M&M Creative, Berlin
art, Berlin, events, Humour, Language, Life in Berlin, Literature, News, people, politics, theatre, things to do

M&M Creative: Workshops for Individuals and Business

I’ve started a company! Everyone else in Berlin has a startup, so I thought I’d launch one too.

M&M Creative, Berlin
M&M Creative, Berlin

I’ve joined forces with actor and writer Mary Kelly, and together, we’re devising original workshops to help individuals and companies maximise creative expression. We have twenty years combined coaching experience (BBC, The Opera Stage, Berlin and The Gaiety School of Acting, Dublin) and our publications include The New York Times, Nick Hern Books, Penguin Random House, Stinging Fly Press, Asia Literary Review and more.

Great. So when’s the first one?

Our first workshop is for women, trans and non-binary people who want to start writing, continue to develop their craft, or anyone who needs a creative boost. It will take place on Saturday 9th March, from 10 am — 5 pm in Kreuzberg.

How is it original?

We are combining an actor’s approach to character and story with a writer’s.

We will be working on character development, dialogue, structure, layering and subtext by getting people on their feet, into their bodies, and using their physical voices, so what lands on the page is the most connected and full-bodied expression.

What will I get out of it?

You will leave the workshop with new and original work, energised and equipped to continue.

What other workshops are we devising?

pinterest_profile_image
M&M Creative, Berlin

Improv for Writers.

Improv for Women in Business.

Writing from the Body with Bowspring Yoga.

From Page to Publication.

Flow sessions for writers.

Storytelling and Acting Coaching for Presentations in English (for non-native  speakers)

To learn more and keep up to date, like us on Facebook.

Use Your Voice: A Creative Writing Workshop for Women will take place from 10 am – 5pm on Saturday 9th March 2019 at Lettrétage, Mehringdamm 61, 10961 Berlin. Book now via Eventbrite (€150).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, relationships, sex, things to do

Book Review: Berlin: 69 Erotic Places

Berlin has often been termed the sex capital of the world, famous for its sexually liberal attitude, vibrant gay scene, sex parties and clubs.

berlin erotic places

Berlin: 69 Erotic Places does exactly what it says on the cover, dedicating one page of text, coupled with one image, to each ‘erotic’ attraction. The book has the look and feel of a 1970s porn mag, and its attitude is equally outdated. The term ‘erotic’ implies positive sexual arousal and mutual pleasure, but the book is skewered towards straight men.

Much of the content covers the city’s many brothels, strip clubs, and massage parlours, and although the author might find it erotic that “between 10 and 15 girls will fascinate you with their strip dances” at Rush Hour, the women working there might have another point of view. Of the 69 images in the book, 32 sexually objectify women.

The book itself demonstrates this issue. It gives voice to a few women, and these passages are disturbing and decidedly unerotic. For example, 25-year-old prostitute Alexa, who works the street-walking strip along Kurfürstenstraße, says: “The first time was really uncomfortable and I had a horribly bad conscience and felt totally filthy afterwards.” Another woman, Sue, 26, a ‘hobby whore’ who attends gang bang parties, describes how a fellow guest ‘hounded’ her to join her first party while she sat nervous in the hallway. She eventually relented and ‘spent 9 hours straight getting fucked.’ She talks about how she was aroused by erotic films in her youth, her need to be desired, and sense of fulfilment when she turns a man on, and how she equates this with money. Internalised misogyny, sexism and sexual objectification are also unerotic.

Despite all this, there are some gems in the book. The author clearly knows his topic, and this shows even when he covers famous attractions, like Kit Kat Club, which “has some of its own artists whose artwork decorates the club. The most-well-known is the ‘Träumer’ with his glowing nude images. Works from Till Bernesga, Jürgen Fenegerg and Dimitrij Vojnow are also on display.” Other gems include Kuschelparty, where people experiment with touching different people in different ways, Darkside, where late night lovers of bizarre eroticism, fetishists, and bondage artists meet, and Liebesinsel or ‘love island’ one of Berlin’s 34 islands where you can enjoy peace and nature with your partner(s).

Berlin: 69 Erotic Places by Dirk Engelhardt is out now.

Zero and the One novel
Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, people

Reading: Ryan Ruby at Shakespeare and Sons

Last night, Berlin-based author Ryan Ruby read from his debut novel The Zero and the One at Shakespeare and Sons bookshop in Friedrichshain.

Zero and the One novel

The novel centres around a suicide pact between Zach and Owen, two philosophy students at Oxford University. Although they come from vastly different backgrounds – Owen from a working class British family and Zach from New York money – they develop a close friendship.

Zach becomes obsessed with obscure German philosopher Hans Abendroth and his elusive book The Zero and the One. So it is to this book that Owen returns after Zach’s violent death as he tries to grapple with what happened. Every chapter of the novel begins with an excerpt from the philosophy book as Owen navigates a story that shifts between the locations of Oxford, New York and Berlin.

In a way, the feel of the novel corresponds to how it was created. Ruby said that he wrote the first draft while travelling. Often he would work in one New York cafe, then go for a walk, letting ideas come to him, before settling down to continue in another. A good part of the novel was also composed on trains, planes and buses.

Details, observations and episodes from different places are lines connecting the dots of the narrative. Many sentences are like the lofty thoughts that drift through the mind of a walker. Of course Owen and Zach, like the author, are students of philosophy. This too gives the book a particular quality. Fiction and philosophy are linked – both are exercises in thought experiments. Philosophy, however, is abstract, whereas fiction builds its arguments through characters and feeling. With this novel, the intellectual is present, but the emotional is lacking.

Ryan Ruby will be reading from The Zero and the One at 7 pm, 22nd April 2017 at St. George’s Bookshop in Prenzlauer Berg (Wörther Strasse 27, 10405 Berlin) 

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, people, things to do

English bookshops in Neukölln

Guest post by Álvaro Sendra González 

A lot of things have changed in Neukölln in the last five years, for good and bad, and a new international community is growing in the former “problem neighbourhood”. Suddenly those dark streets with empty casinos and betting offices were taken over by cafés, restaurants, vintage-shops, and art galleries, and many locals who couldn’t afford their apartments anymore had to leave.

Books in Neukölln

Part of this new-Neukölln encompasses numerous independent bookshops that have recently opened their doors in an era dominated by multinational companies with “creative“ tax strategies. I’ve always believed that books unite us; bookshops are meeting-places for book lovers, be they newcomers or locals. Because many of us newcomers can read English better than German, I made this list of six English-speaking bookshops in Neukölln:

Berlin Book Nook
This cosy place offers a broad selection of second-hand books, mostly fiction, humanities and art.  Gardening and cooking fans will also find joy here. Children are always welcome, since they have a wide range of books for readers aged 2 and up. Thursdays is the Book Nook Late Night, when they open till 10pm!

Pflügerstraße 63, theberlinbooknook.de

Buchbund
Even though this is a mostly Polish-German bookshop, their English selection is very well curated. Here you’ll find new books, mostly literature, including many translations of sadly overlooked Polish authors, as well as other literature from around the world. Buchbund is a good place to buy philosophy and history books, or to just sit and enjoy a cup of good coffee in the best company (a book).

