better before.

Kermani: I grew up in a time in which self-development and self-realization were writ large, but what we are experiencing now is the perversion of that idea. The selfie is the opposite of a healthy sense of self. I am sure that a generation will come, very soon in fact, for which inner composure will be more important than action and representation. These young people themselves will feel it to a large extent. For one thing is clear: to focus always on oneself is in the long run a fairly boring affair.

Mosebach: It’s for this reason that the Holy Mass in the old rite is so precious. There one comes into contact with the objectivity of liturgical actions that do not depend on what he contributes or achieves. One enters into a process that takes place without him, because this liturgy as a whole is understood as an approach to something that is already taking place: namely, the liturgy of the cosmos. Nothing more will be achieved, nothing more will be desired, because everything necessary has been done by Christ himself. If we say in the Islamic formula “From God we come, and to God we return,” then every danger, every ominous situation, every failure is relativized.

Mr. Kermani, in your book you write: “The banal appears the most strongly as a contrast wherever holiness or love are found.”

Kermani: That refers to Caravaggio’s painting of The Crucifixion of Peter from the year 1604. With beauty, we encounter something like the text of a greeting card, in which the sacred is closely accompanied by the banal. Caravaggio shows this in its full crudeness and banality. St. Peter is nailed to the cross, but on his left and right is a riot of life; a protruding backside, muddy soles, dirty fingernails. If the background were lit up, one would probably see orange sellers, to whom it is no big deal that a person, even St. Peter, should be nailed to the cross and should die, helpless and alone. This martyrdom acquires its holy significance only in retrospect. Possibly miracles happen every day, directly beneath our eyes, and we do not, cannot see them. We are the orange sellers.

Does it strengthen or unsettle you in your faith, to be part of a secular and narcissistic society, that rewards not charity but calculation, not faith but audacity?

Mosebach: It gives me no pleasure to occupy a unique position. I feel uncomfortable in it, and not at all entitled to it. “Lord, help my unbelief,” it says in the holy scriptures, and I would guard against presenting myself as an athlete of faith. With religion, it’s best if there’s not too much talking about it. In the great Catholic centuries of Europe, laypeople did not express themselves about religion; it was something self-evident.

Kermani: To stand on the edge, to be an outsider, to be laughed at, cannot be that odd for a Christian, if one considers that Christianity was for a long time the faith of a small, reviled, and often persecuted minority.

Mosebach: Christianity is resistant to disappointment. Its Founder predicted failure for it, and in that light a Christian can be completely reassured.

As long as he fails, he’s doing everything right.

Mosebach: Ultimately, yes. It has to do with a message that cannot be refuted by failure.

At the beginning of the nineteenth entury, Friedrich Schlegel wrote of Islam as the achievable religion, and Christianity as the unachievable religion.

Mosebach: Yes, the excessive demands of its principles prevent the banalization of Christianity.

Kermani: Perhaps religion is always something that must be maintained under pressure.

Mosebach: Truth does not depend on agreement in order to be true. Instead, there is a regret when one is convinced that something is right and fruitful, but is not recognized as such. But you are right: religion must be under pressure to be able to develop its strengths. The martyrdom of the Christians whose heads are cut off by ISIS is horrible, but it proves Christianity to be so alive that someone is ready to die for it. We speak sympathetically of these people as victims, but what they really want to be is sacrificial victims in the religious sense.

Isn’t the truth much more banal and more horrible? They were captured, tortured, killed.

Mosebach: The twenty-one murdered Coptic Christians in Libya were individually asked if they would abjure their religion, and said no. That consoles me; it also gives me courage.

Suicide attackers also die for their faith.

Mosebach: But they forget, that one can give religious witness only for oneself, not at the expense of another, and certainly not through the murder of uninvolved people.

Kermani: Suicide attackers play God, which is the greatest heresy. There is no traditional exegesis of the Qur'an that does not end with the sentence: “God knows better.” It is strange, that the idea of sacrifice is associated today above all with Islam, when it is in fact deeply rooted in Christianity. Unfortunately, owing to the great ideologies of the twentieth century, for which millions of people blindly sacrificed themselves, and owing to terrorism, through which self-sacrifice is associated with death and destruction, the idea of sacrifice is deeply discredited. No one in the schoolyard wants to be mocked as a victim, but Jesus Christ offered himself as a victim; indeed the whole history of Christianity is full of people who have done so. The history of Islam, particularly of Shiism, is the same: these were not people who killed defenseless persons, but who were killed by criminals and usurpers. Today the most holy action that a human can perform, self-sacrifice, seems ridiculous and pathological.

Credit: Julian Baumann / SZ Magazin

Has Mr. Mosebach ever tried to proselytize you?

Kermani: He would not do that, because he trusts in a higher power, which will set things right. He would invite me to come to know his faith, that’s all. Moreover, I have no problem if a Christian refers to me as an unbeliever, if that is what I am in his eyes.

Do you worry about Mr. Kermani’s salvation?

Mosebach: I have reason to be concerned about my own salvation.

Kermani: But as a Christian it is part of your faith, that you would like to see your interlocutor find salvation.

Mosebach: Of course. I definitely think that everyone should be Catholic.

Kermani: As a Muslim I have not been taught that someone who has their own religion should convert. The unbeliever who has no regard for religion troubles my parents and my Islamic teachers much more than a faithful Christian or Jew. Do you believe that salvation is not in store for me, because I am a Muslim?

