Tuesday, 1 December 2009

City-lit Berlin's Lovely London Launch

I have now officially recovered from Friday's London launch of city-lit Berlin at the Goethe-Institut. And I shall start this report with a confession: I had never been there before and felt a slight trepidation at entering the hallowed halls. But in fact the place was very welcoming and not at all as fusty and dusty as I'd imagined it. The event was held in the library, which I duly inspected. It passed muster very well in fact, with a lot of my favourite books on the shelves in the substantial "German contemporary writers since 1990" section, in German and in English translation. I also noted that the librarian Elisabeth Pyroth had a rather subtle sense of humour, which I appreciated.

But on to the meaty stuff: the place was full to bursting with chairs placed at every convenient juncture. Lots of huge celebrities were in the audience: writers, presenters, publishers, translators, parents of translators, best friends of translators, you get the picture. And only one person fell asleep during the event and had to be woken with a shake to put a stop to his rather disturbing snores.

On the panel were Rory MacLean (Stalin's Nose), Chloe Aridjis (Book of Clouds) and yours truly, chaired by the world's loveliest co-editor, Heather Reyes of Oxygen Books. We each read a short passage from the book and talked about our experiences of Berlin, German writing, etc. Heather was very good at keeping me reigned in - I've never been on a panel before and there was a definite danger that I'd talk too much. Then came questions from the floor, which were truly intelligent. To my great regret, someone asked about non-fiction writing in Germany, which is not my specialist subject, to put it mildly. I hope to rectify my rather lacklustre response at some point soon with a brief overview of available translations right here.

There followed much shmoozing and chatting with the remains of the wine from before the show. Stoked up by leftover adrenalin, I merrily handed out love german books badges - where better to get rid of the things than in the Goethe Institut library?

It may appear utterly decadent to launch a book twice over in two different countries. But there was certainly no repetition between the two events. In London, we were enthusing about the city we love, selling Berlin for all we were worth, although there was a feeling that the place is just on the cusp of becoming too sanitised. In Berlin, we couldn't do that. One of the things I love about it here is that relatively little self-laudation goes on. Berlin is a great place - yeah, we know that. So the Berlin event was more about celebrating the literature on the city - and plugging the book too.

You can admire a couple of photos of the panel and the audience at the city-lit café. Please ignore my gurning – I don't usually look like that.

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