Sanderstraße 8, buchbund.de

Buchhafen
The newest bookshop in Neukölln is a great destination for international book lovers looking for new books in Turkish, German and English, while enjoying a delicious cup of coffee. They specialise in anglophone literature, and their theory section (philosophy, politics, social sciences, humanities etc) is remarkable. Don’t miss the room in the back, which houses second-hand books.

Okerstraße 1, buchhafen-berlin.de

Curious Fox
Probably the best English bookshop in Neukölln. Their broad selection will satisfy pretty much everyone: fiction, poetry, new and second-hand, graphic novels. Especially remarkable is their crime, sci-fi and fantasy selection, and also their children’s books corner. Like them on Facebook to keep up with the many readings, poetry-evenings, quiz nights and other activities they organize.

Flughafen Str. 22, curiousfoxbooks.com

Pequod Books
This very organised, clean bookshop sells second-hand books in more than 25 different languages, hand-picked by the owner’s taste (actually by me, the author of the list you’re reading. Hi mum!), among them some 1000 books in English: mostly fiction, but also children books, humanities, theory, art… If you’re looking for books written by Paolo Coelho or some football player this might not be your place.

Selchower Straße 33, pequodbooks.de

Topics
And last but not least, the most interesting bookshop of the six: a concept bookshop. Here the books are not organised from A to Z like in other places, but by topic. Instead of shelves, they have boxes, each of which has a topic: drugs, post-modern westerns, conspiracies, love triangles, black literature… A great place to discover new authors.

Weserstraße 166, topics-berlin.com

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature

Inkblot Berlin: Berlin Writers Read

This Friday, 29th January, I will be reading at Inkblot Berlin at the English Theatre. Come along…

Inkblot Berlin: Berlin Writers Read

Inkblot Berlin gives you the chance to hear the voices behind the words. Working writers from the city read their drama, poetry and prose.

Formed in the furnace of the writing scene in Berlin, Inkblot seeks to shine a light on what is happening in the writing groups and draughty garrets of this vibrant capital. For this inaugural event we present Mary Kelly, twice published playwright from Dublin, Madhvi Ramani a polymath who writes for children and adults and Ben Maddox, who turns his bitter gaze onto rural life.

Let us tell you our stories.

Inkblot Berlin is taking place at 8pm, Friday 29th January 2016, at the English Theatre Berlin (Fidicinstr. 40, 10965 Berlin).

art, Berlin, Literature

Exhibition: There’s no place like time

There’s no place like time is an art exhibition with a twist. It’s a retrospective of the work of video artist Alana Olsen, curated by her daughter Aila, who lives in Berlin. So far, so good. It’s only when you look at the exhibition brochure, dated December 2018, that you realise something is awry.

3 s jetty colorPrinting error? No. The video artist Alana Olsen and her daughter Alia are actually characters out of Lance Olsen’s novel Theories of Forgetting. We are looking at the work of a fictive artist, curated by her fictive daughter. Olsen’s book has spiraled out of its binding and into our reality, or perhaps we have circled into its fictionality, becoming characters ourselves.

The exhibition is, in reality, a collaboration between author Lance Olsen and video artist Andi Olsen. Between them, they have brought the spirit of the fictive artist alive as well as her daughter’s attempt to put the pieces of her mother’s life together to try to grasp her and stop her spiraling away into oblivion.

The themes of time, place, deterioration and winding down run through the exhibition – themes which are also important to the novel. Lance Olsen’s creation can be seen as a spiral itself – first inspired by Robert Smithson’s famous earthwork The Spiral Jetty (above), the novel has unconventional page-layouts and two back covers so you can start from either end, it has now spun back out into a physical space and collaboration with a visual artist once more.

An immersive, multi-dimensional and unique approach to art, which people can delve into in many different ways.

There’s no place like time is on until Sunday 15th November at the Greenhouse Berlin (8th floor, Gottlieb-Dunkel Str. 43/44, 12099 Berlin).

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, people

Pigeon Posts: Letters from Berlin and Giveaway

Letters from Berlin is a collection of twelve essays by writers, film-makers, photographers and artists based in different districts of the German capital. The essays are being released in staves, or weekly installments, by Berlin-based digital publisher The Pigeonhole.

Like all good start-ups, The Pigeonhole has managed to combine an old idea – serialising books (the model in Victorian times) – with modern technology. You can read on your Kindle, laptop or other devices, click on extra content like photos, sound recordings and videos, and interact with the writer and fellow readers as the book is released – or simply catch up with everything afterwards.

The first essay The Squirrel Principle by writer and translator Lucy Renner Jones, who’s been living in Berlin since the late nineties, was released last week. It starts:

After a morning run, as a friend of mine lay stretching on the grass in her local park, she spotted a red squirrel running up a huge oak tree. Clutched in his mouth was a coffee-to-go cup, plastic lid and all. Once he reached the first branch, he took the cup between his paws, flung aside the lid, and, head back, drained the last dregs of latte.

Yes, this essay is about Prenzlauer Berg, where even the squirrels are gentrified. Part of me clung to the hope that Renner Jones would pursue the caffeine stoked squirrel and, like Alice, fall down the rabbit hole of absurdity, or, at the very least, discuss her friend’s dubious mental state. Another part of me was resigned to the fact that this essay would, inevitably, be about the demographic changes that have affected this particular area of Berlin.

But this is not just another whine about the good old days. Renner Jones is honest about the ambiguity she feels as a Prenzlauer Berg resident. On one hand, she struggles with flocks of tourists, on the other, she admits she is part of the problem. She sidesteps buggies and wonders “why people can’t be more considerate,” while her own “daughter almost slices off their toes with her longboard.” Moreover, Renner Jones knows her topic. Her portrait of Prenzlauer Berg is filled with acute details, funny observations:

The most radical thing you can do here nowadays is give your kid a bag of crisps in public instead of an organic rice waffle.

I’ve been living in Prenzlauer Berg for a while and, being nosy, thought I knew everything about it. I was wrong. The Water Tower is not filled with luxury apartments; a housing commune on Lychener Straße had a yoga studio, library, and communal bathrooms you had to wait half an hour to use every morning; eighty-five per cent of the original population of Prenzlauer Berg has left the area since the Wall fell.

Gentrification is a particular Berlin neurosis (see my recent review of Berlin film Victoria) and, although I still mourn the loss of the latte-sipping squirrel, it’s probably apt that the opening essay of a collection about the city tackles the issue head on. I’m curious to see what insights and discussions the other essays, about districts of Berlin that I’m not so familiar with, will provoke.

The Pigeonhole are giving away five subscriptions to Letters from Berlin to readers of An Englishman in Berlin. To win, leave a comment below saying which area of Berlin you would most like to read an essay about.

art, Germany, history, Life in Berlin, Literature

Weekend Trips from Berlin: Weimar

One of the nice things about living in Berlin is its easy connections to other towns and cities. This weekend, The Bavarian and I went to Weimar, which is a two-hour train ride away.

Weimar

Berlin may be the heart of Germany’s cultural scene today, but Weimar was once one of Europe’s most important cultural centres. It’s the home of German Classicism, Bauhaus, and renowned figures, from Goethe and Schiller, to Liszt, Liebermann, Kandinsky, Klee, Feininger and Gropius.

In fact, so many famous people have ties to Weimar that it’s littered with signs like this:

Bach, Weimar

And this:

Hans-Christian Andersen, Weimar

And you get the feeling that the Weimarians are simply showing off.

