20 Minutes with Ilona Hartmann

The Social Media phenomenon, writer, journalist and author about her debut novel launching today, empowerment in German media and the best pizza

We know her as the woman from the internet – making short but eloquent twitter-jokes, usually about herself, her drinking habits and her financial state. Here and there, her tweets are spiked with a little bit of politics and feminism. It is a mixture that makes every self-conscious millennial hit the like-button whilst laughing-out-loud in-real-life and thinking: "This is so me!". But Ilona Hartmann is not only the Stabilo Boss from your sleepless nights filled with Social Media content, she's a journalist and an author, writing for the likes of Beige, Mit Vergügen and Zeit. Today, she releases her very first book "Land in Sicht", a sensitive, auto-fictional book telling the story of Jana, searching for her father – between Passau and Vienna, between the elderly and drinking sprees, on a cruise ship, along the Donau. Obviously, we talked with Ilona about her debut as a writer, sekt on ice and the German media landscape.

Nele Tüch: You are a journalist, author and twitter-phenomenon. Where do you feel most at home, behind the smartphone, in a conference-session or on the streets doing research?
Ilona Hartmann: Very unpopular confession: This woman from the internet actually feels uncomfortable with too much screen time! Sometimes, when I meet new people they’re surprised (or disappointed?) that I’m not constantly attached to my phone. Of course, the internet feels like home to me after spending years and years there. But after all, to me it’s “just” the place to publish, a platform to let go a thought I found elsewhere. Which would mostly be anywhere outside, this so-called IRL.

NT: Your book is coming out today (the 21st of July) – on a scale from „Yes, more, please“ over the same continuous-loop story learned by heart to „STFU“, how much do you like to talk about it?
Ilona Hartmann: Since releasing a debut novel during a pandemic is a bit of a (how do I put this politely?) ~special experience~ there has not been much ennui to complain about, gladly. I’m always happy to tell the story behind and it’s been very rewarding to see people take interest every time it happens.

NT: Since your book is autobiographically shaped: How similar are Ilona and Jana?
Ilona Hartmann: That’s always my favourite question because it’s so ambivalent. Of course, they are very similar because, well, Jana is my invention. To her, I borrowed some of my experiences, feelings and traits to tell a story I could not have told on my own. And yet, she turned out to be so different from me. She’s more curious, braver, more naive. For full disclosure: The storyline of the novel is a compressed and yet exaggerated version of my own story, so I prefer to use the term "autofictional".


"I was lucky to find a lot of support, encouragement and trust within the scene, especially between female writers and media personalities"

NT: You got amazing reviews on your book from people like Charlotte Roche, Christoph Amend, Ronja von Rönne and Rafael Horzon. How close is the media landscape in Germany? Elbows or encouragement?
Ilona Hartmann: I was lucky to find a lot of support, encouragement and trust within the scene, especially between female writers and media personalities, for example from my amazing editor Friederike Schilbach. Also, I’m not competitive at all. So when there are elbows towards my work or me as a person, I either don’t notice or don’t care – which of course is a huge privilege. On the other hand, I try to be just as supportive and pass on what I learned to friends and colleagues whenever I can.

NT: These days, you can’t stop talking about what other topics?
Ilona Hartmann: Generally: The times we live in. Politically, structurally, emotionally.

NT: What would you change if you had the possibility to sustainably influence the creative industries?
Ilona Hartmann: Support diversity in all areas and leading positions and offer everyone a space to create and grow in their own pace and way. So much creativity and energy are lost fighting for visibility.


"If someone claims to know “the absolute best” pizza or ice cream in town it’s mostly because they live nearby."

NT: You once said that Berlin teaches you how to live an unhealthy life in contrast to yourotherwise very organized, cleaned-up and healthy self. What did you learn from being in the German capital?
Ilona Hartmann: Sekt on ice is your friend. Heartburn is not but they do come as a couple. Don’t wait to be given a break, take it. If someone claims to know “the absolute best” pizza or ice cream in town it’s mostly because they live nearby. Life is not what happens in between catastrophes, it’s the catastrophe.

NT: As a journalist – do you still read? What are your favourite formats?
Ilona Hartmann: I do read a lot in as many ways as possible. My twitter feed is a constant source of information and entertainment. Newspapers deepen my knowledge. Books broaden my language and imagination about how life could be lived differently.

NT: What was your last mind-blowing revelation?
Ilona Hartmann: Cocktail sauce is just ketchup and mayo mixed together and I was socialized racist.

NT: Personal leeway (=Freiraum): What does it mean for you and where can you find it?
Ilona Hartmann: It’s a certain sense of headspace. Where I find it? Offline.

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