Thursday, 17 December 2009

"Berlin" Publishing: Berlin University Press

Seeing as I've been trying to plug the woeful gap in my knowledge of non-fiction, I was interested to read that Berlin University Press, previously a publisher of "exceptional, academic non-fiction of wide appeal", is branching out into fiction this coming spring. According to the trade mag Börsenblatt (do I mention every time how much I hate this name?), the new titles will include Martin Walser's new novella Mein Jenseits, Mirja Leena Klein's debut novel Schonung and Hermann Wenning's report on a personal crisis by the name of Lauf zurück ins Leben.

And then I thought, hold on a moment, what an odd name. First of all, Germany doesn't do university presses. And second of all, there's no such thing as "Berlin University". Berlin has three large universities and all sorts of smaller ones. A few minutes' research turned up this rather brown-nosed Zeit article from 2007, singing the praises of publisher Gottfried Honnefelder for his august choice of name. Because of course it's all a big fat fib.

'I have nothing to do with the university presses,' says the Rhinelander, whose face has wrinkles only in the horizontal direction of his laughter lines. 'The name is a trick.' Under the upmarket mortar-boardesque title, Honnefelder wants to offer educated lay readers readable academic literature and at the same time transfer German-language academic writing across linguistic and national borders in parallel to the usual translations out of English. (...) And what has all that got to do with Berlin? Nothing at all. 'Berlin is a buzzword for German research,' says Honnefelder, who has a small office in Berlin, another in his home town of Cologne, and yet another in his technologically souped-up Audi, which he likes to use to travel between the two.

I presume the "office in the car" thing only works if you have a chauffeur, as even the German highway code requires drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel. Honnefelder is one of those giant figures of publishing, having spent 23 years at what is probably Germany's poshest publishing house, Suhrkamp, and is now also chairman of the trade organisation Börsenverein des deutschen Buchhandels - bringing us back full circle to their mag Börsenblatt. The most recent catalogue from bup (yup, that's what they call themselves) also looks eminently eminent: lots of ethics, philosophy, and ethics and philosophy of religion, with non-fiction titles by Martin Walser and Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany's former CDU interior minister and current finance minister.

Perhaps one to watch for fans of conservative ideas and writing. Just don't fall for the fake title.

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