The most famous resident of Weimar was Goethe. There are so many references to him in the city that The Bavarian and I started playing the ‘Goethe-Game’, where you gained a point for screaming ‘Goethe’ every time you saw his face or name. (I would record the winner, but really, it’s the taking part that counts…)

Goethe’s Residence and the adjoining Goethe National Museum provide a fascinating insight into his life, work and ideas. He had many interests and collections – from Italian majolica to rocks – so there’s plenty to see. (Below, Goethe’s study)

Goethe's study, Weimar

As we continued to tour Weimar screaming ‘Goethe’, we saw Schiller’s residence, Goethe’s garden house, ate a traditional Thüringer Rostbratwurst at the market square (Markt) and enjoyed coffee and cake at Cafe Frauentor.

Restaurant Elephantenkeller, WeimarWe sampled more traditional Thuringian fare for dinner at the Restaurant Elephantenkeller, which is part of The Elephant Hotel (as is the Michelin starred Anna Amalia).

The Elephant Hotel is the place to stay in Weimar. It was established in 1696 and has a reputation for being a social and cultural meeting point for poets, artists and intellectuals. Thomas Mann immortalised the hotel in Lotte in Weimar and was a guest, as was Wagner, Feininger, Ahner and others.

Of course, that was why I wanted to stay at The Elephant. The Bavarian wanted to stay there because of the eggs – specifically the eggs in a glass. He had stayed at the Hotel Fuerstenhof in Leipzig once, which belongs to the same hotel group, and has been going on about eggs in a glass ever since. I had no idea what he was talking about, but when you’re married to a nutter, you learn to nod and not ask too many questions.

Hitler at The Elephant

After dinner, we prowled the hotel floors examining the Baselitz and Liebermann prints on the walls, and the exhibition about the hotel’s history – where this photo of Hitler at The Elephant was displayed – on the first floor.

We stumbled across the suites (all named after esteemed guests) and discovered that a couple with a dog were staying in the Thomas Mann suite, sending The Bavarian into a tirade about how a dog had a better room than him, although it was kind of fitting because Thomas Mann was fond of dogs.

I had to admit though, while sitting in front of my shrimp omelette topped with caviar and watching the Bavarian delicately spoon a soft-boiled egg covered with truffle foam from a little glass, that he was right about the breakfast.

– Satisfied? Will you stop going about eggs in a glass now? I asked.

– Yes. This is better than the other place – it’s a Wagenfeld glass. From now on, I will only talk of one egg, in a Wagenfeld glass.

Rococo Hall, Anna Amalia Library, WeimarDue to our early start, we were able to get a ticket to visit the Anna Amalia Library (there’s a limit to how many are sold per day, so be there early if you’d like a slot).

The library houses an impressive collection focusing on German literature around 1800, and its Rococo Hall (right) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As well as old books, there are items from the library’s cabinet of curiosities, paintings and sculptures.

The last thing we had time for before catching our train back was a visit to the Bauhaus Museum, which has a great collection of art and design works from the school, as well as information about its history and development.

If we had a little longer in Weimar, I would have liked to visit Buchenwald – a place that marks the barbarism that followed the high culture of Weimar – as well as the Nietzsche Archive, Liszt House, City Castle and the Bee Museum  – all that calls for at least one more weekend trip to Weimar.

The Bavarian’s verdict: The egg was the best.

Berlin, Language, Life in Berlin, Literature

Blind Dates with books in Berlin

If you live in Berlin and you like books, you’ll be as excited as I am about Book Flaneur – a novel way of introducing Berliners to books!

I spoke to Nadia and Piotr, the people behind this new community project, to find out more.

Tell us eberswalder_bookhow Book Flaneur works.

We love to call Bookflaneur the ultimate matchmaker for blind dates with books in Berlin. The idea is simple:

Step 1: We lovingly wrap a book

Step 2: We label it nicely to hint at the genre, feel or plot

Step 3: We map secret pick-up locations via Twitter and Google Maps

Step 4: We drop it off at a local business, bench in a park, U-Bahn station or anywhere else

Step 5: A book lover picks up their date

How did you come up with the idea?

Both of us have a soft spot for books. Nadia likes stocking bookshelves with books from flea markets and Piotr likes giving books away to friends and lovely strangers (we make a good team, don’t we?). So, it’s needless to say that we had an itch to do something with books for a long time.

Initially we were inspired by a small library project somewhere across the pond (Piotr stumbled upon this picture of wrapped books while aimlessly browsing the Internet). A couple of entrepreneurial librarians in Australia came up with a simple idea to recycle books by wrapping them up and giving away to speculating readers. This is how our idea was born.

After that, we tweaked the concept several times and added a little jeopardy: We tweet about future book dates using hashtags and post book excerpts on our website to hint at the genre or plot. We also enrich the book-dating experience with geotagging. In other words, we pin our next book-date location on Google Maps. You are very welcome to check it out on our website.

Are the books in English or German, or both?

The original idea was to send only English-speaking books on blind dates with Berliners. However, having listened to the voice of our little community, we have decided to change this. We no longer discriminate books based on language and we spread our book love in both English and German. (*pssst* Expect to see a German version of our website sometime soon in the chilly autumn months to come.)

blind_date

How many blind dates have you set up so far?

Blind dates with books? Four (and counting) in two weeks of our existence. There are many more to come.

Blind dates with people? None so far, but you never know.

Are there any books on your own shelves that you are wed to, and would never give away?

This might sound quirky but Nadia would never part with her collection of dictionaries  – several rather thick volumes of Oxford English dictionaries and a much more humble collection of German, Russian, Polish and Finnish ones. Whenever she moves to a new place, there is a spot on the shelf ready for a new dictionary filled with words of an unfamiliar language.

Now, Piotr discovered a real gem of a book some time ago and he is certain he will never forget the life lessons this book once taught him. Overwhelmed by the speech of an upbeat and terminally ill professor, Really Achieving your Childhood Dreams, Piotr rummaged through bookstores in his hometown to find his biography. The title of the book is The Last Lecture and the said academic who captivated the world with his cheerful and inspirational take on human life is Randy Pausch.

What do you hope Berliners will gain from the project?

A thrill of anticipation. We would like Berliners to get impatient about books. But, of course, patient enough to get through the week until the next blind date.

In addition, we aspire to mainstream the understanding that books are more than just their covers and can live in an ecosystem in which they have several ‘lives’.

Book Flaneur is a free, non-profit community project. Follow them via Twitter @bookflaneur, like, pin, share, subscribe, and upvote their website to help spread the word. You can also support them by suggesting local businesses and interesting places to drop off books, donating a fiver, books, or giving them a high-five.

Germany, history, Literature

Vansittartism

Last Wednesday, I  learnt a new word that filled me with a mixture of glee and shame at Hans Vaget’s lecture Vansittartism Revisited. Thomas Mann, Bertolt Brecht, and the Threat of World War III at The American Academy Berlin.

“Vansittartism” is a  Germanophobic doctrine, set out by former British foreign minister Lord Vansittart in his BBC radio addresses and book Black Record: Germans Past and Present (1941). It states that there is no difference between German leaders (at that time the Nazis) and the German people.

