55 Voices for Democracy – The Podcast

The series 55 Voices for Democracy is modeled after the BBC radio speeches, through which Thomas Mann, from his home in California, turned to listeners in Germany, Switzerland and occupied Netherlands and Czechia during the war. From 1940 until 1945, Thomas Mann pleaded to thousands of listeners to resist the Nazi regime and thus became the most important German voice in exile. His conviction that the “social renewal of democracy” is condition and warrant for its victory seems more relevant than ever. In this podcast series, intellectuals, artists, and activists will engage in conversations about how to renew democracy today.


Tom Zoellner (host) is a journalist and author. He is New York Times bestselling author of eight nonfiction books, including Uranium Train, and The Heartless Stone. He teaches at Chapman University and Dartmouth College. A former reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, he is the politics editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Aida Baghernejad (co-host) is a journalist based in Berlin. Her work appears in international media outlets, among them the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the San Francisco Chronicle, Intro Magazine, Spex and Deutschlandfunk Kultur. She has previously taught at King’s College London and the Humboldt University Berlin.


55. Clint Smith on Cultures of Remembrance in the U.S. & Germany

“Physically putting your body in a place where history happened gives you a different sense of intimacy, a different sense of proximity to that history.” In the final episode of our podcast, author, poet, and scholar Clint Smith speaks about the importance of collectively reckoning with history and cultures of remembrance in the U.S. and Germany ,amongst other issues. He is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, the best-selling poetry collection Above Ground and the award-winning poetry collection Counting Descent. He is a staff writer at The Atlantic.

Special: Marina Weisband on What Gets us Through the Crisis.

“Going through a crisis and having a positive vision of the future are not the same thing. You need to have a positive vision of the future to get through the crisis.” Our hosts, Aida Baghernejad and Tom Zoellner, interviewed politician Marina Weisband for this special episode, recorded live at the international literaturfestival berlin. After an introduction by political scientist and Thomas Mann Fellow Christine Landfried, they discussed the digital revolution, among other things. Marina Weisband is a politician, psychologist, and participation educator. Together with Frido Mann, she is the co-author of the book Was uns durch die Krise trägt. Ein Generationengespräch (2023).

54 Lynne Thompson on the Role of Poetry in Democracies

“There is an understanding that between humans we have this one thing called language and it brings us - or can bring us - together.” Writer and poet Lynne Thompson talks with hosts Aida Baghernejad and Tom Zoellner about her journey to becoming a poet, the role of “truth “in poetry and its meaning for democracy. Lynne Thompson is the 2021-2022 Poet Laureate for the City of Los Angeles, and her poetry collections include Beg No Pardon (2007), Start With A Small Guitar (2013), and Fretwork (2019). Her work has appeared in Ploughshares, Poetry, Poem-A-Day (Academy of American Poets), New England Review, Colorado Review, Best American Poetry, to name a few.

53 William Wiggins on African American History and Historically Black Colleges & Universities

Host Tom Zoellner sat down with William Wiggins, Historian and Professor, to discuss the complexities of African American history, the relationship between Historically Black Colleges & Universities and Predominantly White Institutions in the United States and how to overcome societal differences. Professor Wiggins is a Kent State and Princeton University graduate and has taught at various institutions, such as the University of Connecticut, Columbia University and most recently, Hampton University. He has written on numerous subjects, dealing with revolutionary figures and movements in U.S. history.

52 Teresa Bücker on time as a political resource

“Time is a political resource. How much time we have in a day […], how time is distributed is a question of structures we find within a society. It’s structured by the economic system we have; it’s structured by gender, by race.” Listen to our new podcast with journalist and author Teresa Bücker on a feminist and just approach to time as a resource in modern society. Teresa Bücker has been reporting on socio-political questions of the past and present for over 15 years. She writes a column titled “Freie Radikale – die Ideenkolumne” (Free radicals – the column for ideas) for the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and is part of the monthly online roundtable “Die feministische Presserunde” (the feminist press round), a virtual gathering to discuss current political topics.

