Wednesday, 25 November 2009


Berlin has a long tradition of literary salons going back to the 18th century, when society ladies invited select circles to partake of discussion on literary, social and political matters. Many of these salonnières were Jewish, incidentally, a sign and a means of Jews entering bourgeois society.

The city has been experiencing somewhat of a salon renaissance in recent years. The most established is Britta Gansebohm's Literary Salon, which has been going since 1995. The hostess has invited poets, novelists and writers to read and talk at various venues over the years, often a proving ground for up-and-coming authors. She also organises the bizarre but very cosy winter readings in Mongolian yurts on Potsdamer Platz every January. In this case, Britta Gansebohm's name is like a seal of quality, guaranteeing good writing and a good evening's entertainment.

A couple of independent publishers have muscled in on the salon scene too. The KOOK label has been running monthly readings with music under the title KOOKread since 2001, mainly featuring young writers but not limited to their own authors. And now a new arrival in Berlin, Blumenbar Verlag, is continuing its Munich salon in Berlin. Although not yet up on their website, the first event is dedicated to Leonard Cohen.

Monday saw the first event for another new salon, light years away from gatherings of Goethe fans in upholstered drawing rooms. Adler & Söhne Literaturproduktion, a kind of incredibly sociable shared office space for writers, editors and translators, invited guests to listen to work in progress. In the back room of a scuzzy bar in Prenzlauer Berg, the mirror ball gyrated as Thomas Pletzinger convinced me that he is, after all, capable of reading and writing well, and Tilman Rammstedt convinced me that he really doesn't need to be as shy and modest as he seems - but perhaps that's all part of the show. Moving between humour and earnest in front of palmtree wallpaper, the event was great fun. Afterwards the young writerly folk gathered around the bar for a tad of namedropping and narcism - what bliss.

If you're feeling left out but live in or near London, you too could join salon society. Meike Ziervogel of Peirene Press has opened her own salon featuring British and European writers. The December event with Matthias Politycki is sold out, but there'll be more to come.

Update: Strike the stuff about Blumenbar's salon. It's actually a collaboration with Berlin Verlag and calls itself a "literary nightclub". Details at the Hardcover Club.


Brett said...

Well, a reading is not a "salon". A "salon" is about conversation and discussing and intellectually stimulating encounters. You need to have quick-witted, ingenious people around and not just listeners with silent brains. You need to have people with uncommon ideas from various fields daring to bring up ideas just as they happen. Well educated and humorous by heart. I frankly admit that I do have my doubts that those literary salons over there in Berlin are much more than those endless boring readings of writers and people staring in one direction, thinking in one direction and drinking afterwards a little cofffee or cognac and talking about the usual nonsense.

kjd said...

Brett, you're right of course. The events do take the form of readings more than anything else. What they're trying to do with the label "salon", I think, is to signal to the audience that it's a particular individual or group of people selecting the writers concerned. And perhaps also give the event a more convivial atmosphere.

Perhaps the lowly reading group is the true heir to the literary salon, in fact.

I've never seen anyone drinking cognac after a salon, though.

Meike Ziervogel said...

Thank you, Katy, for mentioning my Salon. Brett,if you happen to be in London, please come to one of the next Peirene Salons - definietly no boring readings, because, I guess, if that were the case I couldn't persuade 30+ Londoners (writers, readers, journalists, artists etc) to venture into the hills of North London on a Saturday night and stay until 1am.