According to Vansittart, the Germans are characterised by “envy, self-pity and cruelty” and Nazism had “finally given expression to the blackness of the German soul”. He based his view on the fact that the Germans had been involved in five wars in the past 100 years (the three wars of German unification and the first and second world wars.) His analysis completely ignored the role of Austria, where Hitler was born and his views formed, (like the Austrians themselves, who in an act of collective amnesia forgot their Nazi past and blamed the Germans.)

As you can imagine, I was nudging the Bavarian with glee during this definition of his people. When I was young, I read Roald Dahl’s The Twits, and I think it is the book that has most defined my approach to marriage – a series of pranks and oneupmanships. The glee came tinged with shame, because Vansittart’s rhetoric is both ridiculous and racist. As Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil makes clear, peoples of every occupied country (except maybe the Danes) were complicit in the terrible crimes committed during WWII.

The lecture, however, provided food for thought. Vaget focussed on the reception of Vansittart’s ideas in the German exile community. Famously, it was a matter of contention between Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht in the USA. While Brecht dismissed Vansittartism completely (as a communist, he made a strong distinction between the German people and those in power), Mann was more ambivalent. His thoughts on Vansittart’s ideas varied at different times in his life, but the lecture proposed that overall, he took Vansittartism seriously and his view was closer to that Willy Brandt – at that time in exile in Sweden.

What is clear, however, is, notwithstanding the fact that Vansittartism is a racist product of the British Empire at war with Germany, the questions it raises – Why the Germans? How could a country that produced some of Europe’s greatest intellectuals be responsible for such barbarity? Who is to blame? – are still relevent.

art, Berlin, Germany, history, Language, Literature

Book Review: Remembrances of Copper Cream

Remembrances of Copper Cream CoverThis unique little book by Berliner Johannes CS Frank, (illustrations by Felix Scheinberger and translations by Florian Voß, Ron Winkler, Judi Hetzroni and Merav Salomon), combines prose and poetry, words and images, diverse voices and languages (with sections in Hebrew, English and German).

This might sound confusing, but the different elements flow together, washing over the reader to create a visceral experience.

The book is a series of impressions of Israel, evoking the heat and illusions of the desert, the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv, the people and places of Jerusalem, the violence, the religion, the wall.

The copper cream of the title colours the scraggly ink sketches depicting electricity lines, men of religion and soldiers.

Remembrances of Copper Cream

It’s an interesting collaboration; the author grew up in England and Germany and lives in a city that is also haunted by war and the division of a wall…

Remembrances of Copper Cream (German title: Erinnerungen an Kupfercreme) is out now, published by FIXPOETRY. An exhibition of the art work can be seen at the ACUD Gallery, Veteranenstraße 21, 10119 Berlin-Mitte, until 17th June 2012.

Literature, Uncategorized

Versatile Blogger Award

So Will McNeice over at Bohemian Breakdancer has nominated me for the Versatile Blogger Award. Hooray!

The requirements of the Award are as follows:

1. Thank the award-givers and link back to them in your post.
2. Share 7 things about yourself.
3. Pass this award along.
4. Contact your chosen bloggers to let them know about the award.

Here goes:

1. Thank you Will for the nomination.

2. I was born in London.  I write fiction; a task which I tackle with difficulty and displeasure yet keep going back to (why?).  I love Roald Dahl.  I was once mistaken by Jason Donovan as a fan, who gave me a hug and had someone take a photo of us together even though I had no idea who he was at the time.  E.T. makes me cry every time I watch it.  When I was a child, my mother followed the advice of the Lebanese man living in the flat above and fed me a raw egg every day for a year – this was in the 1980s at the height of the salmonella-egg-poisoning scandal.  When I was 19 I decided to go to South America by myself and bought the Lonely Planet guide to the country I was landing in at the airport.

3. Most of the blogs I read are fiction-related so in order to avoid being decidedly un-versatile, I’m just going to nominate a couple:

A Fiction Habit is written by a full-time mother and wife with a serious addiction to fiction. She writes with real passion, knowledge and insight about all things to do with story-telling…

And a new blog by Sara Zaske, which focuses on Young Adult Fantasy books and e-books. Not only is Sara passionate about the genre, but she’s recently completed a novel that falls into this category which she’ll be publishing soon. I’ve read it and it’s very good so keep an eye on the blog for further details…

4. Done!

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature, theatre

Every Man Dies Alone at the Maxim Gorki Theatre

You would think that a play based on what Primo Levi called “the greatest book about German resistance to the Nazis” (Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, or Jeder stirbt für sich allein) staged at a reputable theatre (Maxim Gorki in Berlin Mitte) would be watchable, if not enjoyable. Not so.

Director Jorinde Dröse has managed to turn an evocative, insightful work into a meaningless farce. The only emotion the play managed to stir was cringe-making dread, akin to something you’d expect to feel whilst watching a particularly bad village panto. This was not the fault of the actors, who, bless them, were trying hard, but the production.

The play lacked focus, attempting to recite the novel’s various story-threads and introducing new characters right up until the end whilst refusing to commit to what should have been the central story – that of the distribution of cards denouncing Hitler by Otto and Anna Quangel. In a recent interview with ExBerliner Magazine, the director said, “I thought the final part of the book, the part where the Quangels are waiting for their inevitable execution in prison, is very long and depressing, so we decided to leave this final part out.” Herein lies the problem – apart reflecting her general idiocy (a play about fascism should not be depressing?) – the comment demonstrates the director’s fear that audience, akin to a kindergarten class, would get bored at the least hint of serious focus. The result is a continuous assault of noise and activity, meaning nothing.

Problems of unity and consistency stretched to tone (the play did not know whether it was a farce or a tragedy), to the question of whether this was a dramatisation or re-enactment of a novel (characters mostly acted out scenes, but whenever the novel seemed too hard to dramatise, they simply read passages out, referring to themselves or other characters in the third person, the curious result of which reminded me of an unartful version of The Guardian’s Digested Read), and style (Frau Rosenthal throws herself out of the window in some weird-dancey sequence, and – I kid you not – characters express their love for each other by singing renditions Damien Rice’s Can’t Take My Eyes Off You.)

Even the subtitles in English were bad – they were by no means complete and either ran ahead or lagged behind the lines being said on stage – how hard is it to organise accurate subtitles?! The stage design, consisting of a sloping floor which characters were perpetually sliding down, could have been interesting, but since everything else was so dire I found it hard to give a shit.

Which brings me to the question – why is theatre in Berlin so bad? I’ve been here for well over two years now, and every single play I‘ve seen (with perhaps the exception of Hamlet at the Schaubühne) has been terrible. Indeed, I witnessed the worst play of my life in this city – Frank Castorf’s Nach Moskau! Nach Moskau! (again, based on the works of Chekhov no less, at Berlin’s famous Volksbühne). That play was so bad that after over two excruciating hours, with no clue as to whether the pretentious shit of a director would honour his audience with a break, I had to walk out mid-act – the only time I have ever done this. Sitting in the bar opposite trying to recover my senses, I saw that there was indeed an intermission about half an hour later; hoards of people dashed to the nearest U-Bahn station…the theatre must have been half empty for the second half. Seriously, they could use that play as a modern torture technique…

I love German books, films and music, but theatre is one of two things that the British do better than the Germans (the other is television – and I would go so far to say that British theatre is the best in the world.) I’ve heard that a fundamental difference between the two countries is that the director carries more weight than the writer in Germany, but surely this cannot account for the creation of such trash.