51 Roberto Lovato on the “Tenderness that Survives the Terror”

“I’ve been through war; I’ve witnessed the workings of genocide; I have gone to mass graves across the entire continent (…) We have to un-forget to get past the present fear.” The writer and journalist Roberto Lovato speaks about overcoming personal and collective trauma. Lovato regularly appears on news shows such as MSNBC, BBC, CNN and DemocracyNow! and his work has been published in publications such as The New York Times, The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Der Spiegel and more. In 2020, he published his first book titled Unforgetting: A Memoir of Family, Migration, Gangs and Revolutions in the Americas, a “groundbreaking” memoir The New York Times picked as an “Editor’s Choice.”

50 Antonia Juhasz on the Impact of Fossil Fuels on Democracy 

“Part of what has led the movement against fossil fuels is the increased number of people being confronted with the effects of oil drilling and fracking, argues energy analyst and investigative journalist Antonia Juhasz. The Senior Researcher in the Environment and Human Rights Division at Human Rights Watch talks about how our dependency on fossil fuels heavily impacts the environment, politics, social justice and human rights worldwide. Juhasz regularly writes for outlets such as The New York Times and The Guardian and is the author of Black Tide: the Devastating Impact of the Gulf Oil Spill (2011), among others. 

49 Raul Krauthausen on Inclusion and Accessibility

“I realized that everything I learned in terms of communication, creativity, strategy and planning at university can also be used for good...for the rights of people with disabilities,” states Raul Krauthausen. The inclusion activist and podcaster compares inclusion and accessibility laws in the US and Germany, and explains how Germany's reckoning with its fascist past still affects institutional structures today. Raul Krauthausen is the founder of a series of initiatives focusing on diversity and inclusion, among them SOZIALHELD*INNEN (Social heroes), which advises individuals and businesses on considering people with disabilities as a target group for their products and services. He is also the host of several podcasts.

48 Sarah Jaffe on Working Conditions & Labor Movements

“Until we start thinking about what people’s lives are really like and not just shame them for how they vote, we’re not going to have a healthy democracy,” argues Sarah Jaffe. The labor journalist talks about the disillusion of workers with politics and why seemingly incoherent protest movements should never be disregarded. Does today’s labor shortage give workers bargaining power? Sarah Jaffe published her book Work Won't Love You Back: How Devotion to Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted and Alone to wide acclaim in 2020.

47 Geraldo Cadava on the 2022 Midterm Elections & 'the Latino Vote'

"One of the things that is so fascinating about last night‘s midterm Elections is how young people really showed up,” states Geraldo Cadava, professor of history and Latina and Latino studies. In this episode, he gives his fresh take on the 2022 Midterm Elections and discusses the diversity of the Latino community in the U.S. along with the influence religion, race, and identity have on Latino voters. Geraldo Cadava is the author of The Hispanic Republican: The Shaping of an American Political Identity, from Nixon to Trump (2020) and Standing on Common Ground (2013) and professor at Northwestern University.

46 Boris Dralyuk on Poetry, Translation and Émigrés

While politics can involve seemingly abstract decisions, “literature can remind us of the stakes at human level,” argues Boris Dralyuk. The translator, author and editor-in-chief of Los Angeles Review of Books talks about how translators help give the voiceless a voice, and shares what he believes to be the raison d’etre of literary criticism in an increasingly fragmented cultural landscape. Boris Dralyuk’s collection My Hollywood and Other Poems appeared in April 2022. In 2020 he received the inaugural Kukula Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Book Reviewing from the Washington Monthly.

45 LaTosha Brown on Fighting Voter Suppression

“Some of the tension and voter suppression we are experiencing right now is not a result of us losing, it is a result of us winning,” states LaTosha Brown, community organizer and co-founder of Black Voters Matter. In this episode, she talks about the specific mechanics that suppress Black votes, the importance of activating Black voters, particularly in rural areas, and the power marginalized groups and young voters hold to change democracies. LaTosha Brown and Black Voters Matter have been credited for significant voter registration efforts in several elections, among them the 2020-21 U.S. Senate election in Georgia.

