New novels with new features
Is “Broken German” better than German Introspection?

By Michael Schmitt

When the shortlist for the 2018 German Book Prize was disclosed in September 2018, it was said that the state of the world seemed to be preying on the minds of German-language writers. A perfect example of this was Inger Maria Mahlke’s novel, “Archipel” (Rowohlt), which won the book prize in October 2018. The book revolves around the history of the island Tenerife, but is told in reverse as a kind of archaeological excavation that digs deeper and deeper across more than a hundred years. The small cosmos of world and regional history starts with the crisis in Spain in 2015 then moves on to the Franco regime and ends in the year 1919. Rich in detail, but more conventionally written, Stephan Thome’s “Gott der Barbaren” (Suhrkamp) leads the reader straight into the middle of the uprisings in China in the middle of the 19th century. In the novel “Der Vogelgott” (Jung und Jung), Susanne Röckel, writes in the style of Gothic novel, about a culturally and scientifically interested family that gets entangled in the cruel mythology of archaic communities. In 2017, Anna Kim relayed the little-known story of Korea in her novel, “Die große Heimkehr” (Suhrkamp). As a starting point for imaginative journeys into history and remote worlds, Judith Schalansky makes use of historical or scientific facts and curiosities in her book “Verzeichnis einiger Verluste” (Suhrkamp, 2018), which was awarded the Wilhelm Raabe Literature Prize.

But diversity also characterizes the rendering of German history in fictional works, particularly the consequences of reunification in the formerly divided Germany since 1989/90. To this day it remains an explosive topic for writers of all generations. Especially younger writers like Manja Präkels in “Als ich mit Hitler Schnapskirschen aß” (Verbrecher Verlag, 2017) or Lukas Rietzschel with his debut “Mit der Faust in die Welt schlagen” (Ullstein, 2018) we see writers investigating the dissolution of social structures in eastern Germany and the emergence of the new, aggressive right, albeit without an automatic condemnatory kneejerk response; Gert Loschütz, on the other hand, evocatively relates the story of Germany’s division through the prism of his parent’s love, marriage and divorce story in his novel “Ein schönes Paar” (Schöffling, 2018). The couple who is first torn apart from each other resolves to live their lives on opposite ends of a city. In her novel, “Justizpalast” (Luchterhand 2017), Petra Morsbach tells the life story of a woman lawyer in Munich that emphatically reminds us of what could be lost if we rashly lose confidence in social institutions. And in her novel, “Gehen, ging, gegangen” (Luchterhand 2015) Jenny Erpenbeck examines the possibilities of dealing with refugees from the Arab countries and the self-image of German society.    

Focusing on the world at large, as well as a constant preoccupation with one’s own origins, has been the outcome of years of “immigration” into German literature by authors who, for example, came to Germany, Austria or Switzerland as migrants in the first or second generation. Feridun Zaimoglu, who recently published “Evangelio: ein Luther-Roman” (Kiepenheuer und Witsch, 2017) (slotted for 2019: “Die Geschichte der Frau”, Kiepenheuer & Witsch) exemplifies this trend as does the Iraqi-born Abbas Khider, who circles around his escape and the conditions for his admission to Germany with a drastic sense of humor (slotted for spring 2019: “Deutsch für alle. Das endgültige Lehrbuch“, Hanser).
This trend has been particularly evident in the last few years by the televised Ingeborg Bachmann competition in Klagenfurt, which has captured the attention of the media.
The most recent winners have been texts written by authors who were not born in German-speaking countries, such as the writer and activist Sharon Dodua Otoo’s short story “Herr Gröttrup setzt sich hin,” 2016; or in 2018, the Ukrainian-born and Vienna-based author and journalist Tanja Maljartschuk, whose new novel about an unfortunate Ukrainian politician will be published in spring 2019 (“Blauwal der Erinnerung”, Kiepenheuer & Witsch). Tomer Gardi, who was born in Israel, also caused a sensation in 2016 with the text “Broken German” not only because it exaggeratedly portrays the experiences of immigrants, but also, to a certain extent, because it dismembers the German language into its individual parts and imparted it with an entirely new sound.

The writer and translator Natascha Wodin has also written in an unusually vivid manner about the fate of immigrants in her two most recent books: her mother’s life story set in her hometown Mariupol in Crimea (“Sie kam aus Mariupol”, Rowohlt 2016), and her father’s life story (“Irgendwo in diesem Dunkel”, Rowohlt, 2018), which deals with him growing up in the Soviet Union. These stories deal with the repercussions of constantly fleeing from one’s home country as well as the losses incurred from 1917 to the period after the Second World War; and ends in a life lived at the margins as a Russian-German in a Franconian small town at the start of Germany’s economic miracle.

Often thematically anchored in the everyday life of a younger generation and formally shaped by the short forms and oral presentations of reading stages and slam poetry competitions, the programs of relatively young publishers (Voland & Quist, Satyr, Mairisch, etc.) have also been very successful. A large number of younger writers, such as the poet Nora Gomringer or the writers Finn-Ole Heinrich and Marc Uwe Kling, have also made a name for themselves beyond the traditional distribution channels of German-language literature, turning to new digital forums ranging from e-publishing to Youtube channels. But it has often been only a first step towards a career that has led back to the traditional literary market.

Michael Schmitt is literature editor at 3sat-Kulturzeit and freelance critic for NZZ, SZ and Deutschlandfunk. His work focuses on German-language and Anglo-American literature as well as children's and young adult literature. Michael Schmitt was a member of the Litrix jury from 2015-2017.
Translated by Zaia Alexander           

Story-telling for today
New trends in German-language literature for children and young adults

By Caroline Roeder
Whether it’s bite-resistant board-books for littlies or teenage novels focusing largely on the challenges of identity, whether it’s graphic novels for children or deeply researched non-fiction books aimed at readers ‘of all ages’ - the titles available on the German-language book market for children and young adults are exceptionally varied, and present a rich panoply of high-quality literary offerings. In economic terms, too, this sector is highly promising: some 9000 new titles appear on the market every year.  Whilst a considerable proportion of these are translations, largely from English, the number of home-grown publications nevertheless shows up very well in any international comparison.

Some interesting new trends are worth noting here. One striking and quite crucial feature - continuing a trend evident since the 1980s - is that books for children and young adults are increasingly echoing developments in literature for adults. It is clear from best-sellers like Wolfgang Herrndorf’s Tschick (2010) and Bov Bjerg’s Auerhaus (2015) that the borderline between literature for ‘grown-ups’ and books for young readers is becoming increasingly exiguous. Books of this sort are termed ‘crossovers’ and reach a highly variegated readership - which is to say that they can be read with profit by young and old alike. This is particularly clear in the case of fantasy-based books, whether they be English-language mega-sellers by J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins, or German-language stayers such as Michael Ende’s Die unendliche Geschichte (1979) and Walter Moers’ Zamonien series (Die 13½ Leben des Käpt'n Blaubär, 1999, followed by eleven further books), or more recent titles such as Cornelia Funke’s Tintenwelt trilogy (2003-2007).

Another striking feature is the shift in subject matter. A new sense of engagement is evident in contemporary literature for adults, with a more marked focus on socio-political issues of the day and on themes relating to contemporary history - and a quick glance at today’s literature for children and young adults shows that the same development has found its way into this sector of the book market too (cf. Grit Poppe’s Weggesperrt, 2009, or Christian Linker’s Dschihad Calling, 2015). In this regard it is interesting that in the picturebook field - traditionally aimed at the very youngest of young readers - a large number of books are now appearing that deal with relatively ‘weighty’ topics, including war, expulsion and transcultural issues. Kirsten Boie’s Bestimmt wird alles gut (2016) is a typical example here, as are books by Anja Tuckermann such as Nusret und die Kuh (illustrated by Mehrdad Zaeri and Uli Krappen, 2016). These highly relevant features of present-day society are presented not in a teacherly way, but in an artistic guise that invites discussion; they are transposed into parable-like stories that emphasise openness and tolerance towards people from other backgrounds (e.g. Armin Greder’s Die Insel, 2015).  In this context we should also mention Rico, the ‘deeply’ (in contrast to ‘highly’) gifted protagonist in Andreas Steinhöfel’s Rico-and-Oskar series (which started in 2008), who took the hearts of his readers by storm. 

It is precisely in the field of illustration that we find this thematic evolution further reflected, namely in the work of a new generation of artists in the German-speaking lands who produce graphic novels: here, too, alongside autobiographical elements, the chosen topics relate predominantly to socio-political concerns and other matters highly relevant to the contemporary world. Various authors merit special mention under this head: Reinhard Kleist with his books Der Boxer. Die wahre Geschichte des Hertzko Haft (2012) and Der Traum von Olympia (2015); Mawil - Kinderland (2014) - and Simon Schwartz - Drüben (2009) - who both focus on the German Democratic Republic; Flix, an artist who produces extremely interesting adaptations of classics, as in his Münchhausen, and whose Spirou in Berlin gives new life to a legendary classic of the genre.

More ‘on the run’ than ‘forever young’
Last but not least, there is another trend that deserves to be noted. More and more books written for young adults are proving immensely successful and scoring top places in best-seller lists. The turbulent period of adolescence, full of all the spectacular highs and lows that the young have to suffer and get through, appears to make for particularly popular reading matter, appealing not only to those who still have to face the challenges of teenagerdom, but also to those who have successfully got it behind them, or who seem to have settled into it on a permanent basis. As these books make clear, young people growing up in the twenty-first century often go through life-changing upheavals, for instance by experiencing violence within the family or through war, enduring traumas caused by fleeing their homeland or being driven out of it, or suffering exclusion or discrimination - as demonstrated for example by Alina Bronsky’s Scherbenpark (2008), Susanne Kreller’s Elefanten sieht man nicht (2012), or Julya Rabinowich’s Dazwischen: Ich (2016). What is also clear, however, is that the teenage years can take the young on all kinds of different journeys: some entail painful partings (Elisabeth Steinkeller’s Rabensommer (2015), Tamara Bach’s Vierzehn (2016); some may be read as ‘rite of passage’ stories (Nils Mohl’s Es war einmal Indianerland, 2011); others represent an unending search for a goal that derives from within the imaginative inner realm of the adolescent protagonists themselves (Nataly Elisabeth Savina’s Meine beste Bitch, 2018). All in all, then, the youngsters of the interactive age appear in these novels not to be cast in the mould of the ‘forever young’, but instead to be permanently ‘on the run’. 

Caroline Roeder is Professor of Literature and Didactics of Literature at the Pädagogische Hochschule, Ludwigsburg. Her specialist area is literature for children and young adults, and the various media associated with it. She is a member of the German-Greek Litrix-Jury 2019-20.

Translated by John Reddick


Cultural Bridge Builder

The Greek-German literature symposium “SYN_ENERGY BERLIN_ATHENS,” which took place at the Lettrétage in Berlin from October 17-21, 2018, featured over 20 poets, prose writers, playwrights, translators, word performance artists, essayists and publishers from Greece, Cyprus, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. 

The event was organized by Michaela Prinzinger, a renowned and engaged translator in the field of German-Greek cultural mediation, along with her association “Diablog Vision e.V.”, in cooperation with the cultural institution Lettrétage in Kreuzberg and with support from the Hauptstadtkulturfonds and the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

Long Night of Reading

The symposium opened with a “Long Night of Reading”, during which the invited participants presented examples of their very different artistic work on two stages at the Heimathafen in Neukölln. The reading and performance marathon was moderated by the Büchner prizewinner Jan Wagner, et al. 

In the days that followed the performances, there were six panels of four symposium participants that discussed the wide variety of poetic ideas and forms of presentation from a theoretical perspective. Each of the panel participants gave a brief lecture about the concepts underlying their artistic practice, before engaging in a discussion on stage and with the large audience. The panels covered a wide variety of topics: “Myths as Performative Acts”, “Rhythm, Word, Music”, “Poetrypolitics”, “Race-Gender-Class”, “Bridge Builders” and “Writing Practices and Forms of Presentation”.

Variety of Artists ...

The group of artists was as diverse as the artistic approaches and performances and ranged from the Greek poets Phoebe Gianni, Maria Topali and Katerina Iliopoulou to the publisher of the renowned Greek online literature magazine, “O Anagnostis”, Yiannis Baskozos, from the Cypriot poetry performer Lily Michaelides to the German-Greek theatre maker and writer Gerasimos Bekas, as well as the two spoken word performers, Dominique Macri and Dalibor Markovic, who won the “International German Poetry Slam Championships” as “Team Scheller” in 2014 - to name but a few!

... and poetic concepts

The symposium succeeded in providing deep insights into the diversity of contemporary artistic and poetic forms of expression and presentation in both the Greek and German-speaking realms and in making new concepts, most of which also integrate the digital world, comprehensible and concrete. In addition to immanent aesthetic questions - e.g. whether a new aesthetic language of form really can be created through digitally supported performances, or whether it isn’t a form of (digital) ornamentation - The social relevance of such avant-garde concepts was also a recurring topic of discussion.

It will be interesting to see whether the work begun in this symposium, namely to bring word artists and artists from both linguistic and cultural circles into a dialogue, also will continue in the future. In any case, there is more than enough potential for further events of this kind!


Thomas Plaul works as a literary critic and lecturer as well as radio presenter. He lives in Frankfurt am Main and in Athens.

Translated by Zaia Alexander

Successful in Egypt as well: Booktubing

Booktuber Nada and Shady
© Goethe-Institut

Booktubing, which refers to self-produced videos that present literature online, has turned into a major trend that resonates powerfully with audiences across the Internet. Nada Elshabrawy was the first Egyptian to create her own professional Booktubing channel in 2017. In her videos, which she produces on a regular basis, she talks about books that are near to her heart. Shady also produces shows online that offer tips on literature. In an interview, the two discuss this new trend, their passion for literature and the response of the public in the Arabic world.

How popular is book tubing in in the Arab World?

Shady: Book tubing is a relatively recent trend in the Arab world, especially in Egypt—some other Arab countries have introduced it a few years before us. Nada Elshabrawy was the first Egyptian to deal with book-tubing in a committed and professional way. Soon there were more channels and shows, including mine. I have followers from all Arab countries as well as Arabic speakers living in other countries.

Nada: When I first started book tubing it wasn’t a thing in Egypt. People weren’t familiar with it. However they started to cope with it from the beginning. It’s not that they loved or hated it before, but that they didn’t know about it. I have followers form allover the Arab world. Other than Egypt I have many followers in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan.
When and why did you start book tubing?

Nada: In March 2017, I’ve started reviewing books online through videos on Facebook but I switched to Youtube in July. It’s important to me because – I believe – this way, I’m paying back for all the knowledge I received through books to all the potential readers. I like to think that I’m doing something useful that will remain after me.

Shady: I started my show “Beta’ al-kutub” (“بتاع الكتب”) exactly one year ago. At first it was only on Facebook, but then I switched to YouTube in September 2017. I’m interested in book-tubing because that’s my passion: talking about the things I love and communicating with people in a different way; a more contemporary and appealing way.
How often do you upload videos ? How many followers do you have?

