News | Gütersloh, 11/08/2022

‘Blue Sofa Gütersloh’: Pinar Atalay Talks About Her Life

Last Sunday, RTL presenter Pinar Atalay took a seat on the "Blue Sofa" in the Gütersloh Theater's sold-out "Skylobby” to present her book "Schwimmen muss man selbst" (No One Can Swim It For You) as part of the "Lesestadt Gütersloh” event series.

The story of the “working-class child with Turkish roots who grew up in an East Westphalian-Lippe village who became a journalist and presenter who wishes the Germans ‘good evening’ at prime time” captivated the guests in the packed Skylobby of the Theater Gütersloh last Sunday evening. RTL presenter Pinar Atalay sat on the “Blue Sofa Gütersloh” to read from her new book “Schwimmen muss man selbst” (No One Can Swim It For You – How I Made My Way from the Working Class into German TV) and also gave her enthralled enthusiastic listeners an insight into her life. The sold-out “Blue Sofa” event took place as part of the successful “Lesestadt Gütersloh” (Gütersloh, City of Reading) series and was organized by Bertelsmann in cooperation with “Kultur Räume Gütersloh.”

Pinar Atalay, 44, was born into a working-class family in Extertal in the East Westphalia-Lippe region of Germany. She is best known for anchoring the main news program on NDR television, and hosting the political talk show “phoenix Runde” and ARD’s business magazine show “plusminus.” She was also the first woman with Turkish roots to anchor ARD’s “tagesthemen.” Since August 2021, Pinar Atalay has been a top journalist and presenter at RTL, where she is formative in creating/designing/developing the group’s/broadcaster’s news programs and political coverage. Among other things, she hosted the first truel between Germany’s chancellor candidates. In conversation with moderator Thorsten Jantschek on the “Blue Sofa Gütersloh,” the freshly minted book author talked about her unusual rise to her current position as a well-known journalist. She noted that the event was a premiere for her: it was the first time she was reading live in front of an audience from her book, which was published by Penguin. The Gütersloh audience was enthusiastic from the start about the journalist’s entertaining yet serious manner, and showed their appreciation with a lot of laughs and long-lasting applause.

‘Not to be reduced to my immigrant background’

The background to her personal story is of a more serious nature. For Pinar Atalay, origin is more than just the country or place of birth. For her, origin is also, for example, the social environment one grows up in. “I didn’t want to be reduced to my immigrant background,” she explained to the Gütersloh audience. “I’m often asked how I ‘made it,’ what was different about me.” A lot of things came naturally, she says. For example, she chose the university entrance certificate track because her friends did, and went into radio because she wasn’t content with merely listening to the radio in the boutique she had opened in Lemgo.

Using the example of her own story and through interviews with personalities such as “First Lady” Elke Büdenbender, CDU Chairman Armin Laschet, actress Sibel Kekilli, and the Minister President of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Manuela Schwesig, Pinar Atalay has shown how success can be possible despite coming from a working-class background. According to her, people who take someone by the hand without pitying them are helpful. In her book, Atalay also travels back to people from her own past. She talks to her schoolteacher and her riding instructor. These conversations were particularly dear to her, she told her “Blue Sofa” listeners.

And yet, she is careful to point out that she does not want to be a role model, but rather to inspire and show children with a background similar to hers what is possible, with an emphasis on the idea of equal opportunity. Because often it is not the immigrant background itself that prevents many from advancing, but the fact that they hail from the ‘working class’. Children from such families need to be encouraged to realize their potential, says the journalist. Beyond encouragement and policy changes, this also requires the self-confidence and will to forge one’s own path. Her book also clearly shows that Pinar Atalay believes in diligence, a word she uses often in her book.

30 events all over town

What the Bertelsmann employees among the guests may have found particularly interesting: Pinar Atalay reported that she has had ties with the media company from a very young age. Because her sister was a “Bookworm” and a member of the Bertelsmann Book Club, she herself also began to immerse herself in the world of books. The sisters used their pocket money to order more titles, which they also lent out to their neighbors’ kids. The “Blue Sofa Gütersloh” with Pinar Atalay was the finale, and one of the highlights, of “Lesestadt Gütersloh,” which started on October 28. Sponsored by Bertelsmann for the fourth time, it featured readings by numerous authors – including many from Penguin Random House publishers – and other colorful events. The event series comprised some 30 events at various locations all over town. The evening with Pinar Atalay was the eighth “Blue Sofa Gütersloh” event overall. She joins an illustrious lineup of bestselling authors including Dörte Hansen, Wladimir Kaminer, Elke Heidenreich and, most recently, Roland Kaiser, who have delighted audiences in Gütersloh.