44 Doris Kleilein on Changing Definitions of Urban Architecture

What makes a city a home for people with different backgrounds? How has the pandemic impacted city planning and urban architecture? In this episode, the 2022 Thomas Mann Fellow, architect and author Doris Kleilein looks at the benefits of L.A.’s ‘laissez-faire urbanism’ compared to more regulated approaches in Europe. She argues that “the built visibility of a culture or minority is key to becoming part of society.” Kleilein’s research focuses on how city planning can propose new forms of living together for a changing heterogenous societies. Kleilein heads the architectural book publishing house JOVIS in Berlin, and in 2021 co-edited “Post-Pandemic Urbanism.”

43 Christoph Bieber on Challenges of the Internet

What can be done against online hate speech and deep fakes? Host Tom Zoellner talks to the political scientist & 2022 Thomas Mann Fellow Christoph Bieber about regulation of the internet in Europe and the U.S.: Is there reason to be optimistic when it comes to our digital present and future? In his research, the professor at the Center for Advanced Internet Studies in Bochum, Germany, looks at the impact and effect of online communication on political actors and moral issues related to the digitalization of urban spaces. 

42 Veronika Fuechtner on Thomas Mann's construction of "Germanness" and Race

The Brazilian origins of his mother Júlia were initially a source of shame for Thomas Mann, but that changed in the 1920s “as his understanding of his role in society and democracy changed,” claims Dr. Veronika Fuechtner. The Professor of German Studies at Dartmouth talks about the role of racial and sexual ambiguity in Mann’s writing and why he emigrated to the U.S. rather than to Brazil. Fuechtner has co-authored A Global History of Sexual Science 1880-1960 (2017) and is currently completing a monograph on Júlia Mann and Thomas Mann's construction of race and “Germanness.”

41 Ulrich J. Schneider on Libraries as Democratic Spaces

“Today, when politicians think you can close down libraries because everything is available online, you have to remind them that libraries are not only for books; they are for people,” says Thomas Mann Fellow and former director of the Leipzig University Library, Ulrich J. Schneider. In his research, he examines the importance of public libraries in different social contexts. In this episode, he explains how public libraries came to be places of interaction and “movement of the mind” where people, regardless of their social status, can access knowledge and leave as changed persons. He argues that libraries need to be forums of discussion and explains what roles academic libraries should play to help strengthen the democratic project.

40 Rosecrans Baldwin on Los Angeles as a City-State

This episode focuses on what novelist and writer Rosecrans Baldwin calls "the city state Los Angeles.” In his recent best-selling book Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles, the award-winning author shares his thoughts on one of the United States’ most confounding metropolises – "not just a great city, but a full-blown modern city-state.” Together with our hosts, Baldwin addresses issues such as the housing crisis, city planning and what can be learned from comparing L.A.’s infrastructure to another highly fascinating metropolis: Berlin. Baldwin is the winner of the 2022 California Book Award. 

39 Christine Landfried on the Democratic Potential of Citizens' Assemblies 

When it comes to politics, “distrust is a very healthy thing” says 2022 Thomas Mann Fellow Christine Landfried. She warns though that it should not be confused with loss of trust as the latter means people will disconnect from political discussions entirely. In this episode, the professor of political science talks about how citizens’ assemblies, a new form of participation, are a way to strengthen democracy by not only giving people a direct say in matters but also by connecting people from diverse cultural backgrounds and social strata. Landfried has observed citizens’ assemblies and prominently reported about them in a variety of German-speaking media outlets.

38 Matthew Continetti on Populism and Conservatism in "The American Right"

“The right is becoming less interested in defending a particular idea of limited government, and more interested in waging cultural battles against the left,” argues Matthew Continetti, author and historian with a focus on the Republican Party and the American conservative movement in the 20th century. In this episode, he explains how the rights’ greatest successes have not come as a result of its own agenda but of liberal overreach and how the territory on which politics is conducted has moved over from the size and scope of the State to arguments over the nature of America. His most recent book The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism was published in 2022.

37 Diana Garvin on the Political Implications of Food

The fascist regime in Italy attempted early on to create a culinary nationalism by “re-writing ‘la cucina povera’ (the cooking of the poor) as national greatness” and to evoke a sense of pride in local produce that would ultimately support the fascist economy, argues historian Diana Garvin. Garvin is an Assistant Professor of Italian at the University of Oregon, and has done extensive research on the role of food and coffee in fascism. In this episode, she talks about how food remains central to nation building to this day, and what makes a meal fascist or anti-fascist. Garvin is the author of the 2022 book Feeding Fascism: The Politics of Women’s Food Work.