Nada: I post 4 videos monthly, but sometimes I post more, in the form of Mid-Week videos, in which I try to be more interactive with the followers, as I specifically make the whole video upon the questions I receive from them. On Youtube I have approximately 19,000 subscribers and on Facebook 27,000 followers.

Shady: It’s a weekly show, 4 episodes per month. The videos are uploaded on my YouTube channel every Friday. Sometimes it’s more than 4 episodes, because I also stream live videos on my Facebook page on weekdays. These videos are usually improvised and include book recommendations and reading tips. But in the main videos I talk about certain books I select based on a script I write. I have around 3,500 followers on my YouTube channel, 10,000 followers on my Facebook page and 47.000 followers on my personal account.
How do you pick the books that you review? Do publishers or authors reach out to you?

Shady: In my videos, I talk about all sorts of books. I focus on fiction, but I also talk about important non-fiction books like psychology and history books and biographies. I don’t talk about books on my YouTube channel only, one video a week isn’t that much after all. I also post book reviews and recommendations on my Facebook page. I choose the books myself, based on my own readings and some recommendations from trusted friends. Some publishers have reached out to me to review their books, of course, but I usually prefer my personal choice.

Nada: The books I review must have certain criteria, whether personal or professional ones. So firstly I don’t review any book unless I like it. But at the same time I try to pick from the books I like, the ones that would have audience. Or the ones which are likely to have audience. So I don’t just post the books I like because obviously not all what I read would be suitable for everyone to hear about. No, I don’t get any recommendations from anyone regarding the books I should review.
Which feedback do you get from your followers?

Nada: I’m amazed the success and the popularity the show has gained in such short time. And I’m glad I could do something that influenced so many people whether they started reading what I recommend or recommend other books to other people themselves.

Shady: I actually get a lot of support from my followers and even my friends. I try to present new material each time, whether in terms of the content, the presentation or the production. Many followers have noticed this and they like it.
How would you describe the role of book tubing in Egypt, today?

Nada: I would say that booktubing is gaining more and more popularity every day. People are starting new channels that are involved in the books industry, which is a good sign.

Shady: Book-tubing is important because it’s a revolutionary way to communicate and connect among readers. Not many people read nowadays, so written reviews have lost their importance and aren’t as useful as videos, which some find easier to watch and more useful. I hope to see more creativity in this field and more support and development of this phenomena.

Nada Elshabrawi, 23 years old, is a law graduate. She works as a Publishing Director at Tanmia Publishing House in Cairo.


Literary Translation
Jonas Lüscher in Cairo: When author and translator join forces

Lüscher in Kairo
© Goethe-Institut

The Swiss author Jonas Lüscher and his Arabic translator Moataz al-Maghawari spent five days end of September to clear up last questions about the philosophical, political and cultural context of Lüscher's recent novel "Kraft" and to fine-tune the style of the Arabic translation.
A workshop report by Isis Elsherbini

Jonas Lüscher’s sophisticated, philosophical text is about Richard Kraft, a professor of rhetoric, who not only must face the ruins of his marriage, but financial ruin as well. When his old friend István, a professor at Stanford University, sends him an e-mail invitation to participate in an essay competition that promises a million dollar reward for the winner, he sees a chance to solve all of his problems in one fell swoop.
His task: find the best answer to the old theodicy question: How can evil exist in the world when there is an almighty and benevolent God? Lüscher's protagonist, Kraft, is an intellectual in the midst of a midlife crisis, a brooder who has a most idiosyncratic view of things. With a mixture of tragic solemnity and biting irony, "Kraft" inspires the reader to question one’s own convictions and to reflect on the central problem of the novel and underlying concepts of divine omnipotence, human existence, good and evil.

Jonas Lüscher was awarded the Swiss Book Prize in 2017 for his multidimensional novel. In the same year, the rights to publish the Arabic translation went to Al Arabi Publishing and Distributing in Cairo. Through the initiative of the publishing house and with the support of the Litrix program of the Goethe-Institut and the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, Jonas Lüscher spent a week in Cairo at the end of September 2018 to work on the Arabic translation of "Kraft" together with his Arabic translator Dr. Moataz al-Maghawari, Lecturer in German at the Faculty of Linguistics at Ain Shams University, and Al Arabi's team headed by publishing director Sherif Bakr.

This five-day workshop offered not only a crucial step for the translator Moataz al-Maghawari to perfect the Arabic translation of "Kraft”. The discussions, which were held in German and English, aided in parsing the linguistic and cultural richness of the novel for a wider audience.

The first day began with a discussion with the author of the basic translation strategy, before dealing with a number of pivotal and particularly difficult passages in the novel. Questions included the novel's title "Kraft" and the word’s relationship to the main character, as well as the philosophical theories underlying the discussion of the competition question in the novel. References to the political history of Germany also were examined. The expert, Dr. Samar Mounir, Lecturer for German language at the Faculty of Linguistics of the Ain Shams University, also took part in this discussion.

On the following day, a wider circle focused on challenging passages and their transferability to Arabic culture.  Several lecturers from Ain Shams University, in particular Dr. Ola Adel, who translated Jonas Lüscher’s literary debut, “Spring of the Barbarians", were invited as experts to this second round of discussions.

On the third day, the al-Arabi team read central chapters of the novel together with Jonas Lüscher in German, English and Arabic to assess the accuracy and quality of the translation into Arabic. Lobna Diab, Project Coordinator in the Information and Library Department of the Goethe-Institut Cairo, also took part in this reading. At the end of the session, Lüscher gave an interview to journalist Aisha Elmaraghy of the newspaper Akhbar al-Adab.

The fourth day dealt primarily with checking the quotations heading the individual chapters. The meaning of the quotations for German and Arabic readers was also discussed. Lüscher mentioned that the rights to use one of these quotations had cost him 2000 dollars. At the end of the workshop day, Lüscher gave an interview to Nedal Mamdouh of the newspaper al-Dustour. They discussed the reception by Arabic readers of Lüscher's books.

Mamdouh asked whether, for example, Lüscher liked the "chaos" in Egypt. He replied that chaos might also have its advantages compared to the merciless order in other countries such as Switzerland. Afterwards Jonas Lüscher participated in the broadcast, “Haduta Masriya" on Nile Culture, where he spoke with the moderator Ziauddin Hamid - and thanks to the translation by Moataz al-Maghawari – was able to speak about his novel and its Arabic translation. Lüscher said it had been important for him to come to Egypt for these meetings and that it helped clarify the cultural, political and philosophical references in “Kraft” as well as iron out possible misunderstandings: "It's always best if you can do it directly together. That has already paid off very well. You can talk about language, about rhythm and difficult elements like puns for example.” Even if the story seems simple at first, the novel has philosophical dimensions. It’s about "optimism and pessimism", but above all, it deals with the question of the competition, how can God, “who is almighty and at the same time benevolent, allow suffering in the world.”

On the fifth and final day, the author, translator and the Al Arabi team worked on the stylistic subtleties of the translation to ensure that the Arabic comes as close as possible to the original and that the text also works for the Arabic target culture. This joint effort has brought a demanding and intensive translation process to a happy end. The Arabic translation of "Kraft" will be published at the end of 2018, and will be available in time for the International Book Fairs in Jeddah (26.12.2018 - 05.01.2019) and in Cairo (23.01 - 05.02.2019) and thereafter in all Arabic countries.
Translated by Zaia Alexander

Reinhard Kleist: Protest, Love, Everyday Life: Traveling through the Arabic Comic Book Scene

Reinhard Kleist Traum von Olympia
Reinhard Kleist © / Traum von Olympia © Calrsen Verlag

Reinhard Kleist is one of Germany’s finest graphic-novel illustrators and has traveled the Arab world extensively, discovering a fascinating local comics scene. In 2017, his volume "The Dream of Olympia" appeared in Arabic translation with Sefsafa Publishing House in Cairo.

In which Arab countries did you have the opportunity to meet and talk to people in the comics scene?

Mostly in Egypt, Jordan, Algeria and Sudan. I conducted workshops there, and talked a lot with local illustrators about the hurdles they face in getting published. Actually very few of them can make a living off illustrating. Many work in advertising or in game and web design. I was very pleased to see that there are many similarities in terms of what people want and what they think is good. Everywhere around the world. In Algeria there’s an annual comics festival. They even have cosplay competitions there, and I saw young Algerians in Naruto running around in costumes, just like they do here. In Sudan there’s a group of young artists publishing a comics magazine in spite of very difficult circumstances. It’s called Kanton (link: and is a real publishing feat, considering that there's basically no culture of books in Sudan and no decent printing presses. But they don’t give up. I admire that tremendously.

What differences and similarities do you see between the European and Arab comics scene?

There’s a strong engagement with political topics but often very obliquely. I think there’s a tendency to censor themselves due to the very real threat of censorship. But just as often I see the desire to flee from daily life, escapist stories that are there to make you forget the harsh reality around you. A girl in Sudan showed me her manga-style comics with love stories between people who looked Asian and even had Asian names. I asked her where she herself figured into these stories and she didn’t understand.

It’s very hard to reach your audience, of course. There are not many stores, and young people in many cases don’t have the money to buy comics. It’s really a very young audience. In Europe the readers of comics have become much older than they used to be, which has to do with the growing popularity of the graphic novel. In the Arab countries I’ve been to, comics tend to be part of youth culture and are very oriented towards the Asian market.

Did you have any encounters that left a particularly strong impression on you?

In a workshop in Amman, I assigned the topic "incidents from daily life" and had a female student who illustrated a short story. It was about the Friday street protests that were taking place there at the time. On the sidelines you saw a protester and a policeman, standing across from each other at a demonstration. Then you followed them home, and it turned out they both lived in the same building, entered the very same room and went to sleep there – one of them next to his protest sign, the other next to his truncheon. They were brothers. This story said a lot about the rift in society, but also about how young people can’t afford their own apartments.

How did you stumble upon the story of Samia Yusuf Omar ("The Dream of Olympia")? How did you develop the aesthetics of this book?

I discovered the story while researching the situation of refugees from Africa during a one-month artist-in-residence program in Palermo, sponsored by Goethe-Institut. I was immediately captivated by its emotional power. Only after my stay in Palermo was I able to begin working on it. I spoke a lot with refugees from Africa who told me their stories. I also spoke with Samia’s sister, who lives in Helsinki. She told me a lot about their family life and Samia as an individual.

As far as the drawing technique goes, I decided on a very clear and simple style, enough to convey the plot but kind of restrained artistically. I wanted to focus completely on the story and its protagonists.

How were the reactions to this book?

I did some great events with the book after it was published, especially with school children. I was afraid that, as a forty-something white European male, I wouldn’t find the right tone for the story of a girl from Somalia. But my fears turned out to be unfounded. In Sudan I had a very special evening at the Goethe-Institut in Khartoum, and reactions to the book were wonderful. There was a book presentation on the rooftop terrace and a live drawing concert with Sudanese musicians. One of the singers had written a song for Samia specially for that occasion. Everyone in the audience was moved to tears. The happiest thing for me, though, is that Samia’s sister loves the book. She was very pleased when I told her about the Arabic edition, to know that Samia’s story is still being told.

Translated by David Burnett

Literary Translation
“Each language has its own structures and idiosyncrasies. But they're not sacred.”

Nabil Al Haffar
© Nabil Al Haffar

Nabil Alhaffar is considered one of the most renowned and experienced translators in the business and has received numerous awards for his work. In 1974, he began translating theater texts and thereafter novels, stories and fairy tales from German into Arabic. In an interview with, he discusses his work as a translator and the challenges it presents. His advice to young translators: always distance yourself from the original text.

Mr. Alhaffar, what project are you working on at the moment? What drew you to this work?

I am currently translating "The Trial," which is the third work by Franz Kafka that I have translated into Arabic. While most of his major texts already have been translated several times over from English or German into Arabic, there are no translations that do justice to them either linguistically or literarily. I'm making an effort to change that. There is a strong demand for Kafka's writing in the Arabic-speaking world and much has also been written about his work, both pro and contra. There have also been many misinterpretations caused by inaccurate or poor translations. This is the justification for the new project.

How do you approach a translation? And what do you keep next to you on your desk?

On my desk, I keep a notebook for questions that arise while translating the text, vocabulary and information whose meanings I plan to look up, especially in etymological dictionaries or Google images. In Kafka’s German, there are many obsolete words whose exact meanings cannot be found in the new dictionaries. I also note my translations of certain terms, so that I have them ready if they appear again in the text.

I work systematically, eight hours a day, because translation has been my main profession for thirteen years, that is, since I retired from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus. Before that, I used to translate in my spare time.

What are the particular challenges of literary translation from German into Arabic?

The main challenge of literary translation into Arabic, in my opinion, mainly has to do with the author's subject matter. Patrick Süskind's "Perfume", for example, was that sort of challenge for me. The world of scents was extremely difficult to translate because of the lack of specialized dictionaries. Another aspect of this challenge was to replicate the precise description of daily life across all the various social classes in 18th century France.

Another example would be Christoph Ransmayr's „Cox oder Der Lauf der Zeit." The challenge of this novel lies in the high style and register of the language which demands its equivalent in Arabic.

What advice would you give to young translators?

I would tell young translators: before you start translating, read the German text carefully and also read something about the author, for example, find out about their education and training. Each language has its own structure and idiosyncrasies. But they're not sacred. So stay away from literal translation. Rephrase the German sentence until you succeed in creating a clear Arabic sentence. When you are done with your translation, read it through carefully before submitting it.

Which reading trends do you observe in the Arabic world? Which books need to be translated for the Arabic market?

In the Arabic world people read a lot about the political experiences of countries and individuals, especially memoirs by politicians and famous personalities. History books are, of course, connected to this trend.

In the past twenty years, there has been a significant demand for scientific books, especially among university graduates. Nevertheless, the editions in the various specialized areas of literature remain scarce. Also, the price of books has doubled during that time and many books in print can be easily replaced over the Internet.

During the last decade, the novel has occupied pride of place in the field of literature, followed by the short story. Very rarely does a publisher say yes to a volume of poetry or a play. Theoretical works about literature are almost never an option.

What Arabic title would you recommend to us Europeans?

I rarely have had the opportunity to get my hands on Arabic books recently, partly because of the war in Syria and also because of my emigration. Therefore, I am unfortunately unable to choose or suggest titles for translation. I read a lot about new publications in the various Arabic magazines on the Internet, but that is not enough to formulate an opinion about them.

Nabil Alhaffar, born in 1945, studied German literature in Leipzig and earned his doctorate in theater studies at Humboldt University in Berlin. He taught at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus, where he later became Vice-Rector. He has published countless articles on Syrian, Arabic and international theatre as well as theatre reviews. He has also worked as an editor for the Syrian magazines "Bridges", "Theater Life" and "International Literatures". In 1974, he began translating plays from German into Arabic, including plays by Bertold Brecht, Peter Weiss, Heinar Kipphardt and Stefan Heym. He now works exclusively as a literary translator, past projects include authors such as: Jenny Erpenbeck, Herta Müller, Ulrich Peltzer, Lukas Bärfuss, Robert Schneider and Felicitas Hoppe. He has received several awards for his translations into Arabic, including the Brothers Grimm Translation Prize (1982); the Goethe-Institut Translation Prize (2010); and the Syrian State Prize for Translation and Theatre (2014).

