Tuesday, 18 March 2008


I mentioned before the book fair that I was looking forward to Krautgarden - and it really was one of the highlights. A Friday night with 17 German, American and Canadian authors reading at a huge former cotton mill. Obviously they couldn't all read in one place, so there were four separate venues, all on the same impressive site.

We chose the curiously named Überwensch, which turned out to be a large and rambling loft-style flat inhabited by a group of artists, who sold beer out of their own fridge. Having finally located the actual reading, we sat down and waited for the show to begin. First up was Thomas Pletzinger, and I'd been looking forward to finding out what's behind the hype. He read from his brand spanking new debut novel, a story about a bizarre New York party with water pistols on the walls. And I was disappointed. It was hard to follow, his delivery was no great shakes, and I wasn't interested in the subject matter. My friend liked it though. A shame really, I had so wanted to like it because he's billed as a translator.

His reading partner was his mate Nicholas Kulish. NY Times' man in Berlin, with impeccable manners and good German. An elderly man in the audience, seemingly slightly upset that people were reading in English, asked him to slow down a bit, and that made it all the better. His book is an entertaining story of a gossip columnist embedded in Afghanistan, I think. I enjoyed it a lot, and my friend bought it.

Then came Jan Costin Wagner. He had spotted the keyboard at the front of the room and announced shyly that he'd be playing some music in between his reading - because "it's by me too so it fits in very well." I was the only one who laughed at that. Anyway, his reading was excellent, really capturing my attention with what sounded like a literary work playing with the crime genre. His playing was tinkly, but I don't do music. He was the highlight of the evening, for me at least.

The last writer we saw was the Canadian Peter Behrens. He broke the age mould, and is a Hollywood screenplay writer too, as far as I know. I loved his reading, about a young Irishman in 1847 trying to get to the States. But I found the little plot twist we heard a little clichéd - a girl running off with his money, then wrapping him around her finger again. My friend couldn't deal with his dreamy delivery, but I enjoyed it.

We decided to move on at that point - the natives seemed to be getting very restless. As we left, it turned out that about 600 people wanted to get in to see PeterLicht. The man (?) is a self-made multimedia phenomenon, an artist who makes himself all the more interesting by remaining anonymous. He's made a few pop records and published a book, and he won some prizes at the Ingeborg Bachmann competition in Klagenfurt, Austria. You have to be invited to participate, but otherwise it's a bit like a literary Eurovision Song Contest, with an audience prize determined by who has the most friends. PeterLicht won that one, and another one. Here's a tiny snippet from his rather eclectic book:

The English
The English wait their turn and dream of skin pores with hairs coming out of them. The Englishman sees them (the pores) in dreams, magnified from very close up. The soft skinny dent, the tiny crater out of which the hair palm rises up, that occupies his mind.
England is a revolution-free country. Nothing would ever come from there that threatened the status quo. That's down to the leather armchairs filled to bursting with saliva that stand around everywhere (lounge chairs). Nobody wants them to pop.

I don't know how they solved the problem. The room probably had a capacity of 150, so there'll have been a hell of a lot of disappointed punters. We struggled out, pushing our way between them and telling them they weren't going to get in - but no one listened.

The Leipzig event was partnered by two readings in New York. I've been finding it very difficult to find any information about how they went, although the previous events were apparently well attended. I'd be interested to hear from anyone who knows, as I think it could be a great thing for German books.

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