Wednesday 23 July 2014

David Wagner David Wagner David Wagner!

A triple-luscious serving of top German writer David Wagner today, on the occasion of it being Wednesday. There's my translation of his ode to the Mauerpark now online at Slow Travel Berlin, there's a piece taken from Berlin Triptych now online at Berfrois, and an exciting slice of news: David Wagner has won the super-duper-twenty-thousand-euro Kranichsteiner Literaturpreis, for generally being really good at writing (also my friend Deniz Utlu gets one of their three prizes for emerging writers, says the trade paper Börsenblatt).

I would say that Mr David Wagner owes me a drink. Happy Wagner Wednesday, everyone.

Thursday 10 July 2014

Summer Break

I was thinking of writing something about how much or little money authors make in the UK and Germany, and then I was thinking of coming up with something a little more gehaltvoll, but really - the school holidays have started here and there's nothing much happening. I'm going away next week to talk to other translators about how on earth to teach translation, something I'm really looking forward to.

I shall be taking a couple of books, although I don't know how much reading I'll get done. They'll be The Room by Andreas Maier, translated by my lovely friend Jamie Lee Searle, and Ulrike Draesner's newish novel Sieben Sprünge vom Rand der Welt. I'm not sure if the concept of "holiday reading" really works if you're on £11,000 a year like the average British writer, but if you want reading tips from relatively famous people, go to Zeit Online for German writers (snazzy time-wasting layout) and the Times Literary Supplement for Anglophone reviewers. Spoiler: one of my books is recommended, but only if you're a subscriber. And they also tell you to read Olga Grjasnowa, but you knew that already.

I'll be back at some point.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

Make Translator Portraits, Not War

The European Council of Literary Translators' Associations, CEATL, has announced its third video competition to raise the profile of literary translators. This year they want portraits of literary translators, which sounds like a fine idea to me. Send them your video by 1 September, when voting starts for one week via a Facebook page.

Monday 7 July 2014

Ingeborg Bachmann Prize to Tex Rubinowitz

This year's main prize in Klagenfurt has gone to the cartoonist and travel writer Tex Rubinowitz for his story "Wir waren niemals hier". It's a piece about a weird, essentially asexual kind-of-love relationship between a lazy beer-guzzling art student boy and a battery-licking, Korean-learning Lithuanian girl, in 1980s Vienna. I quite like it – it's funny without being dumb, and it leaves at least one end pleasingly loose. The second prize, the Kelag Prize, went to the Swiss poet Michael Fehr, whose text "Silemliberg" was too much for me to deal with on a computer screen. Apparently he didn't read it from paper though, he uses an audio prompt, and the whole thing sounds oddly familiar to me now from talking to people about the Swiss spoken word scene. So perhaps the judges were right when they talked about an oral shift in his case, and his work simply doesn't work on paper/screen.

Third place, the 3sat Prize, went to Senthuran Varatharajah for "Von der Zunahme der Zeichen", a simulated Facebook conversation between two students who arrived in (presumably) Germany as asylum seekers. I found this one the most interesting in terms of form and content, with its toe-dips into philosophy, and I look forward to hearing more from the Berlin-based writer. And then Katharina Gericke got the now amusingly named Mr. Heyn's Ernst Willner Prize for "Down Down Down", which I simply didn't get, but I have to admit I'd had very little sleep when I read it, so do read it for yourself. Gertraud Klemm was voted winner of the audience prize for "Ujjayi".      

Before it all started, however, past winner Maja Haderlap held the opening speech. Please read this, because it's fascinating and clever and it's all about multilingualism and writing, and the questions she gets asked over and over again about the language of her writing (Haderlap has written in Slovenian and German). Essentially, she says with Michael Hamburger that it's not writers' identities that count, as defined by themselves or others, it's the way they deal with them. And that means we should pay far less attention to writers' biographies and more to their writing. I can put my signature right under that petition.

