Thursday, 5 June 2008

Baut Auf

If you're in Germany or follow this type of thing, you'll have noticed that the only major East German publishing house to have survived the fall of the Wall is now in trouble. Aufbau Verlag is more than a relic of the GDR, though. It was founded in August 1945, when Germany was struggling to find paper to print books on, in a spirit of constructing a new literary Germany - hence the name Aufbau, meaning "building up, rebuilding". And it became a home to many authors who returned to the East of Germany from exile - Anna Seghers, Egon Erwin Kisch, Arnold Zweig... But it has developed a very strong profile as one of the largest and most respected independent publishing houses in Germany today.

I won't go into great detail, but basically the managers and the owner have parted company. The owner withdrew his funding and told them to register the company bankrupt after a complicated legal case, as an outcome of which he now nominally owns all the rights originating prior to 1991, and the publishing house owns all the rights from after that date. So the owner claims Aufbau itself is now an "empty shell". The managers and staff see that very differently, as the major part of the company's income now comes from newer titles rather than the old backlist. I've worked with Aufbau before and found it a thoroughly positive experience. And they're continuing their operations, as a lawyer's letter informed me today,* so I hope to work with them again in future. Because the staff are hanging on for dear life, fighting to save the publishing house they hold dear.

There's a wonderfully vitriolic article explaining the events by the pre-1991 head of Aufbau, Elmar Faber, in Neues Deutschland. And you can read the current managing director's angry and upset open letter to the owner on the Aufbau website, linked above. He likens the situation to Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle, hoping that "what there is shall belong to those who are good for it."

So if you want to do your bit to save them, why not buy an Aufbau book - right now? How about a bit of French crime from Fred Vargas? Or some Socialist realism with that little bit extra from Werner Bräunig (rights acquired after 91)? Rush to get hold of Andreas Gläser's second long-player, DJ Baufresse. A bit of historical ham soon to be a major film - die Päpstin? I love this beautifully illustrated biography of Anna Seghers. Not to forget anything by Selim Özdogan. Or one of their beautiful children's books... The choice is nigh-on endless.

*They misspelt my name in an entirely novel way. I was most impressed.

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