Mosebach: I don’t believe that. If people cannot be with Christ in good faith, the fault lies with Christians who have not portrayed Christianity convincingly enough.

Kermani: But now I have paid attention to it so intensely.

Mosebach: It’s a typical punch line: the beauty of the Christian art he admires will not convince the author of God Is Beautiful to believe in the truth of the faith in the divine incarnation that lies at the heart of that art. Christians have achieved great missionary successes over the whole world, but almost never among Muslims.

Do you have an explanation for that?

Mosebach: Over the centuries, religions create their own culture; they become, as the cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt says, “ultimately a matter of taste.” I suspect that it is more difficult to change a culture than a religion. That’s why I also ask myself whether enthusiasm for Christian art can be separated from its foundation, which is that the Creator God has become man. Perhaps Islam and Christianity are simply too close; the leap from one religion to the other is not wide enough. You know how it is with the approach. One gets closer and closer, but the last few percent can never be brought about, it becomes a massive obstacle, a radical limit, and it’s really there, this limit. One can find this bad or lamentable; but it’s there. For me, Jesus is simply the incarnate Creator God.

Kermani: Of course I cannot go along with that. Even for the Sufis, Jesus stood for the possibility of a perfect human being, but still a human being.

Mosebach: “Who sees me, sees the father,” he says. Jesus himself, at any rate, believed he was the God-man. One can disbelieve him—then, though, he would be not a perfect man, but an imposter.

Kermani: Do you see? There are the differences; they remain.

Mosebach: Unbridgeable differences. But when the positions are clarified, there is no argument.

Kermani: We know where we are inflexible. And if this seriousness were relativized, something fundamental would be taken from it. The incarnation is simply a part of his faith, but we do not start trying to suss out a middle ground.

Mosebach: That wouldn’t work, either. A religion that has as its subject that the God-Man has bodily visited the earth, cannot put that up for grabs. But do you doubt the incarnation of God as a modern intellectual, or as a Muslim?

Kermani: Both: with the reason, but more so with the heart. There is no contradiction, after all, in being modern and Muslim.

What is the greatest misunderstanding about Islam in the Western world?

Kermani: The impression that all Muslims are strictly religious. I often note in your wording that you assume that the Muslim world is rooted deeply in its religion. If only that were so.

Mosebach: But I believe that in Muslim lands I have observed a strong feeling of togetherness under the banner of religion, for example during Ramadan or at Eid al-Adha.

Kermani: The outward signs of belonging to Islam have definitely increased in the past twenty or thirty years, above all in the Arab world: veils, Ramadan, the prohibition on alcohol. But I would doubt whether people really believe more in their hearts. If it is not external pressure, it often has more to do with identity than with spirituality.

Mosebach: Nevertheless it is extremely impressive when the rhythm of an entire city changes for thirty days.

Kermani: In Iran it is not like that.

Mosebach: Not even today?

Kermani: Not at all. Empirical surveys confirm that many fewer people in Iran observe the religious commandments than in Turkey. Where a religion acts like a state, it is naturally identified with all the inadequacies and possibly crimes of the state, from corruption to torture. Someone who cares about religion can only be a secularist. Among the many misunderstandings related to Islam, the greatest is that it is currently experiencing a renaissance. What we are experiencing is the complete downfall of a religious culture. What we are experiencing are the spasms of someone tormented, wasting away, perhaps even terminally ill. Terrorists are an expression not of strength, but of the colossal weakness of Islam in our time.

Mosebach: I have not undertaken any field research, but in Egypt, Morocco, Turkey and India I have met many simple people with whom I had the impression that religion had really given them what they need to live daily in the sight of God. “Inshallah,” they say often: “If God wills it.” The awareness that we are not the masters of time, that God decides what will happen tomorrow, this relativization of one’s own will—it is wonderful. And something else important: these people never wanted to know whether I was a Christian. Their question was always: “Do you pray?” When I told them yes, they had no further reservations.

Which religion is more humorous?

Kermani: Judaism.

All right, but between Islam and Christianity?

Kermani: I can hardly begin with so broad a question—Islam, Christianity. There are funny imams and dour priests, and vice versa. Today though, one can say that humor has in large part been lost from Islam. But that does not imply a command to laugh over poorly-made caricatures. It’s just that one should not make oneself ridiculous by bursting with rage at every insult. It’s the same as in the schoolyard: ignore insults, and they will cease.

Mosebach: The Church’s claim to make the activity of the Spirit materially visible in its ceremonies also certainly brings about some comic situations. Nevertheless, the Gospel does not really have a humorous atmosphere. Jesus does not laugh; at least it is not reported. It is written that he cries, but not that he laughs.

Wouldn’t one wish for Jesus to laugh?

Mosebach: One could say that the incarnation of God would not have been completed, if the God-Man had not also come to know the human capacity for liberating laughter. Nevertheless there is the hope that God now and then laughs at us, for when someone seems comical, he is already half forgiven.

Tobias Haberl met Martin Mosebach and Navid Kermani on a Sunday evening in Mosebach’s Frankfurt home. When Kermani had to catch the last train to Cologne at 11pm, Mosebach did not let our author go without offering him some refreshment. He disappeared briefly into the kitchen, and served noodles with anchovies, offered a glass of white wine, and accompanied Haberl to the taxi about an hour later.

Translated by Kevin Gallagher.

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