36 Craig Calhoun on Nationalism & Protest Movements
Can we reframe the concept of nationalism to use it as a helpful resource for change? Social scientist Craig Calhoun argues for a more complex understanding of nationalism: on the one hand, it can cause damage when abused by populist movements, on the other hand, nation states are the legal framework and foundation for international agreements and multilateral politics. With our hosts, Calhoun also talks about the importance of social movements: they are central to give citizens a voice, which is crucial for a functioning democracy. Craig Calhoun is Professor of Social Sciences at Arizona State University and the author of many books, most recently, Degenerations of Democracy , co-authored with Dilip Parameshwar Gaonka and Charles Taylor.

35 Ruben Neugebauer on Sea Rescue and the Crisis in the Mediterranean Sea

Civil sea rescue by organizations such as Sea-Watch saves people’s lives, but the fundamental problem lies not in sea rescue, but in the fact that Europe is sealed off to many who seek refuge, argues Ruben Neugebauer. Neugebauer is a co-founder of Sea-Watch, a non-profit organization committed to doing search and rescue missions on the Mediterranean Sea as well as advocating safe passage for refugees. In this episode, he talks with Aida Baghernejad about ways to reform European migration policies. Neugebauer is a photojournalist, geochemist and activist.

34 Lawrence Douglas on Fixing the Electoral System

How can we restore trust in democratic elections and what are the problems electoral systems are facing today? With his book Will He Go? Trump and the Looming Electoral Meltdown in 2020, Lawrence Douglas predicted with shocking clarity how Trump planned to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He talks with Aida Baghernejad about ways to strengthen the electoral system and restore trust in transparent and reliable elections. Lawrence Douglas is professor of law, jurisprudence and social thought at Amherst College. Professor Douglas is currently Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.

33. Mohamed Amjahid on the Protection of Minorities

What is negotiable in our societies? Mohamed Amjahid talks to host Aida Baghernejad about the dangers of majority rule and why, for him, protecting minorities is at the core of democracy. Amjahid is a political journalist, book author and presenter. He was an editor at ZEITmagazin and was awarded the Alexander Rhomberg Prize and the Henri Nannen Prize, among others. He received wide attention for his bestsellers Unter Weißen and Der Weisse Fleck. Amjahid is a 2022 Fellow at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles.

32. Aurora Almendral on the Political Situation in the Philippines

In this episode, Tom Zoellner and fellow journalist Aurora Almendral analyze the political situation in the Philippines: How does President Rodrigo Duterte, who many criticize for his autocratic governance, endanger democratic structures in the country? How does this affect the vibrant press and journalism culture? Almendral is a Philippine-born award-winning journalist who writes for The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine and National Geographic Magazine. She covers topics such as global supply chains, women in global migration, climate economy, and politics in the Philippines. .

31. David Kipen on the Renewal of the Federal Writer's Project

In 1935, the Federal Writer's Project was launched by President Roosevelt to create jobs for out-of-work writers during the Great Depression and to provide a vivid literary climate in the U.S. David Kipen, an L.A.-based author, critic, broadcaster, UCLA Writing Faculty member and the founder of the nonprofit bilingual lending library Libros Schmibros in Boyle Heights, is a driving force behind the renewal of the initiative. In this episode, he talks about how a project like this can help trigger more curiosity and tolerance within a society. He is the author of several books, among his recent the anthology Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters.