Translated by Zaia Alexander

ViceVersa: German-Arabic Translation Workshop
The Inside Story

Arabische Übersetzerwerkstatt im Literaturhaus München 2017
© Goethe-Institut

When translators gather to discuss their projects, there is never enough time, regardless how much is available. Every aspect of the work is considered, reworked, deliberated, debated, doubted, questioned, turned around, discarded, restructured, reformulated. Tirelessly.

And the famous gold scale, which means weighing each and every word, becomes an indispensable tool that is constantly in operation. Everything gets thrown onto the scale: entire passages, sentences, phrases, words, letters, even periods, commas and exclamation marks.

We’re talking about the translated work, of course, but also about the original text. Given that translators are famous for being close and critical readers, during the process of translation questions inevitably get raised about the original. How should the written word be interpreted? What is the context? Is there a subtext? Are the constructions and formulations a question of the original language’s structure, or are they intended as a stylistic device? Can we identify the narrative voice? From which perspective is the story being told? The list of questions is endless.

The text is collectively scrutinized, examined, turned around, viewed from all sides, interpreted, viewed against the grain - both in form and content. And once these points have been clarified or addressed, seldom are we left with a definitive and unambiguous answer, because once again we are dealing with the question of translation, i. e. transferring the source text "adequately" into the target language. This is a matter of keen interest and inspires stimulating discussions. Here too, there is no "one right solution", but many possibilities and approaches.

Such a meeting of translators took place in early July 2017, as part of the bilingual German to Arabic ViceVersa Workshop program sponsored by the German Translators' Fund and Litrix. de, and the Goethe-Institut Translation Grant Program. Six loquacious translators - Ibrahim Abu Hashash (Palestine), Amira Amin (Egypt), Nevine Fayek (Germany/Egypt), Latifa El-Haddad (Germany/Morocco), Jessica Siepelmeyer (Germany), Kauthar Tabai (Germany/Tunisia) - met in Munich to discuss their current projects. The two workshop leaders Leila Chammaa (Germany) and Hebatallah Fathy (Germany/Egypt) added questions and comments that fueled the controversial debates.

The eight translators resided in the city's Literaturhaus for four days under ideal conditions. Cared for in every way and freed from the bothersome, time-consuming demands of everyday life, the language workers devoted themselves as a group—which is a rare exception, given that translators normally lead a rather hermetic life— to questions that cause them major headaches.

"Basics in the Morning" kicked off each workshop day with a warm up for the participants. During this session, translators dealt with perennial issues such as, "language in context," "dealing with humor, puns & co." and questions of "fidelity vs. license". After the theoretical introduction, we got down to business: working concretely on texts, which turned out to be extremely diverse and colorful, as the translators brought excerpts to translate from a wide variety of genres (novel, short story, satire, essay, children's book) that offered a broad spectrum of challenges in terms of content and style.

The program was rounded out in the afternoon by people working in various areas of the literature business. Invited guests offered insights into their work: Larissa Bender discussed the joys and hardships of an Arabic translator, Chinese language translator Karin Betz talked about the platform Weltlesebühne. Stefan Weidner, translator and publicist, spoke about bringing Arabic literature to the German public, and the authors Nemat Khaled and Ulla Lenze asked each other all sorts of questions about working with their translators and their experiences being translated.

Driven by enthusiasm for language and eagerness to exchange ideas, and equipped with the courage to have others look into their manuscripts and being open to criticism, all of them talked their heads off and the sponsors were carried away with them: Anne-Bitt Gerecke (Litrix. de, Berlin), Amira Elmasry (Litrix. de, Cairo) and Katrin Lange (Literaturhaus Műnchen).

A few of the many questions participants had on their minds were clarified along with new ones that arose during the workshop. But, as expected, we are far from finished. That is why the joy and anticipation for the Arab-German ViceVersa Workshop II in May 2018 is all the greater.

Leila Chammaa

Berlin, January 2018

Translated by Zaia Alexander

Arabic Comics
Often Political, always Art

Arabic Comics
© Shennawy

An exciting look at a creative scene: The Egyptian comic artist Shennawy and others discussed “new Arabic comics” at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Shennawy may not be a household name to many Egyptians, but he's quite a celebrity in the comic-book and graphic-novel scene. Shennawy is a cartoonist and co-founder of TokTok, the most famous Egyptian comic magazine, as well as the founder of the Cairo Comix Festival.

Shennawy Shennawy | Foto: © Christopher Resch

At the Frankfurt Book Fair he took part in a discussion with the German-Lebanese graphic designer and artist Lena Merhej, comic artist Reinhard Kleist, and director of the book department at the Institut français in Paris, Didier Dutour. “New Arabic Comics” was the title of the panel discussion – and is also the name of a new book scheduled for release in 2018, a joint publication of the Cairo Goethe-Institut and Institut français.

Reinhard Kleist Reinhard Kleist | Foto: © Christopher Resch

One thing became clear during the discussion: the Arabic publishing scene may be deficient in many things – infrastructure, funding, quality printing presses – but there’s no lack of artistic talent. “I conducted many workshops,” said Reinhard Kleist, “and some of the participants were so good that, try as I might, I couldn’t teach them a thing.” Kleist did not discern a specifically Arabic style, but a very personal and sophisticated language of design in each case. “There are a crazy amount of different influences, but many of [the participants] are concentrating on their own unique style. That’s what my workshops try to support.”

In an environment not immune to censorship, this is easier said than done. Even though – and this was exciting to see in Frankfurt – our European priorities in this respect are often much different those of people in the Arab world. Said Shennawy: “Censorship is not really the problem, the problem is funding.” To which his Lebanese colleague Lena Merhej, co-founder of the comic magazine Samandal, replied: “We've already come under fire, have been censored and fined, supposedly because of blasphemy.” What happens after publication is more dangerous than bungling censors anyway. What works in Lebanon – e.g., the open discussion of problems faced by the LGBT community – would be extremely risky for an Egyptian author to address at the current moment.

Didier Dutour has observed some positive developments regarding certain thorny issues. “What’s new is that Arabic comics are politically engaged in topics relevant to civil-society, and this with considerable diversity.” There is rarely a single trigger for social issues impacting art, and in this sense the question of whether the Egyptian revolution of 2011 had a formative influence on Arabic comics is beside the point. “It began much earlier,” explained Shennawy. “Magdy el Shafei’s comic book Metro was published back in 2008. Many things changed, there were small protests and critical movements. Society was basically ready for it.” TokTok as well was first released two weeks before the revolution. “The one was not directly related to the other, but the ground was fertile for change in the arts.” This ferment, already in existence but accelerated, as it were, by the activities of various social networks, was one of the reasons that people then began reading more comics and cartoons. And not just political ones, noted Reinhard Kleist. “There were a lot of everyday stories in my workshops. It was clear that there was a desire not only to address the harsh realities of daily existence, but also to escape from it now and then.”

Diskussion auf der Frankfurter Buchmesse Diskussion auf der Frankfurter Buchmesse | Foto: © Christopher Resch

Comics and graphic novels play a big role for many intermediary organizations active in the region. They are firmly embedded in local structures, often being published in the respective local Arabic vernacular and dealing with rather ordinary topics, which makes them more accessible to a broader public than many other forms of culture. “It’s extremely helpful that Institut français and Goethe-Institut have gotten involved,” explained Shennawy, “for the simple reason that it makes our work more visible.” And because they can offer the structural assistance that seems to be so sorely lacking, as Lena Merhej remarked. “We suffer from having to take care of everything: we’re publishers, designers, printers and fundraisers all rolled into one. There’s a general lack of people knowledgeable in the book market.” Shennawy concurred: “I have to do a lot of things that have nothing to do with my actual work.”

Hence more professionalization is needed. But how? Alongside a plethora of socio-political factors, they simply need better printing presses, said Reinhard Kleist. That would be a start. Because, as Shennawy added, “With a freshly printed, aesthetically pleasing product in your hand, it’s easy to sleep at night.”

Christopher Resch is a freelance journalist in Leipzig.
октябрь 2017

Literary Criticism
The Blog Trend

One advantage of the literature blogs:  the contents are available for everyone in the net
One advantage of the literature blogs: the contents are available for everyone in the net | Photo (detail): © art_sonik/Fotolia

Bloggers have become established in the literature business and are meantime important contacts for publishers. What is more, many a blog can compete with the newspaper arts sections.

The number of literary blogs in Germany can only be guessed at meantime. Is it a thousand, or more? One thing is certain and that is that the number is increasing constantly. 400 bloggers had themselves registered for the 2015 Leipzig Book fair, in 2016 that number was already 800. For a blogger meeting organised by the publisher Bastei Lübbe in Cologne in 2016, the one hundred tickets were sold within an hour. These figures indicate that literary criticism is alive and well – and bloggers have become established as voices to be taken seriously in the literary business.

The is also confirmed by the publishers. For example the prestigious Suhrkamp maintains contact with 500 bloggers. And Carolina Lopez, spokeswoman for Schöffling & Co, emphasises that the times  when bloggers could be ignored are past: "The classical media are being forced to save money, so for seekers of literature the importance of bloggers will surely increase," she says.

No reservations

Even established literary critics view this development positively: "Often enough, people in the arts sections lament how little public attention is given to literature. If new scope for a qualified preoccupation with literature is now emerging we can only welcome it," says Uwe Wittstock, literary critic and head of the arts section of the news magazine Focus. As for the keyword "qualified", Wittstock has certain reservations. "Most literary blogs deal with genre literature from the viewpoint of genre fans." he says. "The most recent products of the fantasy, love, crime and horror story genres are presented with great enthusiasm, "but little critical distance, and so they are not analysed. That may be useful and nice for genre fans, but it has nothing to do with literary criticism in the serious sense of the term."

It must be said that bloggers have repeatedly protested against that "serious sense of the term". Uwe Kalkowski, for example, who has the web blog Kaffeehaussitzer, spoke at the bloggers meeting in Cologne about "two completely different jobs" and confessed that he did not have the "tools and expertise" for classical literary criticism. The blogger Caterina Kirsten presented similar theses in an essay for the Börsenblatt in 2015: "As a rule blogs are low-threshold and more personal, the bloggers are not afraid of emotions or of saying ‘I’, therefore it is in fact a conversation ‘eye to eye’."

Bloggers as an open and integrative community

This eye-to-eye feature is one of the reasons why online book reviews are gaining ground. For the "low threshold" applies not only to the tone, but also to the very selection of books. Fantasy, love and horror novels only rarely get into the arts sections of the established printed media. Bloggers give them a forum, literally. There are often intense discussions on the blogs. Moreover, the bloggers see themselves as an open and integrative community who refer to the blogs of other literature lovers in the form of links.

One can argue about the standard of the reviews, undoubtedly. The lay critic fraction, who simply re-tell the story and make emotional judgements, is large. The same applies to the so-called BookTubers; the name is derived from the words "book" and "Youtube". The booktubers set themselves up in front of a camera and speak about books they chose themselves. They then upload their deliberately semi-professional clips onto the net. They too are garnering more and more media space; their number is currently estimated to be 200 to 300, and rising.

#wirsindbooktube – a project with 40 German booktubers


A substantial further development

As for the blogs, there are meantime many formats that represent a substantial further development. The online magazine Tell, for example, is headed by the journalist and author Sieglinde Geisel, who has gathered translators, blogger, critics and writers around her. "Tell aims to bring together the aspiration of the arts section and the spontaneity of the blog," Sieglinde Geisel explains. The blogs Begleitschreiben oder Culturmag are also among the ambitious formats in which well-founded literary analysis is given top priority. In his blog Kaffeehaussitzer Uwe Kalkowski has established another idea: under the heading "Textbaustein" he excises particular sections from different novel, lists them and comments on them.

These examples show how the forecast made by the author and blogger Frank O. Rudkoffsky at the start of 2016 has come to pass. He said, "Blogs will not replace the arts section, they will enlarge the literary discourse, the literary playing field." As regards speed, space and availability, the printed arts section is already at a disadvantage. "What appears in daily or weekly newspapers is soon unavailable for ordinary, non-professional readers. In the net, it is available for a long time, says Uwe Wittstock from Focus. And how has the renowned critic responded to this fact? By setting up a blog of his own called Büchersäufer.


Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Martin Maria Schwarz. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Germany Attribution - NoDerivs 3.0 Germany license.

Martin Maria Schwarz works as a cultural editor for the broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk and as a free-lance author for, among others, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung".
ноябрь 2016
Pauline Cumbers

International Youth Library
Children’s Literature, A Cultural Heritage

Internationale Jugendbibliothek München
White Ravens Festival in the International Youth Library | © IJB

In the picturesque Blutenburg Castle in Munich resides the world’s largest library for international children’s and youth literature. But it is anything but a dreamy castle of books.

If today you wander through the magical home of the International Youth Library (IJB) at the Blutenburg Castle on the outskirts of Munich and inform yourself of the varied activities of this astonishing special library, you experience a symbiosis of culture, science and politics such as is rarely brought about for the good of children and young people. To promote, collect, make available and make known children’s literature from all over the world as a cultural heritage and an artistic medium for the future – that is the mission of the IJB.

Multi-facetted tasks of the International Youth Library

The founding of the International Youth Library after the Second World War in 1949 was part of the re-education program of the Allies and succeeded thanks to the idealistic energy of Jella Lepmans (189-1970), a returned emigrant, journalist and consultant to the U.S. Army. As the political balance of power changed in the course of the years, so too did the sponsorship and responsibilities of the library.

Since 1996, the IJB has been a private foundation under civil law. It is financed mainly by grants from Federal Ministries, the Free State of Bavaria and the city of Munich. Other sources are project-related monies and donations-in-kind from foundations, businesses and private persons. This constellation reflects the multi-facetted tasks of the International Youth Library in the federal cultural policy of Germany. Three programs bring together the books, archive, events, exhibitions and publications: collection and promotion of international children’s and young people’s literature, projects for the extra-curricular communication of literature to children and young people, and support of research projects.

Archive of cultural identity

The long-standing core of the collection of 600,000 children’s books in over 130 languages, which has been built up over nearly seventy years, is the new publications continually donated by publishers from around the world. For the not a few regions of the world without a reliable infrastructure for the production, communication and data collection of their children’s and youth literature, these holdings also constitute an archive of their cultural identity. On the global literature markets, the collection serves, accompanied by the White Raven recommendation program, as a guide to trends, themes and the quality of children’s and youth literature.

Awaken the desire for literature and books

The historic building of the Blutenberg Castle, in the Munich district of Obermenzing, houses a children’s and youth library containing approximately 30,000 international books. Here young people try out, in seminars, workshops and artists projects with experimental writers, artists, educators and other experts, how literary diversity can enrich their experience and feelings. Also focused on children and young people are the educationally presented exhibitions devoted to German writers such as the Michael Ende Museum, the James Krüss Tower and the Erich Kästner Room. The cooperation with kindergartens and schools is determinative here of both visitors and success.