Maybe the clue to the answer lies in Dröse’s interview, in which she says that to direct in Berlin “you have to be more radical in your work.” This seems to be the problem; a director’s main concern should be the story. He or she should be concerned with a work’s themes, its characters and their journeys, but in attempting to be radical, Berlin directors are only succeeding in producing radically bad plays.

Jeder stirbt für sich allein is on at the Maxim Gorki Theater, Am Festungsgraben 2, Mitte, S+U-Bhf Friedrichstr.

Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature

Photos from Not In Kansas

Last night’s reading was a success; Cafe Hilde was packed, our audience was rapt from beginning to end, no one threw tomatoes at us, and everyone had a fantastic time…

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Berlin, Life in Berlin, Literature

Not In Kansas: An Evening of Literature in English

This promises to be a good evening: Writers read out a diverse range of literature in English (did I mention I’m organising it?)

Come along!

Visit our Facebook Event Page

Literature

International Literature Festival Berlin

Radio Eins interviews Pankaj Mishra
Radio Eins interviews Pankaj Mishra

The International Literature Festival Berlin is well underway, with lots of interesting events going on around the city. This year there is special focus on the Asia-Pacific, with events covering topics from Reporting from Conflict Zones and Criticism of Islam, to Katherine Mansfield and Rabindranath Tagore.

Participants include Pankaj Mishra (you can listen to the brief interview he gave to Radio Eins here), Louis de Bernières and Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa. There is also a special section of events dedicated to International Children’s and Youth Literature.

On Sunday evening, C.K. Stead talked about what has to be one of my favorite novels My Name was Judas, in which Judas, now an old man living a peaceful life surrounded by his family, tells the story of his time with Jesus.

Priya Basil, C.K. Stead and Friedhelm Ptok at the International Literature Festival Berlin, 2011
Priya Basil, C.K. Stead and Friedhelm Ptok at the International Literature Festival Berlin, 2011

Stead, New Zealand’s foremost literary critic, poet, novelist and writer, revealed that the novel began with a comment he made to his wife whilst writing about Katherine Mansfield, in whose life D.H. Lawrence featured, that trying to write about Lawrence was ‘like writing about God.” After making this utterance, he started thinking about how one would actually write about God. Different problems and solutions occurred to him, and the novel formed in his mind.

Not being a believer himself and having no relation to the characters involved, Stead wondered whether he was the right person to tell this story. He overcame this obstacle by making Judas close in character to himself. Instead of an evil betrayer, Stead’s Judas is an intelligent, skeptical man, who always has his childhood friend Jesus’s best interests at heart.

His portrayal of Jesus is similarly novel – it is almost as if the personality traits of the two characters have been reversed in this re-telling. Jesus is bright, charismatic, manipulative and sometimes fundamentalist. Stead tried to reconcile what he saw as two different Jesuses in the Bible – one loving and the other vengeful – through the application of a time frame, so that Jesus starts out with a message of love and progressively becomes more extreme. Stead further humanises Jesus through the difficult and often comic relationship between him and his mother.

The discussion covered the role of langauge, story-telling and the nature of belief. Stead read from one of the most dramatic sections of the book, which takes place just after the crucifixion, followed by a wonderfully read translation by actor Friedhelm Ptok. He also read a couple of the poems that end each chapter and revealed a little trick that I had failed to notice; every one of the stanzas has thirteen syllables.

Although the book is available in multiple languages, it has not for some reason been translated into German. Despite this, there was a good turnout – about 40 people in a venue that was a little too spacious.

By stark contrast, about a hundred people squeezed into the tiny space at Dialogue Bookshop for Conflict and Writing: How do we tell stories after a crisis? on Monday evening. Granta editor John Freeman chaired the discussion with authors Nam Le , Madeleine Thien and Berlin’s own Priya Basil.

Nam Le read from his award-winning debut short-story collection The Boat, Madeleine Thien from her novel about the Cambodian genocide Dogs at the Perimeter, and Priya Basil from her novel Ishq and Mushq, a love story set against the backdrop of India’s Patition.

The authors talked about their experiences and thoughts relating to writing about conflict, the language of conflict, the role and importance of literature dealing with conflict and of course, 9/11…I can’t reproduce the entire discussion here, but the most interesting part of it for me revolved around Don DeLillo’s thoughts, made years before 9/11, when he said, “I used to think it was possible for a novelist to alter the inner life of the culture. Now bomb-makers and gunmen have taken that territory. They make raids on human consciousness”.

The International Literature Festival Berlin is on until Saturday 17th September 2011.

Berlin, Language, Life in Berlin, Literature

Translation Idol

Far better than Pop Idol, Translation Idol is a regular Berlin event in which contestants battle it out to provide the best translation of a German text in English. The winners get…erm, nothing much really, but it’s an illuminating exercise.

The competition is organised by No Mans Land, the magazine of German literature in translation, and the fourth one took place at Dialogue Books  last night. Participants had to translate a particularly challenging section from Verena Rossbacher’s forthcoming novel schlachten. Ein Alphabet der Indizien. (you can see the excerpt at Love German Books)

It’s  interesting to see the multiple ways in which something can be expressed. Take, for example, “aber alle aalglatt und perfekt poliert und wie gut ausgebuttert und dass er abrutscht darauf,”  which was translated in various ways from “but all are as slippery as an eel and perfectly polished and buttered and he slips and slides over them” (Anne Posten), and “but everywhere is slippery, perfectly polished and oiled, so that he skids and falls” (Joseph Given) to “but everyone’s slippery as eels and perfectly polished and like greased piglets and his grip slips” (Bradley Schmidt, who is from Kansas, where they have greased pig contests – if you don’t believe me, you can see one here) and “but they’re a’ like Teflon, all polished tae perfection, they’re like slipp’ry wee sprats, so he slides right off em'” (Hugh Fraser, whose translation into Scottish dialect, strangely, made the most sense to me.)

Or “schnaufenden Projektor,” which was translated to “puffing projector,” “gasping projector,” “snivelling projector,” and, most commonly, “wheezing projector”.

Listening to the same text being read over and over again with slight variations illuminated it from different angles – a more intense version of re-reading a book. In the end, Tom Morrison won the Poet’s Prize (which was chosen by the author, who also attended and gave a reading at the event) and Bradley Schmidt won the Audience Vote.

Most of the participants were regulars and professional translators, and, strangely, men (8 out of the 10 contestants to be precise). Can that be an accurate representation of the male-female ratio in the translating business?!

If you’re interested in the topic, Translating Berlin is an entertaining blog by a (female!) American translator living in the city.

Literature

Review: City-Lit Berlin

city-lit BerlinUnlike other Berlin guidebooks, City-Lit Berlin is a literary guide that encompasses 127 excerpts from texts about the city by no less than 69 writers. It seems an apt approach to getting to know this city, the most volatile capital in Europe for more than a century; a city of ghosts and of artists that has been so many things to so many people.

The book lives up to the challenge, presenting a wide range of impressions, from German classics like Theodor Fontane’s Effie Breist to Tobias Rüther’s description of David Bowie’s cycle through Berlin. It includes blog posts, a number multicultural viewpoints, such as that of Indian writer and journalist Salil Tripathi and Turkish author and actress Emine Sevgi Özdamar, as well as texts never before translated into English.