30 Birte Meier on Equal Pay

What can Germany learn from California in terms of Equal Pay? Birte Meier explored this question during her Fellowship at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles. In this episode of 55 Voices for Demcoracy, she talks about how California's Equal Pay Act effectively protects against discrimination - for example, by allowing workers to speak openly about their salaries. Award-winning journalist Birte Meier studied North American Studies, Modern History and Journalism. Since 2007, she has worked as a ZDF editor for investigative reports on politics and business. Since 2007, she has worked as a ZDF editor, doing investigative business stories and in-depth political reports.
29. Sonia Faleiro on Political Oppression in India
In this episode, award-winning journalist Sonia Faleiro talks about dangerous developments in Indian democracy under Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The repression of the Muslim minority and restrictions on the democratic public sphere have taken on dramatic proportions, she says. Faleiro believes that only a democracy movement on the scale of India's freedom struggle can bring real change. Sonia Faleiro grew up in India and lives in London. Her most recent book The Good Girls (Penguin, 2021), has been called "a riveting, sometimes astonishing work of forensic journalism" by the Wall Street Journal.
28. Daniel Ziblatt on Resilient Democracies | A Collaboration with the German American Conference at Harvard
In this collaboration with the German American Conference at Harvard, Daniel Ziblatt talks about the decline of democracies and what makes them resilient. Ziblatt encourages us "we shouldn't be afraid to reform our constitution and our institutions." In conversation with the hosts Anne McElvoy and Tom Zoellner, he argues that strong civil societies, robust media, independent professions, and strong oppositions are key to strong democracies. Daniel Ziblatt is professor of government at Harvard University and director of Transformations of Democracy at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. He recently published, with Steve Levitsky, the best-selling book How Deomcracies Die and Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy.
27. Tobias Boes on Thomas Mann's War
How did Thomas Mann use the then still young medium of radio for his fight against fascism? How did he channel repressed energies into political activism? Literary scholar Tobias Boes, author of the book Thomas Mann’s War: Literature, Politics, and the World Republic of Letters (Cornell University Press, 2019), discusses Thomas Mann’s role as a political figure in the United States and how he addressed political issues through the eyes of a novelist. In this episode, we learn more about Mann’s speeches, how he used radio as a political medium and what we can learn from Thomas Mann’s political engagement today. Tobias Boes is a Professor and department chair in German and Russian Languages and Literature at the University of Notre Dame.
26. Anniversary Episode: One Year of 55 Voices for Democracy Podcast
The podcast celebrates it's first birthday this month! Time to look back on the first 25 episodes and reflect on what happened so far: Hosts Tom Zoellner and Aida Baghernejad discuss the highlights and their favorite moments of the podcast against the backdrop of their own biographies. How do their individual political and professional backgrounds shape the way they approach the podcast and interview the guests? What can we learn from having a German and a U.S. standpoint on the podcast, and how can these different political systems be helpful to get a deeper understanding of democracy? In this episode, we learn more about the hosts of 55 Voices.
25. Emilia Roig on Intersectionality
"We have to think of the entire fabric of our society and we have to be courageous!“ French political scientist Emilia Roig talks about the intersection and simultaneity of different categories of discrimination against certain minorities. Underlying societal hierarchies play an important role in maintaining these injustices. How can institutions like universities or even marriage become complicit in perpetuating them? Roig is a political scientist and founder of the Center for Intersectional Justice, a Berlin-based organization combatting intersecting forms of inequality in Europe. In 2021, she published the best selling book Why We Matter - The End of Oppression (Aufbau Verlag).
24. Timothy Snyder on Resisting Authoritarianism
"The problem is ourselves." Timothy Snyder describes why the challenges of our democracies are not so much political figures like Trump, but ourselves as citizens. Snyder says it's about breaking down social barriers while addressing structural political problems like voter suppression and the manipulation of the electoral college. "A failed coup attempt is a rehearsal for a later coup." Timothy Snyder teaches history at Yale University. His book, On Tyranny, has been translated into more than 40 languages and sold nearly half a million copies in the U.S. alone. It was published in 2021 by Ten Speed Press in an edition illustrated by Nora Krug.
23. Samuel Moyn on the Idea of 'Humane Wars'

Weeks after Western forces withdrew from Afghanistan, legal historian Samuel Moyn critically reflects on the pursuit of 'humane wars.' "We fight war crimes, but we have forgotten the crime of war," Moyn says. Thus, he says, the wars of recent decades have led to a fixation on the means of war, rather than a discussion of how to end them sustainably. Samuel Moyn is professor of law at Yale Law School and professor of history at Yale University. He is the author of books such as Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World and Humane. How the United States Abandoned Peace and Reinvented War.