At the same time, the IJB supports the international character of the cultural asset of the children’s book and the promotion of its German exponents as a research topic. A special library of 30,000 publications of international research literature, over 100 professional journals, the archiving of writers’ literary estates and a scholarship program belong to this service area. Here too the IBJ relies on in-kind donations by publishers and authors.

Living, democratic organism

In national as well as international bodies, the IBL represents, as a neutral institution without ties to the market or politics, the many common interests of international children’s and youth literature: safeguarding the rights of children, the freedom of art for and with children, and political, economic and educational conditions suitable to literature. This difficult role must continually be re-thought and realised anew. The International Youth Library is no dreamy, apolitical castle of books or some depot managed by algorithms, but a living organism with democratically regulated access to an important part of art and scholarship.

Challenges of the future

To develop the institution and its work areas further, the IJB needs planning certainty and a clearly defined place in the cultural landscape of the Federal Republic of Germany. Media habits are changing: the development of multi-media children’s and youth literature is obvious and must be taken more into account by the IJB in its services. Not everywhere in the world will we see in the foreseeable future freely accessible children’s and youth books as companions of young people leading self-determined lives. Geopolitical changes and their consequences demand new forms of cooperation for the internationally oriented promotion of literature.

"Childhood is local": even amongst displaced refugee children, childhood takes place on site. For this reason the IJB wants to use all its means to build a more visible bridge between local services such as its storybook cinema for primary schoolchildren and targeted lobbying for children and youth literature in the worldwide web. This includes digital access to data and documents. Transparency and increased access to collections and archives will serve to democratise the medium of the children’s book. In this way the work of the IJB makes it a seismograph of the importance of childhood and youth.

Copyright: Text: Goethe-Institut, Birgit Dankert. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution – Share Alike 3.0 Germany license.

Birgit Dankert was a professor of library and information science at the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences until her retirement. She has been reviewing children’s and young adult literature in the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit” for 30 years.
декабрь 2016
Jonathan Uhlaner

German Book Prize
Fleeing from Oneself

Bodo Kirchhoff
Bodo Kirchhoff | © Laura J. Gerlach

Bodo Kirchhoff has been awarded the 2016 German Book Prize for his novel "Widerfahrnis". This guarantees that it will sell well – as do the winners of other literary prizes in Europe and the USA.

From time to time there does appear to be some justice in the literary world after all: back in 2012, Bodo Kirchhoff had been nominated for the German Book Prize for his highly complex novel Die Liebe in groben Zügen, but failed to be shortlisted despite reaping numerous rave reviews. Now he has succeeded, and at Frankfurt Book Fair was awarded the prize, which is endowed with 25,000 euros, for his novel Widerfahrnis.

Widerfahrnis gets off to an unspectacular start in an apartment building in the foothills of the Alps. One cold wet April night, a man and a woman, both of them the wrong side of 60 and their hearts full of disillusion, get into a car and set off for Italy. They drive right across the country without really knowing what it is they are looking for. A former small-time publisher and the owner of a failed hat store, they have only just met and are fleeing from their lives in which nothing new ever happens anymore, from their past, and from themselves. In vain.

Apparent charity

Because of course they cannot escape. What is more, in Italy they encounter people everywhere who are fleeing in the opposite direction. And then, in the Sicilian city of Catania, they suddenly come across a girl of around twelve in a tattered dress who wordlessly offers them her necklace. The couple take the girl back to their hotel, buy her clothes and become obsessed with the idea of being her parents, helpers and rescuers. Yet their apparent charity has less to do with selflessness than with the deficits of the ageing couple, and with typically German fantasies about saving the world. In Widerfahrnis, Kirchhoff puts together a novel by masterfully combining his major themes of love, men and women, and the endless search for happiness in life, with the current refugee situation. In this instance the "unprecedented occurrence" that defines a novel is really the entire journey, though above all its disturbing end …

The honour, which many critics believe has come a few years too late and should really apply to Kirchhoff’s entire oeuvre, is also gratifying for the author, who is one of the initiators of the German Book Prize. "I thought there needed to be something in Germany to lend tailwind to novels", he recalls in an interview with German daily newspaper Die Welt. Not everyone agreed. "People at the time were almost shocked by the desire to award a ‘German’ prize for literature."

The long road to the Book Prize

It is almost impossible to imagine now that for a long time there was no prize for the best novel or best work of narrative prose in German, despite all the promotion prizes and scholarships, despite the Büchner Prize and the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. However, unlike in France, the USA or Great Britain for example, there was a reluctance in Germany to single one work out from the huge number of new publications.

As an author who has to earn a living from writing, Kirchhoff would certainly have been aware of the marketing impact such a prize would have. This is particularly obvious in the case of the Prix Goncourt, France’s most renowned literary prize: awarded to the best narrative work of the year since 1903, the prize is endowed with only a symbolic ten euros, yet the books that receive it become bestsellers, without exception. The fact that the prize-winning works are published for the most part by leading houses such as Gallimard, Grasset and Seuil sparks criticism time and again.

No award without discussion

The situation is rather different when it comes to the British equivalent, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, which is worth 50,000 pounds. A complicated procedure is applied so as to prevent the major publishing houses from exerting any influence: the foundation that awards the prize appoints an advisory committee, which each year selects a new judging panel. In Great Britain too, even shortlisted novels see their sales boosted. The award ceremony is then broadcast live on television, ensuring once and for all that the prize-winning work becomes a bestseller. This is also the case with the Pulitzer Prize in the United States: awarded since 1917, it honours not only journalistic work but also theatre plays, poetry, non-fiction books and novels.

Ever since the German Book Prize was first awarded in 2005, there have also been the same discussions of whether this or that particular author deserves the prize. Naturally, some novels will appeal to a wider audience (such as Julia Franck’s The Blind Side of the Heart or Daniel Kehlmann’s Measuring the World), while other less easily digestible books (like Frank Witzel’s Die Erfindung der Rote Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969) are able at least briefly to make it onto the bestseller lists. "Ultimately, people will always have their preferences when it comes to taste, but they balance each other out", says Bodo Kirchhoff. He has every reason to be satisfied, both as the initiator of the prize and now as a prize-winner: "Books have to be discovered that will appeal to readers – as well as others that are likewise of interest. The prize has succeeded in doing this time and time again."

Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Matthias Bischoff. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Germany Attribution - NoDerivs 3.0 Germany license.

Matthias Bischoff works as a cultural journalist in Frankfurt am Main.
ноябрь 2016
Chris Cave

Translating Comics
“Encroaching on the drawings is taboo”

Comic translator Ulrich Pröfrock
Comic translator Ulrich Pröfrock | Illustration (detail): © Reinhard-Kleist

Text and pictures are more closely interwoven in comics than in any other literary genre. In our interview, comic translator Ulrich Pröfrock reveals why this makes life particularly challenging for translators, and which freedoms they have.

Mr Pröfrock, how did you end up translating comics?

I needed some translations for a small publishing project I was working on in the early 1990s, so I did them myself. Later I kept getting more and more requests from friends of mine in the same business, asking if I could help them with some small translation or other. And things just snowballed from there.

What is it about translation that gives you the greatest pleasure?

What I find most fascinating is the fact that you are constantly challenged by different narrative styles and linguistic forms. Translators of novels often spend a very long time working with just one author – in extreme cases even several years. Comics feature much less text, and in 24 months I translate around 50 of them in different genres: everything from children’s comics to adventure stories, fantasy, science fiction and literary adaptations – and even biographies and reportage.

What makes a good translator of comics?

A good translator should have an above-average command of colloquial everyday language, and should also be familiar with pop culture references and genre-specific contexts. He or she often has to depart considerably from the original in the texts, which for the most part are dialogues – after all, the reader should feel that it sounds just right. In German, however, this in itself can easily land the translator in hot water, as our own language has significant regional differences from north to south.

Lost in translation

What kind of things are difficult to translate?

Many references to the everyday culture of the comic’s country of origin will necessarily be lost. When for example tourists at a French seaside resort think they have spotted a couple of famous singers, but then actually muddle up the two, this strikes a chord with the reader in a way that cannot be achieved in the translation. It would be silly to have the German singers Wolfgang Petry and Wolfgang Niedecken confused as a substitute for the French protagonists – though this would obviously come closest to the original intention. So an entirely different solution needs to be found. Germany also has no equivalent of the West African French spoken in the country’s former colonies. There is no satisfactory way in which to convey the author’s extremely creative use of French, a foreign language that was "imposed" on the people living in the colonies, nor the highly vivid and descriptive nature of this language. Under no circumstances must the reader be given the impression that the protagonists do not have a proper command of "standard French", as this would make them appear linguistically incompetent.

And how do you resolve a problem like this?

Generally speaking, the best solution involves looking at the information conveyed by the drawings in question and attempting to come up with similar references. This is why it is so essential for a comic translator also to be an avid reader of comics. The important thing is always to keep track of all the pictures that appear on any given double page, as this is what dictates the narrative flow and the rhythm.

What role is played by the layout and design when it comes to the translation process?

It goes without saying that translators of comics must restrict themselves to the space that is actually available. Sometimes the problem of a longer translation can be solved by using a smaller typeface. Encroaching on the drawings is taboo – and there must be very good reason for any exceptions. If the available space is simply insufficient even with the best will in the will, the translator must decide which information could most easily be left out. Obviously nothing that is relevant to the continuing story can be sacrificed.

A second job to pay the bills

Can a text also become shorter when it is translated?

It is only rarely the case that a translation turns out to be significantly shorter than the original. When it does, the translator needs to extend it in ways that fit the rhythm, while at the same time filling the surplus blank space in a satisfactory manner. The arrangement and weighting of the text boxes and speech bubbles is a key element of the overall visual impact and should be preserved as far as possible. Because the publisher’s editors take the final decisions as regards hand versus computer lettering and font size and type, the finished text generally has to be revised and adjusted several times.

Can you earn your living from translating?

No! Given the paltry pay in the world of literary translation, the only way I could make a living would be to cut back hugely on the amount of time I spend on each translation. That would only be possible by churning out text after text and not bothering to revise or rework my translations. More effort is needed to produce high quality work, however – and I don’t get any extra pay for going the extra mile.

What would you like to see for translators in Germany?

More appropriate pay and appreciation for those who make world literature of whatever kind accessible to a German readership. Many of my colleagues in Germany who are "foolish" or at least passionate enough to devote themselves to this work risk ending up very poor in their old age. That is the bitter reality.

Ulrich Pröfrock
Freiburg-based translator and bookseller Ulrich Pröfrock was awarded the 2015 Christoph Martin Wieland Prize for Translation. The jury felt that he had pulled out "all the linguistic stops" in his translation of the graphic novel Weapons of Mass Diplomacy from the French original Quai d’Orsay. The 12,000 euro prize, which is awarded by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts, thus paid tribute to a comic translation for the first time. Ulrich Pröfrock owns the "X für U" comic bookstore in Freiburg.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V. Internet-Redaktion

Rieke C. Harmsen conducted the interview. She is an art historian, curator and editor at the Evangelischer Pressedienst.
июль 2016
Chris Cave

48. Internationale Buchmesse Kairo
Chancen und Herausforderungen

Eingang Buchmesse Kairo 2017
© Goethe-Institut

Unter dem Motto „Kultur und Jugend der Zukunft" fand vom 26. Januar bis 10. Februar 2017 die 48. Internationale Buchmesse Kairo statt, mit 670 Teilnehmern aus 35 Ländern. Überschattet wurde die Messe von der schweren Wirtschaftskrise in Ägypten. Der Wert des Ägyptischen Pfunds sank in den vergangenen Monaten um 120 Prozent, was auch massive Auswirkungen auf den Buchmarkt und die Verlagsindustrie hatte, weil sich die Preise für Bücher und andere Druckerzeugnisse verdoppelten.


Anders als in den letzten fünf Jahren verzeichnete die Buchmesse zum ersten Mal seit der Revolution vom 25. Januar 2011 einen Besucherrückgang. Trotz verbesserter Sicherheitslage und umfangreicher Werbemaßnahmen sorgten die schwierigen wirtschaftlichen Bedingungen, unter denen die Gesellschaft in Ägypten momentan leidet, für ein Wegbleiben des Messepublikums. Aufgrund einer ungewöhnlich hohen Inflationsrate von über 25 Prozent und der Preisverdoppelung bei Büchern und Druckerzeugnissen, kann sich kaum eine ägyptische Familie mehr Bücher leisten.

Während letztes Jahr bei einem Durchschnittspreis von 25 bis 40 Ägyptischen Pfund pro Buch täglich im Schnitt 200.000 Besucher zur Messe kamen, sank die durchschnittliche Besucherzahl in diesem Jahr auf 100.000 pro Tag, wobei der durchschnittliche Buchpreis auf 40 bis 60 Pfund für Bücher ägyptischer Verlage anstieg. Noch drastischer gestaltet sich die Preisentwicklung bei Verlagen aus anderen arabischen Ländern, deren Bücher man vergangenes Jahr noch für durchschnittlich 170 Pfund erwerben konnte, während der diesjährige Durchschnittspreis an die 400 Pfund beträgt.

Karam Youssef, Chefin des Kotob Khan-Verlags aus Kairo, weist in diesem Zusammenhang darauf hin, dass die Verlage dieses Jahr mit zahlreichen Herausforderungen und Krisen zu kämpfen haben. Zum einen sei da die Verdoppelung der Druckkosten, zum anderen der Rückgang der Verkaufszahlen aufgrund der angespannten Wirtschaftslage: „Der Kotob Khan-Verlag veröffentlicht dieses Jahr nur halb so viele Titel wie im letzten Jahr. Ich glaube, die Verlage werden nach und nach die Arbeit einstellen." Der Verlegerin zufolge sei die Krise im Verlagswesen nicht nur ein Resultat der Wirtschaftslage. Vielmehr befinde sich die Branche schon seit Jahren in der Krise, weil Raubkopien sowohl in Form von Raubdrucken als auch in elektronischer Form immer mehr überhandnehmen.

Auf die Frage, wie ihr Verlag auf die Herausforderungen reagieren wolle, vor denen die Branche steht, antwortet Karam Youssef: „Dazu sind mehrere Schritte erforderlich. Zunächst müssen wir uns auf Qualität und Kontinuität konzentrieren. Wer unter solchen Bedingungen überleben kann, ist im Vorteil. Letztes Jahr haben wir 30 Titel produziert. Dieses Jahr sind es nur 15 Titel. Die Auflagenzahlen sinken ebenfalls. Außerdem müssen wir unser Augenmerk stärker auf die arabischen Messen und Märkte richten als auf die ägyptischen."


Trotz der großen Herausforderungen, die dieses Jahr auf die Verlage zukommen, bieten sich vor allem für neue und junge Verlage zahlreiche Chancen. Da große Verlage bei der Veröffentlichung neuer Werke lange nicht mehr so risikofreudig sind wie einst, gibt es jetzt mehr Nischen für junge Verlage.

Ahmed Saed, Chef des Rabe3arabe-Verlags, meint dazu: „Die Nachfrage ist dieses Jahr nur mittelmäßig, aber es läuft immer noch besser als letztes Jahr. Die Erwartungen der Verlage waren letztes Jahr recht hoch, die Nachfrage hingegen vergleichsweise recht mager. Dieses Jahr sind die Verlage pessimistisch und zurückhaltend, man rechnet mit Verlusten. Deshalb kann bereits eine mittelmäßige Nachfrage als großer Erfolg gewertet werden. Selbst Optimisten haben nicht das geringste Interesse vonseiten der Leser erwartet, doch das Publikum hat die Verleger überrascht."

