"The main idea is to get out there": But First, ARD Foreign Correspondent Headed Home
(© WDR/ R. Ziegenhorn)
At the end of this year, foreign correspondent Anja Bröker of ARD German Television will leave New York to return to the studio in Cologne. This marks the completion of the seasoned journalist's third turn abroad in just 12 years. One theme has guided her fascinating career, which has taken her to Washington, DC, Moscow, and Beijing more than all the others: you have to get out there.
"I just thought to myself, the main idea is to get out," says Bröker, when telling the story of how she ended up in New York, which one might say really begins with how she ended up a student at American University and intern on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC during the Clinton administration. Born in East Berlin, Bröker set her sights on going to the US while still a journalism student in Dortmund.
After returning to Germany and finishing up her studies, Bröker got her first chance to hone her skills as a foreign correspondent in Russia for ARD. Though she was based in the capital city, Bröker's reporting brought her to neighbouring countries like Georgia and Azerbaijan, as well as to some of Russia's more isolated regions in the far east. "You lived out of your suitcase, and stories practically fell into your lap," she says of the eventful five years in the country. There was virtually no limit to the type of story Bröker covered; following conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya stood in stark contrast to shooting a documentary tracing the lives of nomads on the Chukotka Peninsula." Moscow is far away, then, and so is the Tagesschau [ARD's daily news report], for that matter," she says. "It's very taxing, but it's something I will always choose to do."
As a reporter, Bröker has spent time both behind and in front of the camera, hosting the daily evening news show Nachtmagazin for a year in between assignments abroad. "I enjoyed bringing the stories by my colleagues into people's living rooms," she says, drawing on her experiences abroad as a tool with which to present events in Germany "with a certain distance."
"I like hosts who have spent a little time outside the country," says Bröker.
She herself has spent more than a little time outside of Germany, following up the year as television host with a two-year stint in Beijing. Whereas Bröker grew up with Russian language instruction, facilitating the networking that made her research and reporting possible, she met with a number of barriers while based in Beijing. There, she struggled to conduct an interview Mandarin or to secure permission to shoot and conduct interviews. "You ask yourself more often, does this interview really have to be taped, or should I just take a walk with this person in the park, remember the details, and make sure no one else is listening? There is a risk," she explains.
Enlarge image Anja Bröker (© WDR/ R. Ziegenhorn) A major skill for journalists is the ability to feel out the territory you cover, to get to know as many contacts as possible and to build relationships that don't center solely on the one-time potential of an interview. Bröker calls it "collecting a mosaic of voices." While challenging, Russia proved after a few years to be a place where "you feel like maybe you have an idea of what is going on," says Bröker. After two years in China, much of Bröker's work was still stifled by the need to send a producer to "go for tea" at the Ministry or the refusal of access to contested areas such as Tibet, especially during the Olympics in Beijing.
On the other hand, her three years in New York have presented her with their own unique challenge. "People are more mobile nowadays," she says. "Everybody knows what Broadway looks like." Reporting from China, the expectations were entirely different: "It's exotic and no one knows what's going on there. And everyone wants to see it," says Bröker. And after two years of chipping away, through both personal and professional relationships, she began to uncover aspects that no one just passing through could ever access.
So she's sought out new ways to illuminate New York's lesser-known treasures- as well as its less positive aspects. In addition to daily news coverage, Bröker has produced documentaries for the Weltreisen (World Travel) program, shown on weekends in Germany, covering the appeal of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the transformation of the Bronx, and the life of the 7 train. She's held interviews with intriguing, amusing, and just plain strange individuals in the city- and shared their stories with a German audience. She maintains a video blog for ARD alongside her colleague Lena Bodewein called "New York, New York," covering topics from Indian Point nuclear power plant to the city's homeless shelters.
For a reporter whose first experience with the big city was from her participation in 1995 NYC Marathon, there is much to look back on after three years of New York life. And if it weren't for the desire to put on her running shoes and get out there, it's unlikely she would have such an interesting story to tell. After some time in Cologne, she says, she's ready for whatever comes next- as long as it takes her someplace new. Just to get out there.