22. Stephanie Kelton on Democracy and the Deficit Myth
Stephanie Kelton explains how deficits can strengthen economies and be healthy for democracies. She argues that there are no budgetary constraints on government spending and makes the case for challenging our view of public debt. Stephanie Kelton is a professor of economics and public policy at Stony Brook University and a former Chief Economist on the U.S. Senate Budget Committee. She was named by POLITICO as one of the 50 people most influencing the policy debate in America. Stephanie Kelton advises policymakers and consults with investment banks, and portfolio managers across the globe. She is a regular commentator on national radio and broadcast television. Her highly-anticipated book, The Deficit Myth, became an instant New York Times bestseller.
21. Susan Bernofsky on Translation and the Plurality of Language
Susan Bernofsky's new translation of Thomas Mann's novel "The Magic Mountain" is eagerly awaited. Bernofsky talks about Thomas Mann's multiculturalism and the challenges of translating between languages and cultures. In this episode, the renowned translator also shares her experiences as a Jewish American in Europe and talks about the rise of the global, plural English language. Susan Bernofsky is the prizewinning translator of seven works of fiction by the great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser, as well as novels and poetry by Yoko Tawada, Jenny Erpenbeck, Uljana Wolf, Franz Kafka, Hermann Hesse, and others. Her biography of Walser, "Clairvoyant of the Small", appeared in 2021. A Guggenheim, Cullman, and Berlin Prize fellow, she teaches literary translation at Columbia University.
20. Mithu Sanyal on 'Transracialism' and Identity
While gender fluidity has become more normalized and accepted in the U.S. and Germany in recent years, questions of transgressing categories of race are still raising many questions in contemporary discourses on identity. Most prominently in the case of Rachel Dolezal, a former college professor and activist who ‘identified’ as black despite being born to two white parents. Inspired by Dolezal’s story, Mithu Sanyal’s most recent book Identitti (Hanser Verlag, 2021) showcases the powerful role of internet culture in discourses on sexuality and queerness in a multicultural context. In today’s episode, the German cultural studies scholar, journalist and author discusses current political debates about race and identity. Sanyal is one of the most prolific voices on feminism and postcolonial theory in Germany today.
19. David Himbara on Threatening Developments in Rwanda
While his government has long been a promise for reconciliation and development, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame is facing increasing international criticism. Human Rights Watch and other institutions accuse his government of mistreating opposition members or making them disappear. At the center of the criticism is, among other things, the kidnapping of Paul Rusesabagina, a central figure in the film Hotel Rwanda and recipient of the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom. Rwandan political scientist and economist David Himbara talks about the threatening developments in Rwanda and the human rights situation in his country.

18. Colm Toíbín on Thomas Mann & Democracy

Irish novelist, journalist and scholar Colm Toíbín talks about Thomas Mann’s formation as a democrat and the historic circumstances that formed his political thinking. Toíbín’s highly anticipated upcoming novel The Magician tells the life of Thomas Mann, an epic family saga set across a half-century. With our hosts, he discusses Mann’s relationship to the United States, his admiration for Franklin D. Roosevelt and how Mann turned from a "nonpolitical man" into an important advocate of social democracy. Tóibín is currently professor of the humanities at Columbia University, professor of creative writing at the University of Manchester and chancellor of the University of Liverpool.

17. Joyce Marie Mushaben on a post-Merkel Germany
What is a post-Merkel Germany going to look like? How did Germany change in the 16 years of Merkel’s administration and should Germans be afraid of a political backlash after more progressive developments in recent years? Political scientist Joyce Marie Mushaben discusses ongoing disparities between former East and West Germany, issues of gender equality and the rise of a new right in Germany. Mushaben is an Affiliated Faculty member in the BMW Center for German & European Studies at Georgetown University and works with the European feminist think-tank Gender5 Plus. Her research focuses on new social movements, German national identity and generational change.

16. Max Czollek on Diversity and the New German Nationalist Culture

Poet and writer Max Czollek talks about why German remembrance culture often seems, to him, staged and what a radically diverse democratic society might look like. Czollek's recent books Gegenwartsbewältigung ("coping with the present") and Desintegriert Euch! ("de-integrate yourselves“) have been widely discussed in German media, with Czollek becoming one of the most important voices on issues such as contemporary Jewish identity in Germany, racism and integration. His daily tweets address problematic aspects of German culture and, on Twitter alone, reach more than 46,000 subscribers.