Eslam Abdel Moty, Chef des Rwafead-Verlags, erklärt, sein Verlag setze seit dessen Gründung vor allem auf junge Autoren. Trotz gestiegener Druckkosten seien ägyptische Bücher immer noch weitaus günstiger als Bücher aus anderen arabischen Staaten. Messen und Sonderpreise hätten die Kauflust angestachelt, ebenso wie die Publicity durch Literaturpreise und soziale Medien, die viele junge Menschen für das Lesen begeistern können – immerhin sind es vor allem literarische Texte wie Romane und Kurzgeschichten, die am besten bei ihnen ankommen.

Literatur boomt

Buchmesse und Buchmarkt haben in den letzten Jahren große Veränderungen erlebt, was die Art der Bücher mit dem höchsten Beliebtheitsgrad anbelangt. 2011 und 2012 boomten die politischen Titel, 2013 und 2014 waren vor allem die Themen Religion, Gesellschaft und Wirtschaft angesagt, doch 2015 und 2016 zeichnete sich schließlich ein fulminantes Comeback der Belletristik und der Autobiografien ab. Dieses Jahr sorgte der große Erfolg des Romans Nader Fooda des Rundfunk- und Fernsehmoderators Ahmad Younes für Furore. Der Roman ist erst dessen zweiter Versuch als Schriftsteller, doch er entwickelte sich in Windeseile zu einem echten Publikumsschlager, vor allem bei jungen Lesern. Obwohl Ahmad Younes kein etablierter Autor ist, kamen an die 30.000 junge Leute zu seiner Signierstunde.


Die Internationale Buchmesse Kairo beschränkt sich nicht nur auf den Verkauf von Büchern. Es finden zudem Dutzende verschiedene Veranstaltungen im Rahmen eines Kunst- und Kulturprogramms statt, sei es in Form von Konzerten, Podiumsdiskussionen oder Workshops für Kinder. Khaled Abdelkarim, 35-jähriger Messebesucher, ist der Ansicht, dass es die Veranstaltungen sind, die der Messe eine ganz besondere Atmosphäre verliehen und sie – vor allem für Kinder – zu einem einmaligen Erlebnis machen. Er selbst sei mit seinen neun und sechs Jahre alten Kindern zur Messe gekommen und lege großen Wert darauf, dass die beiden mit dabei sind, um Mal- und Zeichenworkshops oder Open Air-Theateraufführungen zu besuchen.

Auf der diesjährigen Messe haben sich zahlreiche staatliche Organisationen am Rahmenprogramm für Kinder beteiligt. So konnten sich die jungen Messebesucher am Pavillon des Ministeriums für Zivilluftfahrt am Entwurf von Flugzeugen versuchen, während es im Azhar-Pavillon die Möglichkeit gab, zu malen und zu zeichnen oder an Wettbewerben teilzunehmen.

Um die Kinder dazu zu motivieren, zu lesen und sich zu informieren, bot der mit Büchern, Spielen und einem Videoschirm ausgestattete Bibliotheksbus des Goethe-Instituts in Zusammenarbeit mit der Wohltätigkeitsorganisation Misr El Kheir Foundation ein Programm unter dem Motto Geschichten auf vier Rädern an.

Copyright: Goethe-Institut Kairo

Islam Anwar ist freiberuflicher Journalist in Ägypten.
февраль 2017
Andreas Bünger

International Book Fair Sharjah
Binding Incentives to Encourage People to Read

Internationale Buchmesse Sharjah 2016 GR
© Goethe Institut Gulf Region

During the course of the International Book Fair in the Sharjah Emirate, which took place from November 2 - 12, the United Arab Emirates issued a law which regulates how the government creates incentives to read.

As a result, for example, all publishing efforts will be exempt from taxes and duties. Moreover, government agencies are obligated to establish public libraries and other similar institutions throughout the country to encourage and promote reading. The private sector also will be given incentives for investing in bookshops and cultural centers. The most striking aspect, however, refers to a passage in the new legislative text, which requires that government agencies allow officials to devote themselves to reading relevant specialized literature during working hours.

This clear commitment to creating incentives to read was also evident at this year 's International Book Fair in the Emirate of Sharjah, not only by inviting numerous exhibitors from Arabic countries and around the world, but also through their related programs at the Fair, which, in addition to evening poetry readings, book signings, presentations of new publications and panel discussions on current topics, there were workshops for children and a cooking corner. Furthermore, numerous prizes were awarded for outstanding achievements in the Emirate and Arabic literature scene. The Emirate author Basema Younes was awarded „Best Emirate Book" for her novel, ḥattā 'āḫiri š-šahri (cf: "Until the end of the month"). The Egyptian Ahmed Khaled Tawfik was awarded "Best Arabic Book" for his novel mitl īkārūs (cf. "Like Icarus"). The "Best Emirate Publisher" award went to the publishing company Medad in Dubai and the "Best Arabic Publishing Company" award went to the Syrian publisher Mamdouh Adwan.

Not only was the Fair planned perfectly, the event organizers clearly wanted visitors to enjoy a completely stress-free exhibition experience, whether by granting free entry to all, or through a precise schedule of events that included a detailed map and information on exhibitors and their major areas of focus. The success of the concept is proven by the number of visitors, which was higher than most comparable book fairs in the Gulf region, especially with regard to the number of younger visitors.

For the sixth year in a row, the organizers also offered exhibitors a professional program for people working in the book industry. One goal, in particular, was to create favorable conditions for future partnership projects, both on a regional and international level. Sherif Bakr, Head of the Egyptian publishing house Dar Al Arabi, describes the program as one of the most successful in the Arabic-speaking world, one that can achieve concrete and reasonable results, such as book projects and cooperation partnerships. The program is targeted to more than 200 publishers from different countries, which, according to Sherif Bakr, are given the opportunity to come together in a pleasant atmosphere and plan joint projects or continue projects already in progress.

E-Publishing also made a good show at the Fair, not only through a wide variety of panel discussions, but also due to a keynote speech by Alexander Bergman, who represents Google Play Books. He not only discussed the basic principles of e-publishing, but also gave publishers and other interested parties some numbers in terms of Smartphone users and users of online payment services in the Arab countries. He closed his talk with a discussion of future perspectives for e-books in the region. The company Rakuten Kobo made a further contribution to the subject of e-publishing with a thesis paper entitled, "How we can create a future-oriented market for e-books". The paper focused on specific challenges that are particular to Arab countries, for example, in terms of language, legal regulations, or censorship. Although many publishers in the Arabic-speaking world are interested in the subject, few were willing to commit themselves to e-publishing because they believe that e-books are still less popular in some Arab countries.

Apart from the Fair’s program events, which included the awarding of an annual scholarship for a translator, they announced the new "Turjuman" translator's prize, which offers an unprecedented sum of two million dirhams (around € 250,000). The Goethe-Institut also hosted an event which focused on specific standards for translation. The translator Heba Shalaby discussed what makes a good translation and the pros and cons of literal and free translation. Accordingly, the translator must navigate between a literal translation which doesn’t speak to the target reader and a free translation that does not correspond to the author’s intention. She also focused on the challenges translators face when translating a "Western" text for Arabic readers, which requires also a cultural translation. Other topics included self-censorship as well as the multitude of languages and dialects in the Arabic-speaking world. Heba Shalaby emphasized that proofreading and editing by a professional editor play a crucial role in translating. Contrary to popular belief, translation means teamwork. Following her remarks, Heba Shalaby offered an insight into the translator’s daily work in front of the audience by performing a live translation into Arabic of her current project, "Im Labyrinth der Lűgen” by Ute Krause, a novel for children and young adults sponsored by the translation program. This event allowed the audience to closely follow the translation process, participate actively in the translator's decisions, and experience firsthand the profound difficulties that can arise during such a process.

For the most part, the Fair left a mostly positive impression, and the Emirate States clearly demonstrated a growing interest in literature and culture. Of course there is always room for improvement, especially in terms of the program of events which could include more controversial and less superficial topics. In general, censorship and self-censorship needs to be gradually reduced so that artists can work in a more supportive environment and be more open to their own ideas, before they open themselves to other cultures. Nonetheless, impeccable organization combined with practical and material support from the government has made the International Book Fair in Sharjah the leading book fair in the region, not least because it gives the book market in the region a major boost.

Amira Elmasry

German translation: Andreas Bünger

English translation: Zaia Alexander

Kafka in the Arabic World
Conversation About Literature at the Leipzig Book Fair

Franz Kafka is one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. What exactly fascinates Arabic readers about Kafka’s life and works? What role do his texts play in shaping aesthetic and intellectual perspectives in the Arabic-speaking world?

The Cairo-based literary scholar Hebatallah Fathy and comparative literature scholar Abdo Abboud Muenster discussed Kafka and his work in the Arabic world at the Leipzig Book Fair 2016

The Jewish author Franz Kafka, who was born 1883 in Prague and wrote in German, gained worldwide renown after his death - including in the Arab world. This is hardly surprising, given that other German language writers such as Goethe, Heidegger or Walter Benjamin also are read in Arabic. Of particular interest, however, is that in Arabic countries there is a growing fascination with Kafka as a person, and his works are experiencing something of a renaissance. All of his writings have been translated or retranslated into Arabic at the turn of the millennium, and a translation of the expansive three-volume Kafka biography by Reiner Stach is being planned in the years to come.

Has Kafka’s reception changed as a result of the Arab Spring? In what ways has his work gained a more popular following? In a panel organized by the translation promotion program, “”, Dr. Hebatallah Fathy, Junior Professor of Modern German Literature and literary translator (Cairo) and Abdo Abboud, Professor of Comparative Literature (Damascus / Munster) engaged in a discussion about these issues with Anne-Bitt Gerecke of (Goethe-Institut, Berlin), who moderated the panel at the ARTE booth during the Leipzig book Fair 2016.


Hebatallah Fathy first encountered Kafka and his notions of “balance of power” and “social phobia,” during her studies at universities in Cairo and Vienna. Abdo Abboud had intensively researched Kafka within the framework of his dissertation, “German Novels in the Arabic Orient,” and also mentioned he is one of the most frequently translated writers into Arabic. In the past, Kafka’s writings had often been translated into Arabic from English, and not from the original German, which is one reason his work had been inadequately understood in the Arab-speaking world. Today, Kafka’s voice will be heard more clearly than ever, now that publishers attach special importance in having his works translated from the original language.

Hebatallah Fathy pointed out that due to the advent of online literary criticism and the increasing number of translators, the quality of translation also has improved. Arab readers will now gain a comprehensive and more easily accessible knowledge of the “Kafkaesque experience,” which no longer will be reserved for an elite circle with a command of the German language.


Anne-Bitt Gerecke asked why Kafka’s ideas are finding such extraordinary resonance in the Arab world, and whether this interest can be linked to the recent political upheavals in the region. According to Abboud, Kafka’s writings are not political, but literary and artistic works that touch a nerve in people affected by political and social upheavals. He cited the novel, The Trial: Undoubtedly, the young people who rebelled against the dictatorship during the Arab Spring and experienced the horrors of war in their country could identify with Kafka's protagonist Josef K., who is falsely on trial for a crime that remains a mystery; or Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of Kafka's novel The Metamorphosis who wakes up one day to discover he has been transformed into a huge “bug.” By contrast, the novel The Castle has received little attention in the Arab world.


The interest in Kafka as a person also is reflected in the Arab world’s enthusiastic reading of his letters. Abdo Abboud believes this interest comes from the fact that Kafka was strongly influenced by a patriarchal society – which is something young people in the Arab world can identify with. Hebatallah Fathy however, emphasized the aesthetic richness of Kafka's writings, which leaves a lot of room for myriad personal, social and political interpretations. Many Arab writers have been influenced by Kafka and some translators have translated his works out of personal interest. Both scholars agree that Kafka’s writing is timeless and universal and this is why his works continue to resonate in our own era.

Amira Elmasry
Translation: Zaia Alexander

Creative Artists on the Run
Life without a plan

Assaf Alassaf with Barbara Burckhardt
Assaf Alassaf with Barbara Burckhardt | Photo (detail): Barbara Burckhardt

At the beginning of 2016 the 1976-born Syrian writer Assaf Alassaf received the “White Sea Grant” for threatened writers and artists from the Mediterranean region, awarded by the Allianz Cultural Foundation in cooperation with the Berlin Literary Colloquium (LCB) and the Akademie Schloss Solitude. Since then, Barbara Burckhardt met him during his residence-stay in the LCB at Wannsee in Berlin and conducted this interview with him.

Assaf Alassaf, between November 2014 and February 2015, you posted over a hundred entries on Facebook, which later appeared as an e-book entitled "Abu Jürgen: a grotesque fantasy" about how you can snag a “delicious German visa” from the fictional German ambassador Abu Jürgen so as to come to this country. How did you get this idea?

When in the autumn of 2014 the great migration of refugees began, many of my friends left Lebanon, where I was living then. They went to Turkey, to Europe, by the most various routes, with the help of expensive smugglers, some with visas … I too had the feeling that for us Syrians Lebanon can be only a staging post. I asked myself what I would do after two years in Lebanon. I didn’t have the money to pay a smuggler; I have a wife and two daughters, three and five-years-old. I then began to write this fictional story on Facebook. I also wanted to get out, but didn’t know how. The story was a kind of substitute act. A joke. I didn’t have a plan.

But now, a year later, we’re sitting here in the luxurious surroundings of the Berlin Literary Colloquium. What happened, quite without plan?

The story begins even earlier. In 2011 I left Syria because of the war and because I had a few problems with the government and was threatened with arrest. I went to Mauritania and worked there as a dentist. Then I travelled to Beirut, only for a few days really, to meet my family there; I couldn’t go to Syria, where they still lived. I had a return ticket, but in a crazy moment I spontaneously decided to stay in Lebanon with my wife and my children. Everything I possessed was in Mauritania, but luckily I had my papers with me. In 2014 you could, as a Syrian, still enter Lebanon easily with a passport and stay for six months. Every six months then you had to apply again. In 2015 this changed; the regulations were tightened. You had to work and live illegally. It was a situation in which you didn’t know what would happen tomorrow. But there was no possibility for me to leave the country.

But now you’re here …

I have my book to thank for that. The Heinrich Böll Foundation started a programme for the translation of Arabic texts. Sandra Hetzl discovered my Internet posts on “Abu Jürgen” and translated them; they were then published as an e-book by mircotext. This led to an invitation to the Munich Kammerspiele last October for the Open Border Conference, which procured me a legal Schengen visa for three months. At the Beirut airport, however, my passport was stamped with a stamp that barred my re-entry into Lebanon. I could tell my family only by phone. When I entered Germany, I immediately applied for asylum. I had no other choice. Two days ago I just received permission for three more months; after that I hope to get a residence permit for three years. And I hope that my family can join me, which at present doesn’t seem to be becoming any easier.

Why did you come to Berlin?

