Deutsch-Kanadische Eindrücke: Interview mit Journalist Dylan C. Robertson

September 3, 2016 – Dylan C. Robertson


Dylan Robertson is a journalist based in Ottawa, and spent the summer in Cologne on an Arthur F. Burns Fellowship grant. He’s written quite a bit about radicalization, but that’s not what brought him to Germany. I met him in a café by the Rhine.

Dylan, can you tell me a little bit about yourself?

I grew up just outside of Toronto and finished the journalism program at the University of Toronto Scarborough in 2013. I now work as a freelance journalist in Ottawa.

After graduating, I did a one-year reporting project, where I went all across Canada looking at radicalization: Why did we have a cluster of young people go to Syria from Calgary? How do you prevent that from happening? What are communities doing about this?

Then this summer I was offered a place in the Arthur F. Burns Fellowship program to come to Germany. I thought “why not?” Germany is sort of an unknown country to us. It’s interesting, but we don’t really know or hear much about it. You think of the Autobahn and sausages, and it’s a Western country facing the same questions as any other. For me, looking at radicalization, it touches on a lot of issues. It’s about social services, integration, and it’s about a lot of questions that people in Germany are grappling with.

It was a bit surreal, I landed here on July 25th and there was the attack in Ansbach, where the guy had blown himself up outside of a concert, and a few days prior was Munich during our orientation session so it was a little crazy, just to land with all that happening.

It’s an interesting time to work in a news room here and see how people feel about things. The refugee crisis – the questions are starting to come up and they began to come up during the New Year attacks here, and people are still processing that. The German response has been pretty resilient – who knows what will happen with the elections, but I think people are happy to play a part in dealing with the crisis; this is not a country full of racists or closed minded people. How do you navigate these tensions? It is really interesting for a journalist to have these issues going on.

Have you been to Germany before coming in July for the fellowship?

I have only been to Germany for a pretty brief period, less than a week. I had gone to Berlin to essentially backpack and I covered one news story when I was there in 2013. I did go to a refugee camp in Kreuzberg and it is kind of weird to think about that now, because that was before this whole issue exploded in the public context.

Can you tell me a little more about what you are doing here now?

So when I saw the Arthur F. Burns Fellowship I thought it would be a great opportunity. It’s just over two months and for North Americans it’s $4,000 and a free flight to get you over here. The idea is that you spend half of the time working the host media and half of the time working for your home media. So for me, that means pitching stories for Ottawa, Canadians, maybe some Americans ones. The other half you are sort of trying to help out in any way possible. It’s always a bit of a hodgepodge for the North Americans because none of us speak German fluently, and in my case I write columns just hear something interesting about how things are different in Canada, and they find someone to translate it. It’s still really interesting to see editorial meetings or go to lunch with those people and see what’s on people’s minds and what they think of things. Most of the North Americans are in the 20s and the Germans are usually in their 30s and they are a little more established. They go to the Wall Street Journal and they totally rock it because they speak English and they know everything about the culture, and we are trying to learn about Germany.

In the time that you have been here, have you noticed any cultural differences?

The punctuality thing is a huge stereotype but it’s not as bad as I would have thought. I haven’t really seen huge cultural differences. I think I came here with a conception of Germany as a bunch of strict people – there is this stereotype that Germans are all hard-asses, that they can’t take a joke, that they have no humour. But that stereotype doesn’t really hold water, especially in Cologne. I do find the Germans here pretty similar to Canadians.

What is your favourite thing about Cologne, so far?

It is one of those cities that has enough going on and enough people that it doesn’t feel overwhelming. It is the same thing that I like about Ottawa, you have sizable amount of people and it’s pretty much the same – Gatineau to Cologne. I like the fact that you can walk most places or bike to most place, and you have good public transit system. I like the fact that it has diversity and it has all kinds of cultures at Neumarkt. The museums are interesting, and the Rhein is really nice if you get the chance to have someone take you out and show you around.

Do you want to share a story about your first experience in Germany?

I think when I got off the plane in Frankfurt, it was 5 AM and I was pretty zonked. I kind of think of it as all the things I love and don’t love about Germany. It’s extremely efficient, but it is so packed and you can get confused if you don’t know how the system works. You get off the plane and you walk down this pathway to the train station, your luggage is sitting there, you grab it and you go down the escalator and the train is there. So I get onto the high speed train and it’s also packed, but they figure you dump your suitcase here and you re-arrange yourself in your seat and then the train starts moving and it tells you you’re going 330km an hour. It’s a fascinating country and it has these crazy fast trains and everything is really organized but you have to know how it works in order for you to appreciate it. And then you look out of the window and you have these timber-frame houses that are speeding by as the sun is coming up. I was so confused and out of it, but happy to be here. I kind of felt, “OK, Germany is a high speed train going through timber-frame villages”.

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