Wednesday, 3 September 2008


Part of the fun at the summer academy was the evening readings at the LCB. The building is a villa dating back to 1884, backing on to the Wannsee lake. You enter through one of those large, heavy wooden doors that I love about Berlin (although the doors to many apartment buildings, including my own, are even more ridiculously dimensioned, either to allow coach access or just to generally show off). Then you're in a dark-panelled vestibule with a grand piano hiding in the corner. An ostentatious staircase curves off to the left, before you step into the next room - more panelling, a beautiful conservatory straight ahead with a tiny bar tucked away behind a secret door. The large room where the readings are held is modern enough, with rows of chairs and white walls, but a stone collonade jutting into the room hides the PA system. The walls are decorated with black and white photos of literary types who have read or stayed at the LCB in the past, familiar faces instilling a sense of longstanding and heavyweight tradition alongside younger upstarts who reflect what the LCB is all about today.

Yet despite the opulent surroundings, the atmosphere is generally very down to earth and welcoming. In the summer you can often stroll around the beautiful garden and go down (literally - it's very steep) to the water. A good sniff of the Wannsee usually puts me off swimming for a year or two but it looks most idyllic. And the drinks are fairly priced; perfect for starving artists venturing out of their garrets.

We were treated to a total of eight authors during two readings. Unfortunately for concentration purposes, on the first evening we had also been treated to drinks and food beforehand, preceded by a great deal of fascinating input. Nevertheless, Hans-Ulrich Treichel, an author I had previously been a little sceptical about for some inexplicable reason, managed to make a lasting and very positive impression on almost all of us. He read from his new novel Anatolin, an account of a writer travelling in an attempt to fill the gaps in his childhood memory, especially about his family's past, laden with irony and subtle humour. It follows on from his first novel, translated by Carol Brown Janeway as Lost, and the later Menschenflug in that it tackles elements of his own autobiography, but seems very reflective and detached.

The second reading was an absolute marathon - six authors presenting their new titles in about two hours. Not bad, eh? Two stood out in particular. The first was Judith Kuckart reading from Die Verdächtige. This is a love story embedded in a crime novel. A woman loses her boyfriend on a ghost train, then falls in love with the detective charged with finding him. I particularly liked a scene from later on in the book, where the detective is drinking beer and listening to Bob Dylan's radio show at home when someone starts shooting at him, all the while accompanied by Dylan's drawl. Bizarre, comical, appealing - and longlisted for the German Book Prize. I also enjoyed Marion Poschmann's Hundenovelle, in which a dog becomes a symbol of melancholy and a lonely woman first takes it in and then throws it out, only to yearn for it after all, growing more and more canine with every day. The author came across as incredibly intelligent, and I suspect the book is too, but entertaining with it. Poschmann told us how she alternates between prose and poetry on a yearly basis - an interesting idea, I thought.

So all in all, a bumper crop.

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