Because the procedure is faster here. In Bavaria I was told that I’d have to wait seven or eight months until I got a residence permit.

You then stayed initially at a sports hall in Berlin-Zehlendorf?

Yes. The first fourteen days I lived at the place of my publisher Nikola Richter, then I moved to the camp for six weeks. The big sports hall of a high school was divided into two areas, one part for families, the other for single people like me. We were about eighty people in a single space. Compared to other camps it was relatively comfortable because there was room. No privacy, of course, not that. But I preferred being in a big hall with eighty other people than in a single small room with three or four. There were a few problems, but on the whole the situation there was pretty well under control.

Did these first weeks in Germany match your expectations of the country?

I wasn’t doing badly. I allowed myself to enjoy the clash of civilizations. I was a refugee first class compared to most of the others, arrived by airplane and equipped with a three-month visa. I had my friends at the Munich Kammerspiele, my publisher; they all supported me. From the Goethe-Institut I received a salary for three months; that was very privileged indeed. And the camp couldn’t really shock me; I felt reminded of my military service in Syria. And then I received this five-month grant, two months here at the Berlin Literary Colloquium and three months at Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart.

In Syria, Mauritania and Lebanon you worked mainly as a dentist; now you’re a writer. Do you see your future in Europe as a doctor or as an author?

In Syria, Mauritania and Lebanon, in addition to my work as a dentist, I wrote and published texts. This dual activity isn’t rare in our country. But “Writers are hungry”, we say. So I’ll try again here to gain a foothold as a dentist. This will take some time. Above all I need to learn the language.

What you now have is a writer’s grant. What are you working on at present?

I’m writing many smaller stories. But I don’t yet have a plan for a book. That will come, I hope, at Schloss Solitude.

Do you want to write about your experiences as a refugee in Germany?

I don’t know. The words alone … refugee, immigrant, newcomer …

What term would you prefer to use? “Refugee”: this refers chiefly to flight, to that from which you are seeking shelter, to loss. “Newcomer” includes the future, the new. Which term do you feel covers you?

It’s complicated. I’m both. Five months ago I still thought that Germany is my future. I’ll stay here forever. Three months later I’ve changed my mind. Now I think more flexibly. Maybe I’ll go back after six, seven, eight years – maybe. If the war’s over. Or maybe my children, if they can come here, won’t want to leave. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll have to stay here. Or go to Turkey. Or to some other place. The decisive concept for me now is flexibility. I have to remain open and free.

You’ve had some experience of chance in your life. Life without a plan can go far – that’s what your story tells us up to now.

The decisive moment was when I left Syria. That turned my whole life upside down. It was like a second birth. Until then I had a small world in my head, definite rules, images, memories, plans. I could have grown old with all that. I left it all behind, this cosmos, which had been valid for me for thirty-five years. It was completely destroyed for me. But now I know that this was also an opportunity. I’ve learned to treat it optimistically. I love Syria, I loved my life there. But it was a small world. Now everything is possible; I can discover the whole world.

The small world of Germany, where you’ve been living for five months – has it met your expectations?

My knowledge of Germany before coming here came from books and films. After savouring the clash of civilizations, I began to look more closely. And found that the big difference exists only in our heads, in our stereotypes. We’re not so different. The Germans are friendly and outgoing; they seem to me less xenophobic than Syrians. Even in Leipzig everyone was nice to me. And before going there, all my German friends had warned me. Generalizations are no longer valid for me. Life in Germany, in Europe, isn’t so different from that in Syria. The world has changed in the last twenty years and cultures have become more and more similar. When I walk through Berlin, I see, as in Syria, primarily one thing: the great mixture. People from everywhere, black, white, yellow. I can decide how I want to live here: as a German, even if I come from Syria, or in a small, isolated community. Sure, there’ll be a few problems, but the world isn’t perfect. What I’ve learned in the recent months is that if I can suddenly live here as a writer, then I can do so anywhere. The only thing that counts for me and for my children is that the country must be safe. Paradise doesn’t exist. Not even in Germany. You have to struggle everywhere to have a future.

Barbara Burckhardt conducted the interview. She is a theatre critic and editor at “Theater heute”. From 2005 to 2007, and from 2014 to 2016, she was a member of jury of the Berlin Theatre Meeting, and from 2010 to 2013 of the Mülheim Theater Festival.
июнь 2016
Jonathan Uhlaner

Ulla Lenze's Reading Tour in Egypt

Ulla Lenze auf Lesereise in Kairo GR
© Sherif Bakr

From March 26-30, Berlin-based author Ulla Lenze was invited by to present her novel, “Die Endlose Stadt” [The Endless City] in Cairo and Alexandria.

The readings took place within three very different contexts and, accordingly, each audience responded uniquely to the novel and author. The first event, organized in collaboration with the Gudran Association for Art and Development, was hosted in Alexandria at the cultural center El Cabina. Ulla Lenze met many young people who were interested in culture at the center, yet most of them were unable to speak German. Nevertheless, they were eager to attend the event and learn more about the novel. The reading at the Goethe-Institut in Cairo brought a number of critics and publishers who knew of the novel because it will be translated into Arabic in conjunction with’s Special Focus on the Arab World (2015-2017). The third event was hosted by the Department of German at Cairo University and was attended by students and faculty members.


“Probably there are many paths:” This is the opening gambit to Ulla Lenze’s novel, and it suggests the wealth of themes and perspectives contained in these stories. The same sense of diversity and openness was evidenced by all three of the readings along with the lively conversations between the author and her audiences. “The Endless City” tells the story of two young German women who temporarily move to a new city, and thus to a different world: the artist Holle moves to Istanbul, while the journalist Theresa moves to Mumbai. The two young “western” women experience what it feels like to be a foreigner in cities of the Middle and Far East. Lenze shows us the complex social structures of each of the locations without falling into the trap of stereotyping. Precisely observed, yet fast-paced and exciting, Ulla Lenze describes two parallel and sometimes intersecting stories, peppering them throughout with reflections and essayistic meditations about our globalized world.


Even though “The Endless City” was written for German readers, there were many aspects of the story that an Arabic audience could relate to. On the one hand, “The Endless City” focuses on an external conflict, the so-called Culture Clash, which is one aspect of globalization. On the other hand, Ulla Lenze's novel describes an inner-conflict of people from the west who feel a sense of responsibility towards the foreign society, but at the same time are afraid of it, or exploit it. The author does not reduce these conflicts to the contrast between East and West, good and bad; instead she tries to describe the phenomenon as accurately as possible, as puzzle pieces of a complex reality.


Do the two women meet at the end of the story? Does Holle genuinely love her Turkish boyfriend Celal? or will she ultimately succumb to having a relationship with the wealthy German businessman Christoph Wanka? Must art deliver a message and therefore fulfill a responsibility to society, or should it hold a mirror to reality? Must the press bend to world politics and the demands of the masses to remain credible? These are all questions the novel raises and leaves unanswered- they remain wide and open as the cities in Ulla Lenze’s atmospherically rich novel, and it is up to the reader to find the answers.

Amira Elmasry

Translation: Zaia Alexander

Reinhard Kleist
“I spent a lot of time observing people”

Eine Apotheke in Hanoi © Reinhard Kleist
Eine Apotheke in Hanoi | © Reinhard Kleist

Comic artists from Germany are holding workshops and showing their work at the Goethe-Instituts worldwide. One of them is Reinhard Kleist. In 2015, he worked at the Goethe-Instituts in Krakow, Minsk and Hanoi. His sketches and notes show what he observed in those locations. You can find this and other articles in our Jahrbuch 2015/2016. For download see


In May, I was invited to Hanoi and Saigon by the Goethe-Institut to give workshops, do live drawing events and to make drawings for the website. At the workshops, I had very different experiences. My approach is to have them draw everyday situations that tell about life in the country. This way, I learn a lot about real life in the country, about the life I don’t otherwise find out about, but also about the social pressures that a lot of young artists are exposed to.

My best experience was a comic drawing class at a school for street children in Saigon. Even though we didn’t get much farther than practicing drawing figures, it was a great pleasure for me to observe what a universal language drawing is.

Live drawing is something that I have now done with various bands in many places of the world. I draw an image to every song a band plays. The audience watches on a projector. In Vietnam, I was able to do it three times to the music of Johnny Cash. You would not believe how popular Cash is in Vietnam!

I spent a lot of time observing people going about their daily work in the noisy and stuffy streets. What is that pharmacist selling from his jars and drawers? What do the women in straw hats have in their bicycle baskets? What are the people doing there in the temples? How do the people in these sprawling cities live with their noisy, crowded and chaotic streets? And what about communism in a city that sometimes seems so murderously capitalist?

Questions to which I found no answers, even after a month, but enough material to sit by the roadside and to try to capture the buzz with my drawing pencil. Sometimes a frustrating experience: Reality is often more intoxicating, overwhelming and volatile than you can capture it on paper. More often I should have done like the many elderly ladies and gentlemen who can be seen sitting on the barely existent pavements just calmly watching the wonderful chaos.


At first glance, the city seems grey and cold. When I was there to give workshops and to hold a live drawing event, it was February and while I was drawing my fingers got stiff with cold. But at some point, the city developed an eerie charm, even the socialist reliefs that the people in Minsk call the “Robocops.” My favourite café is Café Central near the GUM department store. You stand at the window drinking your coffee or a beer and watching the bustle of the boulevard. And when you walk eastwards, past the soldiers standing guard, you get close to the impressive market hall. The temperatures are perhaps normal for Minskers – they stand all day long with their goods on the street. Not for me.

In the workshops with Belarusian students and illustrators, my theme was “Tell me about your everyday lives.” All of the workshops that I’ve conducted in so many countries always focused on different approaches to storytelling. My straightforward, professional narration often conflicted with the students’ unbridled style of storytelling, and comprehension difficulties had to be overcome with gentle compromises. An example: In comics, you work a lot with symbols. However, the symbols do not have the same meaning in all countries. In Indonesia, for example, a student drew a person touching a skull with their tongue, an image that I found very disturbing. However, I learned that it meant something else entirely for him than for me: namely, that you find out about the past by tasting it.

The students were always impressed by the possibility of finding an audience in Germany for ambitious comic projects. This is not the case in countries like Belarus. But when I think back, only 15 years ago it wasn’t easy in Germany either. A lot has changed. And it is nice to see, again and again, that the problems are the same everywhere, no matter how different the political systems may be, and a story about the chaotic start of a day for one student quickly became a story about the inadequate transport system and the pressures on young people in a performance-oriented system.


In the spring of 2015, I was in Krakow on the invitation of the Goethe-Institut for a graphic novel week to hold a lecture on my work as a comic illustrator. I used the opportunity to visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. The boxer Hertzko Haft, whom I wrote a comic about (Der Boxer, Hamburg 2012), had been imprisoned there, too. As I stood at the camp station, I imagined how he must have arrived there. I made a few drawings. The weather was beautiful, the birds were chirping. Perhaps it was exactly the same that day when he reached this horrible place penned in the railway wagon, not knowing what awaited him.

For more information about Reinhard Kleist, visit

Reinhard Kleist works in Berlin as a graphic designer and comic illustrator. His latest book is the 2015 “Der Traum von Olympia”, which received the “Jahresluchs” award, the Catholic Juvenile Book Prize and the Gustav-Heinemann-Friedenspreis.

Photos Copyright: © Reinhardt Kleist


Faith Ann Gibson

German Comics
On the move into the women’s and digital age

Katharina Greve’s Web comic “Das Hochhaus”
Katharina Greve’s Web comic “Das Hochhaus” | Illustration (detail): © Katharina Greve/

German comics enjoy success with both critics and readers. In vogue are especially subjects pertaining to contemporary history, new forms of narrative and comics produced by women artists.

The year 2016 will someday probably be assigned particular importance in the annals of German comics. That year several extraordinary things happened at the awards ceremony for the prestigious Max and Moritz Prize during the International Comics Salon in Erlangen. The list of 24 nominated titles already announced a turning-point. For the previous three decades mainly imported comic books from the United States and the French-speaking world had been the candidates for the prize; in 2016 the majority of nominated comics were for the first time German productions. With this development, the rating of Germany as a “comics developing country”, which the local scene likes to cultivate, has definitely had its day.

Comics are a women’s business

At least as striking is that nearly a third of all titles on the nomination list included women artists. This too is a record, which a few years ago would have seemed inconceivable. In all the categories in which German artists prevailed the awards again went, with only a few exceptions, to women artists. A woman was honoured for the third consecutive time as “best German-language comics artist”. And after Isabel Kreitz und Ulli Lust won the coveted Comics Prize in 2012 and 2014, this year it went to Barbara Yelin.

The Munich-born artist impressed comics readers most recently with Irmina, a story of missed opportunities during the Nazi period. It was inspired by the experiences of Yelsin’s grandmother. Irmina is no great heroine, but rather finally comes to terms with life under the Nazis, thereby acting quite (terribly) normally.

Contemporary history dominates

Irmina was received enthusiastically by the critics, and proved to be a best-seller amongst the reading public. The graphic novel is thus exemplary of a new set of comic books about events of twentieth century German history. In Kinderland (i.e. Children’s Country), for example, the Berlin artist Mawil describes his daily life as a child in East Germany. It conveys to the reader a powerful feeling of conditions in the year before the Berlin Wall fell.

Even less known history of the East German Communist era comes to light in Birgit Weyhe’s Madgermanes. “Madgermanes” was the name given workers recruited from Mozambique, who came to the GDR in the 1970s but were not allowed to stay after 1990 in re-unified Germany. Back in Africa, many hundreds of thousands of these people felt cheated of their future and a large part of their wages, which had been deducted during their time in East Germany. An injustice, to which now the artist who grew up in Africa is drawing attention.

Publish online

For Madgermanes Weyhe received the 2016 Max and Moritz Prize in the category of “Best German-Language Comic”. Katharina Greve was given the award for “Best Comic Strip”. Traditionally, this category was confined to newspaper comics. But in 2016 the jury extended it to include online publications. Many works published online are similar in form and content to the classical comic strip. On the Internet, too, many comics are published in short episodes.

This is exactly what Katharina Greve does: her weekly uploaded “strips” are “floors” with which she then builds an entire house. Her Web comic is therefore entitled Das Hochhaus – 102 Etagen Leben (i.e. The Highrise – 102 Floors of Life). The episodic approach allows her both to project a vast story arc and to respond to very current social developments such as the immigrant crisis. In 2017, Greve has announced, the highrise should be completed.

Advance presentation on the Internet

Dissemination of their work in the Internet is an opportunity for unknown comic artists to introduce themselves to a wider public. For example, the Saarland artist Erik launched deae ex machina on the Web, where he brought mystical elements into confrontation with the technical and social upheavals of the first half of the twentieth century. It was only after publication on the Internet aroused attention that the formally classical series was then published in a print magazine and as album series by a publishing house. Graphic novels that were later to be successful in bookshops, such as Heute ist der letzte Tag vom Rest deines Lebens (i.e. Today Is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life) by Ulli Lust and Fahrradmod (i.e. Bike Mod) by Tobi Dahmen, were also first published on the Internet. To find a publisher in advance for such works, which comprise hundreds of pages, is difficult; the final release takes several years. An advance presentation on the Internet during the long period of completion allows a first response from the reading public.