15. Andreas Reckwitz on the Covid-19 Pandemic and it’s Effect on Late Modern Societies

How can societies and states reinvent themselves after the pandemic? Andreas Reckwitz, sociologist, cultural theorist and one of Germany’s most eminent contemporary scholars, talks about what the Covid-19 pandemic means for late modern society from a sociological point of view. While the pandemic highlighted structural problems such as inequality, can it also bear hope for societal transformation? With our hosts he discusses the emergence of a new middle class and the meaning of the terms "left" and "right" today. Reckwitz is the author of Society of Singularities (2017) and will be a fellow at the Thomas Mann House in 2022.

14. Nora Krug on Notions of Belonging and Historical Memory
National identity, notions of belonging and the rise of the new right on both sides of the Atlantic: Nora Krug talks about the revival of the conflicted term Heimat and the political dangers that can emerge from a misguided sense of national nostalgia. She reflects on issues of historical memory and how they can be tackled in the form of a comic book. Nora Krug is the author and illustrator of the graphic novel Belonging: A German Reckons With History and Home for which she won the 2018 National Book Critics Circle Award in Autobiography. In the book, Krug creatively investigates her family's World War II history after she married into a Jewish family in the U.S.

13. Keisha N. Blain on African American History and Selective Memory

Historian Keisha N. Blain, Professor at the University of Pittsburgh and President of the African American Intellectual History Society, recently published the acclaimed book Four Hundred Souls: A Community History of African America 1619-2019 with her colleague Ibram X. Kendi. In this episode, Blain talks about how to commemorate the 400 year anniversary of the pivotal moment in 1619, when the first group of twenty African captives arrived in Jamestown, Virginia and reflects on the history of Black America, issues of racism, voting rights and social justice today.

12. Luisa Neubauer on Dreaming as a Tool for Change

German climate activist Luisa Neubauer is one of the main organizers of the Fridays for Future movement in Germany, an international movement of students demanding action from political leaders against climate change. In this episode, she talks about her involvement and the momentum of the movement, climate awareness in the U.S. and Germany and dreaming as a tool for change: "On the one side, we have to accept the catastrophes that are going to unravel. But on the other, we need to allow ourselves to dream big." Neubauer is the co-author of the book On the End of the Climate Crisis - A History of Our Future.

11. Deborah Feldman on Religion, Integration and Political Participation

In this episode, U.S.-German writer Deborah Feldman engages in a conversation with hosts Tom Zoellner and Aida Baghernejad about contemporary Jewish culture in Berlin, political participation by religious communities and the meaning of trust in democracies: “We need to establish the kind of personal trust we have as individuals with each other in the public sphere.” Feldman is the author of Unorthodox (2012), in which she tells the story of her escape from an ultra-Orthodox community in Brooklyn, New York. The book was the basis of the 2020 Netflix miniseries Unorthodox (2020).

10. Brad Smith on the Role of Digital Technology in the World of Politics

“We have to step up and accept our responsibility for all of the implications that technology has created.” Brad Smith, President of Microsoft and author of the book Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age (2019), makes a strong argument for the political and moral accountability of big tech companies. Smith discusses “the role of digital technology in the world of politics” and draws attention to how and why “technology inequality” has become a source of social injustice.

Photo © Web Summit

9. Igor Levit on the Persistence of the Arts

Pianist Igor Levit talks with our hosts about the persistence of the arts in the face of political threats and why Europeans should work against their feelings of cultural superiority. While Igor Levit’s music focuses on the works of Bach, Beethoven and Liszt, he is also known for being a politically engaged artist: he has publicly spoken out several times against issues such antisemitism and racism. In this conversation, Levit appeals to music’s ability to make us remember and understand. He is Professor at the Hanover University of Music, Drama & Media. His book Hauskonzert will be published by Hanser Verlag in April.

Photo © Felix Broede


8. Chantal Mouffe on Conflict as a Political Good

In this episode, Belgian political theorist Chantal Mouffe reflects on the question of why democracy has to be turbulent and how to foster a democratic ethos of equality and social justice. In her conversation with Tom Zoellner and Aida Baghernejad, she discovers surprising potentials, especially in artistic practices. Chantal Mouffe is best known for her books For a Left Populism (2018), Agonistics: Thinking the World Politically (2013) and The Democratic Paradox (2000). She holds a professorship at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster.

