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Creatives in Confinement: Elisabeth R. Hager

Interview 15.04.20

Words Britta Burger Photography Elisabeth R. Hager

In this new series, ALSO talks to creative women around the world during the current COVID-19 global pandemic on how their output has changed, coping strategies for isolation and their hopes for the future. 

Elisabeth R. Hager is an Austrian fiction writer, sound artist and cultural mediator based in Berlin. Her award winning second novel “Fünf Tage im Mai” was published by Klett-Cotta in 2019. Click here for an English reading sample of “Five days in May”, translated by Anita Langham. Elisabeth is isolating with her family in their Kreuzberg apartment.


Elisabeth dreaming of being back in a tropical garden soon


I keep hearing lockdown is more bearable because everyone is in the same boat, does this apply to you?

It’s a global phenomenon, which helps. And as a writer I am an expert in isolation, in being alone, in lockdown, I have a whole universe of ideas inside myself and I carry it around all the time.


At the same time there seems to be a lot of pressure to be creative…

I felt that and there are a lot of offers now to participate in projects. For me it’s a perfect time to dive into myself and look at what’s there. Who am I, now that the world around me has calmed down? What do I really want to say? I had to turn down a few offers as well and it felt right.

As a mother I also feel the pressure of doing a lot of stuff with my daughter, and entertaining and educating her, now that she’s not going to kindergarten. I don’t have as much time as I’d like even though everyone says we have so much.


I guess parents of young children especially have less time than before?

Yes, and I really use the time now to look inside and do the work. My own writing is pretty far from daily politics, the things that happen to me take around ten to fifteen years to travel into the universe of my literary world, so it’s very unlikely that there will be a Corona novel from me in the next few years.


Will there be one in 15?

Maybe. Of course I feel the panic and the fear in people around me and myself, and I’m sure that affects what I’m currently working on as well.

“For me it’s a perfect time to dive into myself and look at what’s there. Who am I, now that the world around me has calmed down?”

Elisabeth’s workspace 

How are you coping with that sense of panic?

Writers are very used to living precariously, to having no money, to not being taken seriously, so in that sense it’s not a difficult situation for me. But I do feel the pain of other people, the suffering, them pulling up the masks even higher when they see you, the turned away faces. At the same time I have the perfect tool to deal with it because my pain, my sorrow, my worries, everything goes directly into my art. I’m working on a novel that has nothing to do with Corona, but there are fear and worries in it, and I can go to a very intense place inside myself to find those emotions at the moment.


As someone who is used to not having money, what do you think of the crumbling economy? Is there a sense of glee, or excitement about new possibilities, or are you scared?

The place where fear is appropriate at the moment is when it comes to health issues. The economy hasn’t been ok for a long time, capitalism doesn’t work in the large majority of people’s favour, the planet has been aching under the exploitative nature of our economy for the last 100 years. At the moment we’re going back to a place where it was before capitalism. Before the Industrial Revolution the place where people worked and the place where people lived were one big unit, like in our lockdown home offices now. For me this is also a chance.


How realistic is a positive outcome? There are fears that attempts to get the economy back on track very quickly might have detrimental effects on the environment.

I’m a utopian, and an optimist, I really think it depends on what we learn from this. The very good thing about the current crisis is that we don’t have a human enemy, it’s not a war, we can’t blame others for the problem we’re facing, it’s something we all have to face together, so there is a possibility of change. And as a writer and optimist I’m focussing on the possibilities. Of course it’s quite likely that people won’t learn anything! But I do love humankind even though we are cruel and ugly with each other, so I have to believe that we can make something good out of this rubbish.

Elisabeth getting ready for shopping with her daughter at her flat in Kreuzberg, Berlin 

I’ve witnessed quite unlikely candidates all of a sudden telling people to follow government guidelines and stay in. What’s your position on rules?

Yes, it’s good if you stay at home and don’t go out and kiss other people on the street. But I really hated all these posts vilifying people hanging out on Tempelhofer Feld, the finger pointing. I find it idiotic. I keep my distance, I have sewn masks myself, but I forget them at times and I don’t hate myself for it. I do also wonder about people who were completely opposed to government rules and now want the police to shut parks. We don’t need the police checking every reason why we’re walking around, it frightens me, we open a door we don’t want to open. If we say yes to the tracking app, it will stay with us in the future. So when you say you’re sick but you’re in Berghain, they will know.


The rules in Austria are stricter than the ones in Berlin, how does your family handle the situation?

My family is fine. They’re farmers, they have their own land, they keep doing what they’re doing. They’re like me. We’re completely self-sufficient. We have contact with other people because we like other people, not because we have to.


Words Britta Burger Photography Elisabeth R. Hager
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