Experimental narrative techniques

The digital world also makes possible new narrative techniques. This is impressively shown by Wormworld Saga by Daniel Lieske. The digital comic makes use of the “infinite screen”; instead of clicking from page to page, the reader scrolls through the story. Union der Helden (i.e. Union of Heroes) by Arne Schulenberg is a photo comic about super heroes from Germany – spiced up with a series of flash animations. And in Zuhause während der digitalen Revolution (i.e. At Home during the Digital Revolution) what stands out is that the artist Digirev, alias Wolfgang Buechs, arranges his online strip in such a way that it can be read frame by frame, yet “Next” arrows always allow the reader to break out of linear reading and simply take a different turn.

How permanent these developments will prove is still to be seen. But that German comics will be increasingly dominated by women and the digital world is likely to be an irreversible trend. This will lead to far-reaching changes in the otherwise still very male and analogue German comics scene. Even if the sales share of digital comics has stagnated in the low single digits, it is significant that nearly a quarter of the nominated comics at the 2016 Max and Moritz Prize was originally published on the Internet. As a field for artistic experimentation, the Web has proven to be a godsend for German-language comics.

Copyright: Text: Goethe-Institut, Martin Jurgeit. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Germany Attribution – NoDerivs 3.0 Germany license.


Martin Jurgeit is a journalist and comics expert. For many years he was publisher and chief editor of the comics magazine “Comixene”.
июль 2016
Jonathan Uhlaner

Frankfurt Book Fair 2015
The Arab World – (not) an unlimited bookmarket?

The Arab World – (not) an unlimited bookmarket?
© Photo: Mirko Lux

With the increasing efforts to revive the book market in the Arab world by publishers and cultural institutions, intermittently hindered by economic, political and social factors, the limitations of this market are yet to be explored and redefined. While questions like “how can we fortify literary exchange in the region and thereby also stimulate the joy of reading?” can hardly receive unequivocal and immediate solutions, market players are relentlessly looking for insight. In light of its current focus on the Arab World 2015-17, and on the occasion of the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015, Litrix invited three experts from different backgrounds to discuss the current limitations and possible approaches to the growth of Arab book market.


The first question asked by the moderator, Amira El Ahl, was about pushing the boundaries already: do publishing houses and bookstores offer more than what their definitions suggest? As a publisher and owner of Al Kotob Khan Bookstore in Egypt, Karam Youssef seems to be trying to offer more than books for serious readers. Founded 10 years ago, Al Kotob Khan has become a cultural hub in Maadi, Cairo, teeming with cultural activities such as creative writing workshops, movie screenings, book discussions, and music events, according to Youssef. Along similar lines of independent endeavours, the children book author and owner of Al Khayyat Al Zaghir publishing house (founded in 2007) Rania Zaghir (Lebanon) also tries to expand the scope of her activities. Zaghir’s main concern is to keep things “moving and fun,” trying to offer as many reading spaces as possible, especially in refugee camps. Zaghir refuses to be confined in the writer/publisher profile, which sounds “boring and unfair” to her, and she prefers to view herself as the owner of an “independent play store.” Her goal is not to just create books, but also to help readers find their way back to reading, explained Zaghir. According to Valentina Qussissiya (Jordan), CEO of Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation founded by the Arab Bank in 1978, cultural institutions are also expanding in scope. As part of its investment in cultural innovation, the Shoman Foundation presents one of the largest private libraries in the Arab world, a cultural forum, film screenings, concerts, and book signing events, in addition to awards for Arab scientists. While supporting book fairs in cooperation with the Jordanian Ministry of Culture, the foundation also attempts to take its activities to the streets and make access to books and education available for everyone, said Qussaissiya.

Books found, audience lost

When asked about how Arab readers can be reached despite distribution limitations and infrastructure shortcomings, the three speakers seemed to have slightly different, but potentially complimentary approaches. Zaghir insisted that the books offered need to be “sexy” in the first place, in order to attract readers. She believes publishers should go out and look for children in play areas, schools, and shelters instead of waiting for their readers to reach out to them. Not everyone can be reached of course, and even then not everyone can be converted to a book lover, she admited. Qussaisiya agreed that the content is the main factor to appeal to readers, especially the young ones. To make books more accessible, the Shoman Foundation provides transport to its interactive children library, in addition to its mobile library project and family library initiative in cooperation with the ministry of culture, which offers books at a lower cost. Both Zaghir and Qussaissiya have been working closely with refugees from Syria, Palestine and Irak, and trying to reach as many geographical areas in Lebanon and Jordan, respectively, as possible.

In Egypt there are several complications when it comes to distribution, pointed out Youssef. She also insisted that they cannot be “solved individually.” While she tries to work around the local transport issues, and actually manages to send her books outside Cairo, the sales are setback by the remarkably low percentage of readers, due to high illiteracy rates and the fact that “reading is not an embedded habit.” However, Youssef wants to publish books that would live for long, so now—after the revolution—she is focusing more on translations, especially in the fields of philosophy and science, targeting the young readers.

Qussaissiya seems to believe that the profitability as a goal needs to be set aside, at least for now, until people actually grow to love books. She thinks that having librarians who are passionate about books, and libraries that embrace diversity in content with reasonable opening hours, might help revive the love for books.

Censorship in the Arab world

Censorship in the region is probably the large elephant in the room which everyone does, in fact, talk about. Youssef referred to a number of incidents when some of her books were rejected in certain Arab countries, mostly in the Gulf region. But Zaghir was worried that it may be, at least in part, self-inflicted: “The worst kind of censorship is self-imposed censorship.” She believes that this mind-set is deep-rooted by school curricula, which nurture hatred towards “the other,” encouraging sectarianism and class discrimination. Unlike Youssef, she does not think the reader is the cause of the problem, but rather the officials in educational and cultural institutions.

In answer to whether e-books could possibly bypass such obstacles, Qussaissiya mentioned that they have been considering this option through the available platforms, like Kotobi, Kotobarabia and the soon to be launched Google e-book platform. The market exists, for almost everyone owns a smartphone—even if the available e-content is overwhelmingly religious—but the publishers do not trust this format because of the vulnerability of copyrights in the region. People also tend to distrust the online payment system, as Youssef pointed out.

Cooperation with state institutions

For further growth of the Arab book market, Youssef emphasised the need for a long term strategic plan, supported by the government and targeting children, families and schools, in order to spread the reading habit. The plan should include, for instance, opening up more public libraries and cultural centres and introducing reading hours at schools. Zaghir also said that she expected more serious efforts from the government, for individual efforts, valuable as they are, are bound to stay on the micro level. She seemed rather critical of how governments waste resources on projects with no true literary value, like spending millions on awards, instead of subsidising books.

While Qussaissiya was less critical of awards, which she believes are an important incentive for creative writers and publishers, she thought working with the government can be problematic at times. “It is better to try and work with the public, despite the few good government initiatives, like the family library. Also you need patience with the government, and long term investment to have an impact.”

At the end of the discussion, El Ahl asked the three book enthusiasts about their personal vision for the future of the Arab book market. Youssef believes that e-books would play an increasing role in the future in overcoming the distribution problems. She hopes to continue publishing books with valuable content, without focusing on numbers, but rather on marketing. On a similarly positive note, Qussaissiya expressed her wish to see a street library everywhere, and more grants supporting publishing with special focus. As for Zaghir, she would like to keep moving and “creating magic” through her work, while staying true to herself.


Rania Zaghir (Beirut), author and publisher, Al Khayyat Al Saghir Publishers
Valentina Qussisiya (Amman), CEO Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation
Karam Youssef (Cairo), publisher and bookseller, Al Kotob Khan For Publishing and Distribution
Moderator: Amira El Ahl (Munich, Cairo)
Cooperation: Goethe-Institut Cairo,

Amira Elmasry

Children's Books and Illustration
“Can I play too?” In Ramallah

Jens Rassmus in Ramallah
© Matthieu Jeuland

A child, a football and a search for friends to play with: "Kann ich mitspielen?" [Can I play too?] is the title of Jens Rassmus' children's book, which was translated into Arabic and published in Ramallah. In March 2016, the book was presented along with a workshop for illustrators from Gaza and the West Bank.

In March 2016, the author and illustrator Jens Rassmus presented his children’s book Kann ich mitspielen. Eine Fußballgeschichte [Can I play too? A football story] at the Goethe-Institut Ramallah. The book was translated into Arabic by Mahmoud Hassanien and published by the Palestinian Tamer Institute, Center for Community Education with support from This is the second children's book written by Rassmus that has been translated into Arabic: Der Zapperdockel und der Wock also was published in 2005 by the Tamer Institute with support from Litrix, during the first focus year Arabic in 2004-2005.


Jens Rassmus is particularly pleased that his football story is now available in Arabic: “It feels great to hold this book in my hands, when a book is translated it’s always a wonderful occasion, but this one is very special for me: firstly, because I had the chance to meet the kind and dedicated people from the Tamer Institute; and secondly, since my trip to Ramallah, I can now understand the importance of books for children in Palestine.” Little Micky, the young hero in Rassmus' children's book, makes new friends and teammates thanks to his brand new football: the hare Rübaldi, the bear Van Brummel, the giant Lulatschitsch and many others. “I was very curious how the names of the characters would be translated,” says Jens Rassmus. “They sound very funny and poetic in Arabic. The rabbit is now called Abu Sria (= the fast one) and the bear's name is Abu Kaff (= the one with the big hands and feet). In fact, during my stay, I learned to love the sound of this language.”


Video of the Book Presentation and the Illustrator’s Workshop in Ramallah

Young illustrators from the West Bank and Gaza had an opportunity to attend a four-day workshop with Jens Rassmus at the Goethe-Institut Ramallah, where they were able to interact with the author and draw inspiration for their own work.  “I was surprised at how effortless the drawing workshop turned out to be,” says Jens Rassmus, “and how easily we could exchange ideas about images and techniques. Almost all of the participants brought their smartphones and showed me photos of their work. Only a few of them had ever illustrated a story. Some came from the liberal arts, but had very figurative and representational styles that are easily adapted to the art of illustration.” The participants also discussed various ways of creating art projects and readings for children.

"For some of the participants, this workshop made it possible to obtain an exit permit from Gaza for the first time in their life. I hadn’t realized before what extent the Palestinian population is confined there. One of the participants, for example, was thrilled to see the mountains; she had never seen them before. I was dismayed by the conditions under which many of them lived, but also glad that a few people were able to leave the West Bank for the workshop.”

Approximately 300 copies of the Arabic translation of this title have been sent to libraries throughout Germany that are especially committed to working with refugee children and adolescents. The Goethe-Institut initiative, which was organized within the context of the ‘Einfach Lesen!’ program, was also supported by the Japan Art Association.

Zaia Alexander

opening event in cairo is launching its new special-focus Arabic World (2015-2017)

Ricarda Junge in Kairo
© Mohamed Samaha / Goethe-Institut Kairo

​With a reading by Ricarda Junge from her novel „Die letzten warmen Tage“ [The last warm days] and a presentation of the programme, the new special-focus was launched at the Cairo International Literature Festival. 

In order to facilitate the exchange of knowledge and culture between Germany and the Arabic world, the Goethe-Institut’s translation grant programme will support translations of German literature into Arabic for the next three years. was launched in 2003, and is an integral part of the “Literature and Translation Program” of the Goethe-Institut headquarters in Munich. Every three years, the program focuses on a specific language. Thus far, has sponsored the translation of approximately 100 titles in the following focus languages: ​​Arabic (2004-05), Chinese (2005-6), Portuguese: Brazil (2007-08), Spanish: Hispano America / Argentina (2009-11) and Russian (2012-14). The Arabic world is once again the special focus from beginning 2015 through 2017.

Litrix’s special focus on the Arabic world 2015-2017 was launched at the end of February 2015 in Cairo. The event was held at the Kotob Khan Bookstore with a conversation about translation and the grant program. The evening began with a lecture by Dr. Cherifa Magdi, who provided a historical context to the translation movement from German to Arabic.

In 1835, Egypt founded the first translation academy. Cherifa Magdi noted that French was the source language and that mostly military manuals and scientific writings were being translated at that time. Around 1920, “The Sorrows of Young Werther” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was translated into Arabic, and at this time “Faust” was translated as well. “The quantum leap to translating into German took place in the 1960s,” said Magdi Cherifa. Yet, even to this day, there is still a problem with bibliography and lexicography. There continues to be a lack of good, modern German-Arabic dictionaries. “Translators are forced to refer to English or French to research unfamiliar words,” says the translator. Even today, particularly in the areas of ​​psychology and philosophy, works are translated from English and French into Arabic rather than directly from the German. The problem also exists in fiction; of the 14 translations of Hermann Hesse into Arabic, only three were translated directly from the German.

This is where the Litrix grant program comes in. “From the very beginning, the special focus in 2004- 2005 was Arabic, and we are extremely curious to find out what has developed since then,” says Shoshana Liessmann of It is about promoting literary exchange between Germany and the Arabic world. For the next three years, contemporary German literature will be presented on our Literature Portal . A jury consisting of Germans and Arabs select the new titles. Each spring and autumn, a jury of German critics draws up a list of new publications in German. After that literary experts from the Arabic jury select ten to twelve titles to be presented during the year on the website. Thus, new titles will continually be presented at for the next three years.

The jury chooses titles from three categories: Fiction, Nonfiction, and Literature for Children and Young People. Each book featured on the portal includes a detailed book review, a lengthy excerpt of up to 15 pages, author portraits and details about the publishing company in German, English and Arabic respectively.  “It is crucial for prospective publishers to get an impression of the language and rhythm of a book,” says Shoshana Liessmann. Through the website, interested publishers can then directly contact the licensing department of the German publishing company to inquire about the translation rights. grant program will cover the costs of translation into Arabic and subsidizes the cost of the license as well. “We’re hoping, of course, that we will soon see many books translated into Arabic,” says Shoshana Liessmann. But the promotion and exchange program does not stop at translation. Once a book has been translated into Arabic, endeavors, in close cooperation with the various Goethe Institute’s in the region, to bring the Arabic public into direct contact with the German authors and their books, for example, at book fairs in the Arabic world and at readings. “This exchange is very important to us,” says Shoshana Liessmann.

Such an exchange began at the launch of the grant program in Cairo at the Kotob Khan Bookstore. The German author Ricarda Junge read from her novel, “The last warm days,” one of the books featured on The novel focuses on the divided Germany and narrates what happens to a country when a political system encroaches on family life. “I hope this reading will inspire you to engage with the German language,” said the author to the audience.

What was it like for her to hear her text translated into Arabic? “I feel as if I understand Arabic now,” replied the author and laughed. In fact, during the reading of her text in Arabic, Ricarda Junge rightly noted that a different section was read than she had previously read in German. Translation always entails a transfer into another language, and this means that words will resonate differently, said Shoshana Liessmann. Thus far, two novels by the author Ricarda Junge have been translated into French and Swedish. “I had nothing to do with the translation into French, but in Swedish I had a lively exchange with the translator,” says Ricarda Junge. It was a great experience to work so closely with the translator. Some phrases and idioms simply could not be translated. “During the process, I realized that it becomes a completely different book in translation.”