These brief sketches build, layer upon layer, a detailed picture of the city. The cover bills the city-lit series as ‘perfect gems of city writing’, which every piece in this book is. It is a book that you can dip in an out of, picking up a gem of writing and rolling it between your thumb and forefinger as you walk round the city before inspecting the next gem. At the very least, it serves as a good reading list for anyone interested in Berlin.

City-Lit Berlin, edited by Heather Reyes and Katy Derbyshire, is published by Oxygen Books.

Literature

Berlin LitFest: Barbara Hammond and Harald Martenstein

So Berlin Literature Festival has kicked off, and we’ve attended two very different events so far.

Barbara HammondOn Wednesday evening Barbara Hammond read her dramatic monologue Eva the Chaste at Cafe Hilde. Eva has returned to Dublin after 20 years abroad to look after her dying mother. In that hour when night turns to dawn, Eva speaks about everything from the Catholic guilt and sexual repression of her childhood to her sexual promiscuity as an adult.

Her monologue is frank, peppered with dark humour and interesting turns of phrase. At its heart is her dysfunctional relationship with her mother, and the drama builds layer upon layer, towards its inevitable end.

Hammond herself read the monologue, although it is usually performed by actress Aedin Moloney. Eva the Chaste previously toured in New York living rooms, so having a group of about 15 people (including a very well-behaved baby) gathered around her armchair at the intimate Cafe Hilde seemed apt. She did not get distracted by the fact that the noise from the cafe was a bit too loud at the beginning – testament to the fact that she is an actress as well as a playwright and director – and read with an authentic, confident voice and fluidity throughout.

She seemed pleased, even a little surprised, that people had turned up to see her, and hung around to answer questions afterwards. During the conversation that followed, she explained that the character of Eva had just started talking to her one day, as characters sometimes do, and as Eva had yet more to say she was considering making the piece longer and turning it into a novella.

Harald Martenstein Kino Babylon 2010Yesterday evening well-known German columnist and writer Harald Martenstein presented his new novel Gefühlte Nähe to an audience of roughly 100 people at Kino Babylon. The book is more like a series of 23 short stories, all related from the point of view of different men who have one thing in common; a woman named N. Martenstein’s intention was to explore the love-lives of people in the late 20th century.

The first story he read was about a teacher on whom N had a crush as a schoolgirl, and the second was a conversation between two guys (one of whom had had an affair with N) about women. Both were unexceptional. The first at least had a story going for it, while the second was filled with clichés about women being princesses in love with their fathers etc that you would hear down the pub, which isn’t a problem in itself but becomes one when nothing else really happens, in which case it becomes more like a rant – or, for that matter, a column (for what are columns but rants?)

Martenstein’s particular talent is his humour, and his stories certainly got some laughs, but ultimately they lacked substance. If he weren’t such a well-known figure, I doubt he’d get these published.

He writes well in the male voice, and said that he had chosen to write all these stories from male perspectives because that was what he felt more comfortable with. However, part of a writer’s skill is to be able to write from different points of view. Moreover, even though this book is about men, there’s something chauvinistic about the fact that they are all tied together by a woman who never gets her say. And why is she simply called ‘N’, and not named?

Literary critic Marius Meller asked him a few questions between the two readings, but didn’t draw the author into any meaningful conversation about the work. In any case, he seemed more concerned about the fact that we all had to get out of the room by 8pm. There was no opportunity for the audience to ask questions, although one brave woman did grab her chance to shout out a question about whether Martenstein endorsed the kind of lifestyle that he was writing about. I bet she wished that she hadn’t bothered, because he cut her down with a comment about how he relies on the intelligence of his readers to recognise the difference between the author and his fiction. This inevitably got a few laughs, which encouraged Martenstein to go on insulting the woman, in effect repeating the same point about five times.  What an arrogant git.

Literature

Berlin International Literature Festival

The 10th Berlin International Literature Festival begins tomorrow. Thirty-five writers, including Israel Bar Kohav, Wladimir Kaminer and Kate DiCamillo from twenty-one countries will take part in the festival in locations around Berlin over a period of 10 days.

The main location for events will be the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, and the programme consists of three main parts; Literature of the World, International Children’s and Youth Literature and Eastern Europe.  You can find a full programme of events here.

Literature

Top Ten Berlin Novels

Berlin has been the inspiration and provided the setting for many novels. Here are my top ten!

10. Book of Clouds by Chloe Aridjis

book of clouds“Ever since arriving in Berlin I’d become a professional in lost time. It was impossible to account for all the hours. The hands on clocks and watches jumped ahead or lagged behind indiscriminately. The city ran its own chronometric scale.”

Tatiana is a Mexican in Berlin who flits from one job to another. One of her jobs is typing for a reclusive old historian. The subject? The history of Berlin. This book is very much about the city, where the past seeps into the present and the story unfolds in a dream-like sequence.

9. The Innocent by Ian McEwan

the innocent“On weekday evenings they walked to the Olympic Stadium and swam in the pool, or, in Kreuzberg, walked along the canal, or sat outside a bar near Mariannenplatz, drinking beer. Maria borrowed bicycles from a cycling club friend. On weekends they
rode out to the villages of Frohnau and Heiligensee in the north, or west to Gatow to explore the city boundaries along paths through empty meadows.”

Set between 1955-56, the novel centres around English spy Leonard Marnham and his love affair with German woman Maria Eckdorf. The novel brings together the story Marnham’s mission, which is to help build a tunnel from the American sector to the Russian sector to tap important phone lines, with his love affair, making it a thrilling tale about lost innocence and loyalties that plays out in pre-wall Berlin.

8. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Döblin

Berlin Alexanderplatz“There is a lot of wind on the Alex, at the Tietz corner there is a lousy draft. A wind that blows between the houses and through the building excavations. It makes you feel you would like to hide in the saloons, but who can do that, it blows through your trousers pockets…Early in the morning the workers come tramping along from Reinickendorf, Neukolln, Weisensee. Cold or no cold, wind or no wind, we’ve gotta get the coffee pot, pack up the sandwiches, we’ve gotta work and slave, the drones sit on top, they sleep in their feather-beds and exploit us.”

I have to admit, I put this novel in here because I had to; it is considered to be a literary masterpiece, influenced strongly by Joyce’s Ulysses. It has a cinematic, shifting, collagic style, and captures the speed, anonymity and chaos of modern city life. Set in 1920s Berlin, it is about small-time criminal Franz Biberkopf. The fragments describing life around Alexanderplatz are beautiful, but it is a hard read.

7. Pleasured by Philip Hensher

pleasured“The car drew to a standstill. The moment of fear and memory and excitement was gone. He was stuck in the middle of a vast and terrifyingly foreign country, on an East German transit road between the borders of West Germany and West Berlin, with two strangers, on New Year’s Eve. The worst place, the worst time, the worst people.”

It is New Year’s Eve 1988 and three people find themselves stranded in a car in East Berlin; Englishman Herr Picker, who has a plan to flood East Berlin with ecstasy tablets in an effort to liberate its occupants, half-hearted terrorist Daphne, and Kreuzberger Friedrich. The novel follows the lives of these three characters over the course of the following year.

6. Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

alone in berlin “The Rosenthals used to have a little haberdashery shop on Prenzlauer Allee that was Aryanized, and now the man has disappeared, and he can’t be far short of seventy. […] And now the old woman is sitting in her flat all alone and doesn’t dare go outside. It’s only after dark that she goes and does her shopping, wearing her yellow star; probably she’s hungry.”

Primo Levi called this “the greatest book ever written about German resistance to the Nazis”. It centres around an apartment block where a couple who lose their son in the war start resisting the regime in their own way. A sad but moving picture of Berlin during the third Reich.

5. The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell

the kindly ones“In front of me was the entrance to the U-Bahn station, Stadmitte on the C line. I ran down the steps, went through the gates, and kept going down into the darkness, guiding myself with one hand on the wall. The tiles were wet, water was welling out of the ceiling and streaming down the vault. Sounds of muffled voices rose from the platform. It was littered with bodies, I couldn’t see if they were dead, sleeping or just lying there, I stumbled over them, people were shouting, children crying or moaning. A train with broken windows, lit by wavering candles, was standing at the platform: inside, some Waffen SS with French insignia were standing to attention, and a tall Brigadefuhrer in a black leather coat, with his back to me, was solemnly handing out decorations to them.”

Okay, so this isn’t entirely a Berlin novel, but a lot of it is set in Berlin – and what a gripping, vivid Berlin it is. The novel is about an SS Officer who encounters people such as Himmler, Speer and Eichmann and is present during significant events such as the Babi Yar massacre in Ukraine, the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Berlin. Historians have praised the novel for its historical accuracy so if you would like a meticulous portrait of Berlin as the centre of the Nazi regime, look no further.

4. Berlin Blues by Sven Regener

berlin bluesInstead of a quote from this novel, I’m going to give you a clip from the film, which was made in 2003, because it is the most hilarious depiction of the fall of the Berlin Wall I have ever seen:

(Update – apologies, this clip has been taken down because of possible copyright issues! But if you go ahead and watch the film, you’ll see which scene I am referring too!)
Like the clip, the novel by Sven Regener, who is also the lead singer and songwriter of band Elements of Crime, is immensely funny. It centres around Herr Lehmann, who is about to turn 30, and his life as a barman in Kreuzberg just before the fall of the wall.

3. Berlin Noir Series by Phillip Kerr

berlin noir“Berlin. I used to love this old city. But that was before it had caught sight of its own reflection and taken to wearing corsets laced so tight that it could hardly breathe. I loved the easy, carefree philosophies, the cheap jazz, the vulgar cabarets and all of the other cultural excesses that characterized the Weimar years and made Berlin seem like one of the most exciting cities in the world.”

Three books; ‘March Violets’, ‘The Pale Criminal’ and ‘A German Requiem’, make up this series, which centres around a Berlin private investigator Bernie Gunther solving crimes during the Nazi regime (March Violets is set in 1936, Pale Criminal in 1938 and German Requiem in 1947). Kerr’s Berlin is a dark place full of corruption and moral ambiguity and his stories are tight, complex page-turners.

2. The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov

the gift“A multitude of streets diverging in all directions, jumping out from behind corners and skirting the above-mentioned places of prayer and refreshment, turned it all into one of those schematic pictures on which are depicted for the edification of beginning motorists all the elements of the city, all the possibilities for them to collide.”

The Gift tells the story of a Russian writer Fyodor Godunov-Cherdyntsev living in Berlin, and his love affair with Zina Mertz. It is filled with vivid descriptions of 1920s Berlin, and focuses on the Russian émigré population in the city.

Nabokov lived in Berlin between 1922 and 1937 and for anyone interested in his literature and relationship with the city, I would really recommend  Dieter E. Zimmer’s article on Nabokov’s Berlin , complete with pictures and all. (And if you like that, he‘s written a book with the same name too).

1. Goodbye to Berlin by Christopher Isherwood

goodbye to berlin“Berlin is a skeleton which aches in the cold: it is my own skeleton aching. I feel in my bones the sharp ache of the frost in the girders of the overhead railway, in the iron-work of balconies, in bridges, tramlines, lamp-standards, latrines. The iron throbs and shrinks, the stone and the bricks ache dully, the plaster is numb.”

Goodbye to Berlin is one of the two novels that make up Isherwood’s Berlin Stories (the other being Mr Norris Changes Trains). Set in Berlin between 1930 – 1933, Isherwood depicts an intriguing array of characters, from prostitutes to wealthy Jewish store owners, and their lives in the city during the Nazi rise to power.

The fact that Isherwood lived in Berlin during this period, the novels’ easy style, and the claim that his main character (also a writer named Christopher) makes as being ‘a camera with its shutter open, quite passive, recording, not thinking’, fools the reader into thinking that this is a memoir. However, it is a well-crafted piece of fiction as James Wood’s insightful analysis of the following paragraph shows:

““The entrance to the Wassertorstrasse was a big stone archway, a bit of old Berlin, daubed with hammers and sickle and Nazi crosses and plastered with tattered bills which advertised auctions or crimes. It was a deep shabby cobbled street, littered with sprawling children in tears. Youths in woollen sweaters circled waveringly across it on racing bikes and whooped at girls passing with milk-jugs. The pavement was chalk-marked for the hopping game called Heaven and Earth. At the end of it, like a tall, dangerously sharp, red instrument, stood a church”

The more one looks at this rather wonderful piece of writing, the less it seems ‘a slice of life’, or a camera’s easy swipe, than a very careful ballet. The passage begins with an entrance: the entrance of the chapter. The reference to hammers and sickles and Nazi crosses introduces a note of menace, which is completed by the sardonic reference to commercial bills advertising ‘auctions and crimes’: this may be commerce but it is uncomfortable close to commercial graffiti – after all, isn’t auction and crime what polititians, especially the kind involved in communist or fascist activities, do? They sell us things and commit crimes. The Nazi ‘crosses’ nicely link us to the children’s game called Heaven and Earth, and to the church, except that, threateningly enough, everything is inverted: the church no longer looks like a church but like a red instrument (a pen, a knife, an instrument of torture, the ‘red’ the colour of both blood and radical politics), while the ‘cross’ has been taken over by the Nazis. Given this inversion, we understand why Isherwood wants to top and tail this paragraph with the Nazi crosses at the start and the church at the end: each changes place in the course of a few lines.” (Wood, How Fiction Works 44-45)

Goodbye to Berlin inspired the play I Am a Camera and the Tony Award-winning musical Cabaret, which in turn was adapted into Bob Fosse’s film Cabaret starring Liza Minnelli.

Life in Berlin, Literature

New poetry evening at St Gaudy Café

Thursday evening saw the first of a monthly poetry evening called Rage into the Night at St Gaudy Café, Prenzlauer Berg.

Unlike most poetry events in Berlin, this was not a Poetry Slam – which tend to be open mic competitions with a strong focus on performance – but an altogether more sombre affair featuring a line-up of four quite well-known poets.

First up was Will Carruthers, a poet-musician who is mostly known for playing bass in the bands Brian Jonestown Massacre, Spacemen 3 and Spiritualized. Despite his Chesterfield roots, Carruthers is very much a Hackney type – from the way he wears his tilted hat along with a blazer and jeans combo to his gruff cockney voice. In keeping with the whole trendy East-London thing, he read his poems from an Apple laptop.

