I had a rather bizarre experience this past weekend - I gatecrashed (at least I think we were gatecrashing) on the Treffen Junger Autoren. This is a programme that's been running for the past 23 years - and was initiated in the GDR. Basically, kids send their texts in and a jury chooses the best and then invites them all to Berlin for a weekend of workshops and other such fun and games.
And part of those fun and games was a slam night last Saturday. My friend and I just ducked in and sat down (OK, she knew someone who was actually entitled to be there...) and enjoyed the evening. It was hosted by a former participant - the charming and ever-entertaining Kirsten Fuchs. And she'd invited all sorts of other people to read on stage, including some of the jury members, the guy who does the catering, an under-20s slam champion and the like. She'd also set up a complicated piece of judging machinery: the totally objective Applause-O-Peter(TM). This consisted of a geezer called Peter with a touch of the delirium tremens, who held his arm side-on against a huge sheet of paper marked with a kind of thermometer, gauging the intensity of the audience reaction from 5 to 12 points. Luckily, there were ten judges dotted around the audience too with numbers to hold up, Olympic figure skating-style.
The evening was a major eye-opener for me. I have in the past complained about publishers favouring very young authors merely for their sexiness level. Now I know there are even 11 and 12-year-olds out there who can hold their own with the big guns. Or at least will be able to do so very soon if they carry on the way they're going. Most of the participants were probably more like 15 to 18 though, and just as impressive. The writing ranged from comical to bizarre to melancholy to wildly rhythmic, with form occasionally taking precedence over content. But even then, the performances were great.
Probably the nicest thing about the evening was the atmosphere. It felt like a school trip, only without the cool kids. There seemed to be free food and drinks (Germany's alcohol laws are less restrictive than in many other places), and the boys at the back became more and more rowdy as the evening continued, with the occasional burp benignly ignored by all. As time passed and whistles were wetted, the Applause-O-Peter grew increasingly sensitive to clapping, so that after about halfway through everyone scored 12 points. Or maybe we really did just clap more. Whatever - it seemed like the young authors were having a very intensive weekend.
Who won? Er, it was one of the jury and another former youthful participant: Antje Strubel. But she was the best.