So it seems all the more cringe-worthy that the critic Meike Fessmann told Senthuran Varatharajah, "Perhaps the current era will one day be called the asylum era. Senthuran Varatharajah gives this era a voice today. May the 3sat Prize be a gesture of welcome." It's not clear to me whether she was kindly welcoming Varatharajah to the land of Germanic culture, many, many years after he first arrived as a child, or extending a welcome to asylum-seekers in literature – certainly a previously neglected topic – or a real-life personal welcome from her, in contrast to refugees' official treatment in Germany. And then she gave him a bunch of flowers.   

Saturday 5 July 2014


You know what's really odd? By simply not watching the Bachmann Prize live, I have lost all interest in it. It's kind of liberating.

I mean, there are several people actually in Klagenfurt who I really, really like, genuine people who fall under "good" in my personal categorization. You know who you are. And I'm happy for them that they're having a nice time there and I'm not even envious – which is unusual, normally I envy pretty much everyone for one reason or another, I'm a big ugly puddle of envy sometimes – that they're over in Klagenfurt hanging out and chatting and swimming and eating and tweeting and whatever they do there. And there are lots of people watching the competition at home and commenting via social media – although they could be less rude about it, but I suppose that's the whole thing about the format. You read a text on live TV and critics talk about it afterwards, you're bound to get bitchy comments.

But for me, this year, it's lost its magnetism. A friend had arranged to come round today, now that I finally have time for TV, and we were going to sit on the sofa and watch together. And then she called this morning and said, well, do you really want to watch it? And I said, well, not really, I haven't watched any of the other days. And we both breathed a sigh of relief and just had a lovely long chat and a walk instead.

Maybe it was because there's been so much going on in the world at large and on my doorstep, but maybe the fate of refugees in Germany, to name one thing, actually is more important than the fate of a particular writer in Klagenfurt. And I just couldn't face spending my evenings catching up on texts when there was so much other stuff out there in real life. And I certainly didn't want to watch a circle of critics chewing the pieces over for, what, about five or six hours of my life in total. I mean, I understand that the Bachmann Prize is a great opportunity for writers to get a lot of public attention. That's made itself particularly clear this year, with one of the writers unable to attend due to illness, and her publisher arranging a "solidarity reading" on the fringe of the competition itself. I do feel for her. But still, it's hardly earth-moving.

But if that's what I think, why am I reading in the first place? Have I become a cynic? Or a self-righteous bore? Or both?

I'll read the texts that win prizes tomorrow. But that's enough for me right now. I hope I haven't become a cynic. I think I still get sweaty palms and emotional palpitations when I read a book I love and admire. Maybe I don't need the overload of over a dozen readings and pickings-apart over three days. Maybe I just need a holiday.

Thursday 3 July 2014


The readings for the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize start today in Klagenfurt. Tragically, I have too much work on to watch them. But you can, via 3Sat. They'll be streamed live and go on until Saturday, then the winners will be announced on Sunday.

The Ingeborg Bachmann Prize is a big fat competition where writers from Germany, Switzerland and Austria read aloud on live international TV, before sitting there while a group of critics take apart their piece. It has launched a good few careers, and I think it's become a good platform for the kind of emerging authors with the huge amount of guts it must take to go through the ritual.

More information here. The Twitter tag, which I won't be able to follow, is #tddl. Enjoy.

Wednesday 2 July 2014

On Migrants

I've been thoroughly unsettled over the past few days by the escalating conflict over refugees in Berlin-Kreuzberg. Nina Rossmann has a profile of a refugee and some background information on the protests at Slow Travel Berlin, while Philip Oltermann wrote more generally on the developments in the Guardian and Sharon Dodua Otoo called out the international press on its lack of reporting.

It's a complicated issue, with wrangling over political responsibility seemingly slowing everything down further. Refugees whose cases are being processed elsewhere have contravened the (ridiculous) ban on leaving the administrative territories where they applied for asylum and come to Berlin to protest their inhumane treatment. And they've been protesting (mainly) in Kreuzberg, where the local council is responsible for evicting them from the school they've occupied. Only it didn't issue an eviction notice until the police forced its hand. A number of refugees are now camping out on the school's roof and refusing to come down until their demands are met (which were officially granted after the previous occupation, four months ago, but have not been put into practice). So we have a national – indeed, global – issue being tackled on a local basis, with local residents and other supporters protesting at the refugees' treatment and subjected to brutal treatment by a municipal police force.

