The final stop on our first day of visits to publishing houses around Berlin was Eichborn Berlin.Located at one of Berlin's more exclusive addresses on Oranienburger Straße, the offices are unexpectedly modest - probably because this is another branch office of a larger house, Eichborn proper. We were met by Wolfgang Hörner, an outwardly unassuming man who built Eichborn Berlin up from nothing over the past ten years. He literally radiated energy and enthusiasm, showing genuine adoration for the books he champions - in short, he's the archetypal and perfect literary dork, without whom publishing would be a soulless undertaking shoring up profits and dull prestige.
Eichborn has just shifted its whole literary fiction section from Frankfurt to Berlin, which I think is a great thing. Because it means that Hörner is now in charge of it all. And this is a man who's not afraid to just go ahead and push an author for the sole reason that he likes them, they make him laugh, or cry, or go into full-on literary rapture. Just look at some of their authors: Jenny Erpenbeck, Karen Duve, the ubiquitous Sven Regener (see below), Jan Costin Wagner and the great white hope Wolfgang Herrndorf (not one of my favourites but everyone else seems to love him). Plus they publish translated fiction from the likes of Oscar Wilde, Elif Shafak and Ford Madox Ford. The books themselves are often a joy to behold - unusual formats, that official taxi exterior colour for Duve's Taxi, beautiful illustrations - all the bibliophile fun of the fair.
Hörner was generosity itself when it came to handing out free books. He commented that if anyone deserves them, it's translators. Awww... I've noticed in the past that Eichborn is really good at getting its books into English, and I asked him why. The answer was plain and simple - Jutta Willand. She's the foreign rights director at Eichborn in Frankfurt, and does a great job. Just look at the website - the titles are listed in a clear and attractive format, almost all of them with sample translations. This is a publisher that puts a lot of effort into selling translation rights, knows the right people in the right places and is willing to actually spend some money on the whole thing. Hooray for Jutta Willand and Wolfgang Hörner - long may they reign.
Despite the late hour, this visit was the absolute highlight of our tour. We followed it up with dinner and light chitchat in a local tourist trap, where Hörner proved to be a perfect gentleman, championing the cause of half-sized portions on behalf of a damsel in distress who - very possibly - could have got her own way of her own accord. But that would have been boring. I hope he wasn't upset that we all stood him up at a reading we were too exhausted for later that night...