Saturday, 6 February 2010

Hamburg's Finest: Ham.Lit & Die Vorleser

There's more than one way to skin a cat. You can go out into the world and listen to writers in cavernous bunkers, or you can listen to people talking about books from the comfort of your own sofa. Ham.Lit was the excruciating title of an impressive event in Hamburg on Thursday, "a concentrate of the most exciting young German-language literature and music of the moment - on one night, under one roof."

And what a roof. Hamburg had decided to veil itself in mist for my visit, with a huge five-storey WWII bunker rising like an icebreaker between the snowy pavements. In we ventured, then up to the fourth floor in a lift crowded with hip young things. There were three venues hosting 18 writers plus two bands. Which meant that inevitably, one was constantly torn between poetry and prose, slam and short stories.

The hugely talented, heavily bearded Finn-Ole Heinrich opened the show with a humdinger, his knockout story "Zeit der Witze" - best of the night, said my delightful hostess Isa, and I agree. Plus the guy sure knows how to read - I'd have given him a later slot myself. Then came Kristof Magnusson with a nice taste of his novel Das war ich nicht (see my review). I stayed put for Jan Wagner, who once again struck fear into my heart with his sheer intelligence and genuinely enjoyable poetry. In contrast to Daniel Falb, who struck fear of a different kind into my heart. Back to Clemens Meyer, with a nervous rendering from his forthcoming diary-like Gewalten. It looks like it'll be a personal, political, very strange look back at 2009.

By that point I was exhausted, so Tilmann Rammstedt and Monica Rinck sadly went in one ear and out the other. And that's the only disadvantage to these huge events: sheer input overload. There were a hell of a lot of people there, many of whom wandered in and out of the venues, which doesn't make for concentrated listening either. And the crowd thinned out rapidly as the last trains left before the second band - the impressive GUSTAV - came on stage (I missed the first musical act but was briefly serenaded in the corridor to make up for it). Despite that, the event was a huge success and a great opportunity for Hamburgers to pick up on some very happening and talented writers. My radical suggestion for next time: don't hold it on a week night.

Those Hamburgers, I noticed, are quite different to the Berliners: completely and utterly laid-back. Presumably it was the Hamburgers who inspired that song telling Aurélie that the Germans flirt very subtly. Or maybe it was just too dark. And it's Hamburgers who make up the studio audience for ZDF's televisual literary extravaganza, Die Vorleser - including my delightful hostess Isa and the lovely Axel in yesterday's episode. You too can watch it online via that link.

I've mentioned it in the past, but this was the first time I'd got round to watching it. And I'm undecided - does the information value outweigh the irritation factor? Or to put it another way - does Ijoma Mangold outweigh Amelie Fried and, in this case, a barely comprehensible Detlev Buck? Mangold, for me, is the opposite of his fellow critic Sigrid Löffler - in the former case I want not to like him but can never quite manage. He says such a lot of clever things that I just can't help respecting him. Unfortunately, the show is done in such an irritating way that whenever anyone else is on camera I start gnashing my teeth.

It's obviously scripted, but the makers expect us to suspend our disbelief and buy the idea of Ijoma and Amelie chatting informally on the sofa. "So you want me to explain the title now, don't you, Ijoma?" tweets Amelie, and Ijoma nods as if he really, genuinely does. "Oh, you critics!" twitters Amelie, and Ijoma smirks as if he hadn't seen it coming. "I have adolescent kids!" squeaks Amelie, and we all try hard not to imagine what they get up to behind mum's back, while sighing over her all-too obvious appeal to the female book-buying demographic.

In between, Ijoma gets to enthuse over a couple of books, while Amelie looks mature and disapproving. All padded out with shots of the laid-back Hanseatic audience frowning. I don't know, it's better than Richard and Judy - but great telly it ain't.

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