7. Daniel Kehlmann on Populism, Power and Literature

The German-Austrian novelist and playwright Daniel Kehlmann talks with host Tom Zoellner and co-host Aida Baghernejad about the reasons for the rise of populist politicians and "literature as the ultimate school of empathy." What perspective do contemporary German literary authors have on the rise of populism around the world? His book Measuring the World (2006) is one of the world's best-selling German-language books of the 21st century. Tyll, the latest novel of Kehlmann, who currently lives in New York City and Berlin, was published in the U.S. this year, three years after it became a bestseller in Germany.

6. Wolfgang Ischinger on a European Future of Peace and Stability

The former German Ambassador to the U.S. and Chairman of the Munich Security Conference speaks about Europe's position in international politics. In the interview with host Tom Zoellner and co-host Aida Baghernejad, the author of World in Danger: Germany and Europe in an Uncertain Time explains how shared values such as "truth, trust and transparency" can be strengthened again and what it means to revitalize transatlantic relations in turbulent times.

Photo: MSC/Kuhlmann

5. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya & Franak Viačorka on the Crisis in Belarus

The guests in this episode are the Belarusian opposition politicians Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and Franak Viačorka. Tsikhanouskaya, who ran for president in the 2020 elections, is currently in exile in Lithuania. She is considered to be one the most important voices of the democratic opposition in Belarus. Viačorka is journalist, blogger and an activist in the Belarusian struggle for democracy and personal freedom. The two talk to host Tom Zoellner and co-host Aida Baghernejad about the situation in Belarus and their experiences in the election year.

4. Dipayan Ghosh on Digital Democracy

How should democracies deal with the increasing power of tech companies? This episode features Dipayan Ghosh, a former technology and economic policy advisor in the Obama White House. Ghosh conducts research on digital piracy, artificial intelligence and civil rights at the Harvard Kennedy School. His recently published and critically acclaimed report "Utilities for Democracy – Why and How the Algorithmic Infrastructure of Facebook and Google must be regulated“ serves as a starting point for a conversation with host Tom Zoellner.

3. Conny McCormack on Election Mechanics

Conny McCormack has served as an international observer of fair elections in Albania, Ecuador, Finland, Panama, Zambia and other countries. She had been the Registrar-Recorder and County Clerk for Los Angeles County from 1995 to 2008 and was in similar positions in San Diego and Dallas counties. In this episode she talks to host Tom Zoellner about what she calls "the frontline of democracy:" the day-to-day work of making an election happen, the inevitability of human error in the process and the well-established lack of fraud in American elections over the last century.

2. David Shimer on the Vulnerability of the Electoral Process

David Shimer is a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and an Associate Fellow at Yale University. His reporting and analysis have appeared in the New York Times, the New Yorker and the Washington Post. He is pursuing a doctorate in international relations at the University of Oxford. In this episode he discusses his book Rigged: America, Russia, and 100 Years of Electoral Interference with Tom Zoellner and talks about what foreign meddling means for the future of democracy in the digital age.

1. Rebecca Solnit on Hope in Politically Dark Times

Polymath author of twenty books, writer, historian, essayist, urban geographer and activist Rebecca Solnit is our inaugural guest on 55 Voices for Democracy. The author of, among other books, Men Explain Things to Me, Savage Dreams, Infinite City, A Paradise Built in Hell, A Field Guide to Getting Lost, Hope in the Dark, Recollections of My Nonexistence, and her recent The Mother of All Questions, she is a thinker dedicated to furthering radical equality and economic justice, for whom “a commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable.”  She is interviewed by Tom Zoellner and co-host Amal Khaled (Project Director of Wunderbar Together).

In collaboration with Los Angeles Review of Books, Goethe-Institut Boston, Goethe Pop Ups in Seattle, Houston, and Kansas City and Wunderbar Together. With friendly support of Dublab. Recorded and engineered by independent radio producer, translator, and media educator Lisa Bartfai.


Villa Aurora & Thomas Mann House e. V. is supported by the German Federal Foreign Office and Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media.