I don't understand why the protest is so divisive, nor why it has erupted into violence. I have always understood post-WWII Germany as a country that has profited socially, culturally and economically from migration and has a moral obligation to take in refugees. Not that any country does not have that moral obligation to save people from persecution elsewhere.

It's enough, I think, that those of us who have come to Germany are people, but some of those people are particularly creative and have contributed great things to the culture. At the Berliner Büchertisch, Jana Weiß has started a column on Berlin writers and their city. One of those she portrays is Mascha Kaléko, who arrived in the city from Polish Galicia at the age of 16 in 1923. She adopted and adapted the Berlin dialect for her poetry until she was banned from publishing her work, being Jewish, in 1935 and in 1938 emigrated to the USA. How can people fail to make a connection between persecution in Germany then and persecution now in other parts of the world?

Words Without Borders also has a new issue up, focusing on migrant labour around the world, something that has shaped today's Germany. Please read Mely Kiyak's memories of her father, one of the guest workers from Turkey, translated by Rebecca Heier. How can we treat people as statistics when we can read stories about them as individuals? If you read German, your next stop should be Kiyak's latest column for the Gorki Theater, in which she talks about doormen who choose who to let in and who to keep out, and asks:
On the roof of the school, which has been widely cordoned off for days, there are people who are prepared to jump to their deaths if we don't allow them a life worth living in Germany. The state does not want to be seen as giving in to blackmail. My question: is blackmail the right word when the ransom to be obtained is humanity?
Humanity is a door that is opened. But our state is standing in front of it like a grouchy doorman, waiting. Waiting for what? I don't understand it.
Nor do I. 

If you want to do a tiny thing that might help, you can sign a solidarity petition at Or you can show support via @Ohlauerinfo in various ways.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Call for Submissions – no man’s land # 9

Contemporary German-language fiction and poetry in English translation.
Deadline: September 1, 2014.

no man’s land, the online journal for contemporary German literature in translation, is seeking submissions for its 2014 issue.

For prose, send up to 3 texts (stories or self-contained novel excerpts, max. 4,000 words each) by one or different contemporary* writers. For poetry, send work by up to 3 poets, each to a maximum of 5 poems. Electronic submissions only. No simultaneous submissions, please, and – with some exceptions** – no previously-published translations. The deadline is September 1, 2014, and we will inform contributors by early October 2014; the issue will go online by mid-December. We regret that we cannot offer honoraria.

Please include your contact information, biographical and publication information (for both translator and author) and a copy of the original. Also, please provide proof of permission from the original publisher and/or author – whoever holds the rights to the piece (this could be a scanned letter, or forward us an e-mail).

Please send submissions electronically to Isabel Cole at

To save time and avoid misplacing your work, we ask that you observe the following guidelines: Please name the file with your translation as follows: pr for prose, ly for poetry_your last name_the author’s last name_e. So Anthea Bell’s translation of prose by E. T. A. Hoffmann would be: pr_bell_hoffmann_e.doc.
Name the file with the original the same way, but ending with _dt (pr_bell_hoffmann_dt.doc). Stephen Mitchell’s translation of Rilke poems would be ly_mitchell_rilke_e.doc, and the original would be ly_mitchell_rilke_dt.doc.

Apologies if this sounds complicated, but it really is a great help!

For more information, see our “Translators’ Tips” on the no man’s land website, and feel free to contact us at the above e-mail address.

We look forward to reading your work!

The Editors, no man’s land

*Defined broadly as writers currently active, or active in the later 20th/early 21st century. When in doubt, query!

** We are willing to make exceptions for translations that have appeared previously in very limited circulation and that we feel deserve a new audience. Again, please feel free to query.