His first few poems – about the end of the world and different places he has slept in – were uninspiring. (His claim that there is a poetry in place names is true, but only to a certain extent). His poetry, almost prosaic in style, really came to life with a couple of poems based on his experience of meeting his father for the first time and then hearing of his death. He also read a doggerel with flair towards the end of his performance.

Odile Kennel, a published Franco-German poet, fiction writer and translator living in Berlin, followed Carruthers. Her mellifluous voice and calm, concentrated air contrasted with his performance. As these poems were in German and French, I don’t feel qualified to comment on them, except to say that she was hypnotising to listen to.

Next up was Catherine Hales, a British poet and translator living in Berlin since 1999 who has recently published her first full-length collection titled Hazard and Fall. Her poetry is dense and full of meaning, and, judging from the selection she read, she leans toward the non-linear and the sonnet form. She read some pieces from her new collection, which incorporated contemporary cultural references such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dexter. Because of its complexity, her work is probably better read (and re-read) rather than listened to once.

On the other hand Martin Jankowski, with his charming character and booming voice was made to perform. He is another Berlin-based poet and writer and although many of his works were banned by the Stasi, his work became popular in the days leading up to the fall of the wall. He read his poems in English and German, although I’m not sure they worked as well in English as they did in German. He ended the night on a high-note by performing one of his poems along with Carruthers, which sought to answer the question ‘What is it like to have Malaria?” (You had to be there…)

The next Rage into the Night is to be held on 3rd June, but keep an eye on the St Gaudy Café website for details.

history, Life in Berlin, Literature

Dorotheenstädtischer Friedhof

Dorotheenstädtischen friedhof

It’s not true that the Germans are unromantic; The Bavarian takes me out somewhere special once a week. This week we went to Dorotheenstädtischer cemetery off Chausseestraße in Berlin Mitte, where almost every prominent body in Berlin rests, including…

Bertolt Brecht grave

Bertolt Brecht, novelist and playwright

10 February 1898–14 August 1956

Brecht’s second wife, actress Helene Weigel, is buried next to him. Their house, at Chausseestrasse 125, overlooks the cemetery and is open to visitors.

 

Heinrich Mann grave

Heinrich Mann, novelist and brother of Thomas Mann

27 March 1871 – 11 March 1950

Nearby is a tablet in memorial of his wife Nelly Mann (15 February 1898 – 17 December 1944), who committed suicide in Los Angeles. Heinrich Mann also died in the USA and was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery, Santa Monica. His remains were relocated here in 1961.

 

Johannes Rau grave

Johannes Rau, former President of Germany between 1999 and 2004, and Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia from 1978 to 1998.

16 January 1931 – 27 January 2006

Rau’s personal motto was “teneo, quia teneor”: I hold because I am held.

 

 Johannes R Becher grave

Johannes R Becher, novelist, expressionist poet and politician

22 May 1891 – 11 October 1958

 The inscription roughly translates to: Completion of a dream, Have I completed my work ends, if not as accomplished. For this was my work sacred mission: service to humanity Future completion.

 

Anna Seghers grave

Anna Seghers, novelist, short story writer and essayist

19 November 1900– 1 June 1983

Anna Seghers (pseudonym of Netty Radványi) is most famous for the novels The Seventh Cross (1942) and Transit (1944), which deal with Nazi persecution. She herself fled to Marseilles and Mexico because of the Nazis, and returned to Berlin in 1947.

 

Arnold Zweig grave

Arnold Zweig, novelist, journalist, polititian

 10 November 1887 – 26 November 1968

Zweig fled Germany when the Nazis came to power like many of the writers buried here – he spent time with Anna Seghers and Bertolt Brecht during his time in exile.

 

Karl Friedrich Schinkel grave

Karl Friedrich Schinkel, architect, urban planner, painter and stage designer

 13 March 1781 – 9 October 1841

Responsible for some of Berlin’s greatest buildings including the Altes Museum and the Shauspielhaus. Before the second world war it was said that he who knew Berlin knew Schinkel.

 

Friedrich Hitzig mausoleum

Friedrich Hitzig, architect and student of Karl Friedrich Schinkel

8 November 1811 – 11 October 1881

Another great Berlin architect – he is responsible for the Berlin Armory (now the German Historical Museum) on Unter den Linden among others.

Life in Berlin, Literature

Immigrants in Berlin

Being an immigrant is not all it’s cracked up to be. It’s not easy trying to live up to the romantic image of a struggling. poor, hard-working outsider. I just moved here – straight into a penthouse apartment in the trendy Prenzlauer Berg area of Berlin with my partner, The German.

Wladimir Kaminer, a well-known Berliner and Russian immigrant, who wrote Russian Disco, Schönhauser Allee and Mein deutsches Dschungelbuch among others, describes Prenzlauer Berg as a place where there aren’t any flies at all. That sums it up. Although Kaminer did eventually come to live in this area bereft of flies, he did not arrive here without a struggle – no! He furiously scribbles away about the various squats and squalid conditions he lived in with other Russian and Vietnamese immigrants. He tells stories of how he used to sell (and drink) cans of Hansabier illegally at Lichtenberg Station to make ends meet.

Nabakov, another Russian, who moved to Berlin in 1923 (shortly after his father was assassinated in Berlin by Russian monarchists) also drew upon his Russian émigré experience in his fiction. In his short story Russian Spoken Here, he tells the story of an owner of a Russian Tobacco store in Berlin, who recognises one of his customers as a member of the secret police and promptly kidnaps him and holds him hostage.

Herta Muller, Berliner and Romanian immigrant who recently won the Nobel Prize for Literature, also has the experiences of a harsh communist regime to fall back on.

It’s not only the Eastern European immigrants who are at an advantage. The English writer Christopher Isherwood not only did a good job of being “ein armer Immigrant” (he even lived in the working-class slums of Wassertorstrasse) but he had the good fortune of being in Berlin when the Nazis were rising to power.

In contrast the Berlin of today has a tranquil, pacifist air about it. On top of that, it is full of immigrants. The shop that we bought our Indian furniture from on Schönhauser Allee , Himalaya, is run by a Tibetan. The hairdresser who cut my hair last week emigrated to Berlin from Russia and is originally from China. Russian is his first language, Mandarin is his second and German is his third. How can one compete with that?

I am at a loss. Then, there’s a knock on the door. I run to get it, thinking that our new coat stand has arrived. However, I find a man in his 30s standing in front of me without a coatstand in sight. He starts speaking in German. I cannot grasp a word he is saying, so I utter the obligatory “Tut mir leid, Ich verstehe kein Deutch,” which normally helps me through most situations. However, instead of trying to communicate with me in another way, the man asks “Wie so?” – “Why can’t you speak German?”. I tell him that I am English, and before I find the words to say I just moved here, he interrupts and says with indignation “but you live in Germany!” (my German is good enough to understand this). I start to explain in my limited German that I am learning etc, but then it occurs to me that this is not right. This man, who has not introduced himself, who I do not know or does not know me, is asking me questions that are none of his business with an utterly rude manner on my doorstep. I shrug and close the door.

A real xenophobe, here and now, in East Berlin. A survey, carried out 20 years after the reunification of Germany, showed that 40% percent of the 1,900 East Germans polled had a negative attitude towards foreigners. I smile; there is hope after all.