Amira El Ahl, lives and works in Cairo as a journalist and correspondent for the Middle East.
февраль 2015
Zaia Alexander

Independent Publishing Houses
Diversity for the book market

Frankfurt Book Fair 2013
Frankfurt Book Fair 2013 | Photo (detail): © Frankfurter Buchmesse, Nurettin Çiçek

They discover new talent and bring out limited series or volumes of poetry that are particularly elaborate in their design – independent publishing houses in Germany generate a welcome diversity for the book market. However just as the big publishing houses are battling with the onslaught of digitalisation, they, too, have had to face up to these challenges, says Stefan Weidle, Chairman of the Kurt Wolff Foundation.

When it comes to the way the reading public perceive independent publishing houses in Germany, they remain very much in the shadows, leading a kind of wallflower existence. Compared with the big publishers like Penguin Random House, for example, they seem to be nothing more than lifeboats adrift in a sea of bestsellers – providing a lifeline for unknown talents, for subjects that have been neglected or rediscovered and for a whole lot of other crazy stuff. Rarely do the independent publishing houses get the opportunity to show with their very presence alone just how important they are for German reading culture – the Frankfurt Book Fair being the exception.

It was there that dozens of independent publishing houses had the chance to show their wares in autumn in 2013. It was a demonstration of the diversity and strength of the smallest publishing companies, whose individual abilities and appetite for innovation are very much sought after in the wake of the sector being swamped by the wave of digitalisation. This is also the opinion of Stefan Weidle, Chairman of the Kurt Wolff Foundation – an institution that is devoted to the promotion of more diversity on the publishing and literature scene in Germany.

There are about 1,000 independent publishing houses spread throughout Germany, estimates Weidle, who runs his own publishing company and brings out between six to ten books a year. Among the 1,000 houses, however, there are quite a few which publish only on an irregular basis or have only one book in their selection. He went on to say that about 120 independent publishing houses had developed structures that could be taken seriously and that they published all kinds of content ranging from fiction to non-fiction on a regular basis.

Small print runs, big talents

Their great strength, said Weidle, was the relatively small number of copies with which the independent publishing houses make their money. “The big publishers want books that bring in at best 15,000 euros a month – the number of books that actually make that kind of money, however, is small.” At the independent publishing houses sometimes initial print runs of only 500 copies are launched. As Weidle went on to say, this is why it was possible to publish poetry or authors who are not so well known.Weidle also struck lucky himself when he published Die Manon Lescaut von Turdej – a novel by the Russian author, Wsewolod Petrow – a writer who had almost been forgotten. The book first appeared in an edition of only a thousand copies, in the meantime about 10,000 copies have been sold. A classic example of how independent publishing houses can enrich the book market. “They have people who believe in lesser known and not so successful authors and they give them a chance”, says Weidle.

The biggest problem the independent publishing houses have when marketing their books is getting them on the shelves in the shops. Only rarely do the big book store chains agree to sell them. In Weidle’s opinion the diversity to be found in the small publishing houses is exactly what is missing today from the mainstream book business. “The big book shops mostly seek their salvation in popular Anglo-Saxon literature and the big bestsellers.”

That, he continues, was too narrow a view of literary reality. He also believes that customers would also welcome a greater diversity and show their appreciation. Although there have been no new start-ups recently, the number of independent publishing houses in Germany has remained at a constantly high level for quite some time now.

The independent publishing houses are joining forces

It is not just the quality of the content that is responsible for this. Large-scale serial productions are often cheaply bound and the proofreading poor. “It simply gives me no joy”, says Weidle. This is where the small-scale editions, so meticulously produced by the independent publishing house, come into their own. In order to get their books to the customers a new website is in the process of being launched at the moment – The largest platform for independent publishing houses in the German-speaking world, i.e. Switzerland and Austria, too. About 60 publishing houses from the three countries will soon be promoting their products on it.This joining of forces was necessary, said Weidle, because “60 to 70 percent of all the books bought are spontaneous purchases.” That is why anyone whose book is not on display in a bookshop will have a hard time. Even that, however, is not going to turn back the tide. With the generation of digital natives upon us, the book as a key medium has long since been superseded by the internet, according to Weidle. “In the old days, whenever I wanted to know something, I reached for a book. Those days are now gone.”

From a key medium to a collector’s item

The aim of events like Indiebookday, for example, is to draw people’s attention once more to the diversity of German publishing culture. The event involves readers being called upon to buy a book from an independent publishing house and then reporting on it in the social networks under the #Indiebookday hash tag. The event was inspired by the Record Store Day that for years now has been doing the same kind of promotion for the independent labels of the music scene. At least in the field of independent publishing the one-time key medium has nevertheless achieved the status of a collector’s item. Stefan Weidle has welcomed this. “The big publishing houses have pinned their hopes on making money fast and most of the time only has eyes for America.” Due to this many European authors would normally fall by the wayside. Without the independent publishing houses, Weidle is certain, the German book market would be a much poorer place.

Mathis Vogel is a free-lance author, living in Hamburg. He writes for newspapers like the “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, “Die Zeit” and and is co-founder of the report platform.
май 2014
Paul McCarthy

Book Covers
A Language of Its Own

A striking cover allows a book to stand out from the crowd.
A striking cover allows a book to stand out from the crowd. | © Frankfurter Buchmesse/Marc Jacquemin

Thousands of books vie for the attention of readers each year, and an appealing cover can catch the eye of a potential customer – but is it really the key selling factor?

“I can’t remember the author, but the cover was blue”. This was what was written on a card in the window display of Marburg bookshop “Buchhandlung am Markt” – an ironic and somewhat ambiguous reference to customer habits and to the difficulties faced by booksellers. The statement highlights on the one hand how important a book’s design is in terms of catching the eye, and on the other how hard it is for booksellers to research exactly what it is that customers want, for our memories can all too often prove misleading. This is something Agnes Bötticher, general manager of the Marburg bookshop, knows only too well: “All the same, the cover is an important feature”, she says, “as it is what attracts the reader to the book in the first place.” This was what gave her the idea of creating a window display consisting of books of just one colour – sometimes green, sometimes red, sometimes blue. Every genre has a cover language of its own, adds Claudia Ordelmanns, who runs the Frankfurt branch of bookstore chain Hugendubel. “Thrillers always have very dark covers – that’s sort of their trademark.”

Any cover begins with the people who create it – its artists, illustrators or graphic designers. Ideally, their job is to ensure that a potential customer can tell from the cover what the book is about and the style in which it is written. Tilman Göhler from Munich publishing house Verlag Antje Kunstmann believes that a reader should be able to distinguish at a glance between a thriller and a love story. That is why love stories tend to use more blurry photographs or softly drawn images. Furthermore, the font type is of particular significance.

Eye-catching red stiletto

Experience has shown that love stories in particular fare well with a somewhat more striking cover design. Konstanze Berner, art director at Verlag C. H. Beck, recalls the negative response to the cover of French bestselling author David Foenkinos’ novel Souvenirs, which shows a couple from behind who are watching the sun rise over the Eiffel Tower. “The Spiegel wrote”, explains Berner, “that the cover could have well done without such a platitude”. It certainly did no harm to the book’s commercial success, however. “In fact, we sold more copies of the ‘platitude’ than of any of Foenkinos’ other novels.” Customers spend little time looking at the cover and often fail even to notice the title or the author. “I would be more likely to remember a red stiletto on the front cover”, believes Berner.

That sounds rather as if any book could be sold, regardless of its quality, just so long as it has an attractive cover. But that is not at all what either Tilman Göhler or Konstanze Berner means. As Berner explains: “We sell text, not pictures.” Göhler has never found that “a bad book with a good cover sells adequately.” That said, there are cases in which a book that in itself is good is let down by its poor cover design and fails to sell as well as it should. Claudia Ordelmanns remembers a novel for teenagers by Donna Freitas entitled The Survival Kit. For the German version the publishing house had chosen a white cover with gold letters, and did not achieve the sales that the bookseller believes should have been possible. “White and gold are not acceptable, especially in the teenage market – the immediate association is with theology.”

Almost anything goes

Every year, around 10,000 new books appear on the German book market. It is difficult to identify clear trends in terms of cover design. It would appear that almost anything goes: illustrations, photographs, monochrome or brightly coloured backgrounds, figurative or abstract designs. There are certain tendencies, however. Tilman Göhler from Verlag Antje Kunstmann points out that excerpts from major historical artworks are very popular, while Konstanze Berner recalls the practice of portraying the film poster on the cover of a book that has been made into a film. The considerable craftsmanship that goes into designing a contemporary book is striking, with for example new print techniques being applied or silhouette designs being used. Techniques such as embossing, gloss finishes and luminescent designs are often used too.

What all the examples prove above all is just how much attention and care publishers devote to designing book covers in Germany, in stark contrast to their counterparts in France, for instance. Until recently, what was known as the blanche reigned supreme there – the simple, ivory-coloured soft binding of the Gallimard publishing house. And in England? “The approach is similar to that in Germany as far as the use of colour and the love of design are concerned”, says Tilman Göhler. “Technically speaking, however, the quality is not the same. Germany simply leads the field in cover design.”

Martin Maria Schwarz works as an editor and presenter in the cultural section of regional broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk.
март 2015
Chris Cave

The Book Trailer
A Colourful All-Purpose Tool?

Crime writer Jörg Maurer; © Fischer Verlag
Crime writer Jörg Maurer | Photo (detail): © Fischer Verlag

In these days of Facebook and Youtube, many large publishing houses are placing their bets on short films to advertise new books. But the costs of a professional book trailer are high and the advertising impact much-disputed.

Best-selling author Jörg Maurer is standing up to his ankles in the cold water of a mountain lake talking about his books. The Alpine setting behind him is like a painted backdrop. Everything is perfectly lit; the precise images in full HD feature-film quality are accompanied by atmospheric music. Now and then, a book cover sails across the scene.

The trailer lasts just over three minutes and refers to the complete works of the crime author from Garmisch-Partenkirchen, particularly to his most recent Alpine crime story Felsenfest. The professionally made clip is twice as long as the average book promotional film, which often only demands a minute of our time. Milan Pawlowski, trailer producer in Cologne, thinks the ideal length of a trailer is “between 30 seconds and one and a half minutes, but never longer. In the context of feature films, such a book trailer would be called a teaser.”

Big expectations, big budgets

As for the costs of the film, commissioned by the publisher Fischer Verlag, they certainly range in the upper bracket. By contrast, simply cover animations can be had for less than 1,000 Euros, according to one producer. But if a whole team of experts is required, for lighting, sound, camera, editing and animation, then the sum is much higher. Traditionally, publishing houses are somewhat secretive when it comes to the precise sums they spend on advertizing, and it goes without saying that the higher the anticipated sales, the higher these budgets.

Book trailers have been around for almost ten years, and numerous agencies are specialized in producing them, tailor-made, so to speak. These agencies canvass publishers and authors alike using slogans like, “We transport books into a new age.” The fact is that publishers’ marketing strategies have been changed by the triumph of the social web over the past decade. Images now have to move, be suggestive, and should make people curious. Only when they are “liked” and shared, to put it in Facebook-speak, do they gain currency on the net. And even though only select titles are advertized for using trailers, the number of book trailers produced each year is in the thousands.

Jörg Maurer – Felsenfest Buchtrailer from Daniel Henschel on Vimeo.

Far-ranging area of application

The field of application for book trailers depends on the technical means. In addition to the publishers’ websites, the online shops of book shipping agents and the website of bricks-and-mortar bookshops, they also have to function on display systems in bookshops or on info screens in underground railway stations, train stations and buses. A comprehensive campaign of these dimensions is only undertaken, however, for a few select titles. One example of this is the enormous advertizing campaign for the media satire Er ist wieder da by Timur Vermes, in which the stylized Hitler likeness from the book cover was to be seen, both static and moving, on advertising columns and at bus-stops as well as on all sorts of pages on the net. The short animated clip had about 150,000 clicks on Youtube. Almost half a million people looked at the excerpt from the audiobook read by the famous comedian Christoph Maria Herbst.

Almost all of fiction books in the first ten places on the Spiegel bestseller list during the year 2013 were advertized for using a trailer. But is that really the measurable reason for the success of this advertizing format? Like every other kind of advertizing, the impact of trailers is highly controversial. In a study published in January 2014, media scientists from the University of Mainz claimed that trailers are not any more successful in attracting readers than traditional, text-based forms of book advertising. Trailers are not capable of awakening interest more effectively than a blurb on a book cover.

One advertizing tool among many

The sceptics in the book trade are proven right by these findings. They tend to warn about exaggerated expectations of online media and their PR-potential. Lars Koopmann, by contrast, managing director of the LitVideo Agency, criticizes the study’s narrow focus, among other things. The experiment only considered one trailer dating from the year 2008. A larger and more balanced universe would have “offered a more objective cross-section of the readership,” said Koopmann on “Much more important, from our point of view, is the fact that a book trailer can address readers in a different way and on multimedia channels.” “Text only” is no longer enough for a young target group, because this audience makes increasing use of Youtube as a search engine.

So the marketing departments of publishing houses will have to consider which advertizing message best reaches their target groups and in which medium. The trailer will thus be just another tool alongside classic advertizing or cover texts – and not a universal weapon.

Matthias Bischoff is an editor and culture journalist in Munich und Frankfurt.
апрель 2014
Pauline Cumbers

Lutz Seiler
A literary late-starter

A modest winner type: Lutz Seiler, winner of the 2014 German Book Prize.
A modest winner type: Lutz Seiler, winner of the 2014 German Book Prize. | Photo (detail): © Claus Setzer

He used to work as a bricklayer and carpenter before he discovered, and became fascinated by, the world of literature. Lutz Seiler was awarded the 2014 German Book Prize for his debut novel “Kruso”.

Lutz Seiler is a reticent man to whom everything boisterous is foreign. Yet he is also a winner type, a literary winner type. When he received the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in Klagenfurt, Austria, in 2007, the insiders on that scene were not particularly surprised. Things were the same in 2014, when Lutz Seiler immediately became the undisputed favourite for the German Book Prize soon after the shortlist was publicised. And he triumphed again. Although triumph is not the right word for him. When his name was announced, the cameras could not get a picture of his face, lost as it was in the embrace of his wife. Later, on the panel, he had to suppress a few tears, and the fact that he was somewhat choked with emotion was authentic.

Lutz Seiler is not a shy person, however. He is a willing interview partner, he is eloquent, his statements thoughtful, and he looks his interview partner and the camera straight in the eye. He even puts up resistance if necessary. Hearing Kruso – the debut novel for which he was awarded the 2014 German Book Prize – being repeatedly called a “Wenderoman”, a novel about the German turnaround, Seiler retorted quite forcefully: It was not a “Wenderomen”, but a novel about a friendship between two men.

Literature played no role at all

Lutz Seiler was born in Gera, Thuringia, in 1963. He grew up in a household where literature played no role at all. Having done an apprenticeship as a miner, he first worked as a bricklayer and carpenter. Even as a young adult he was anything but bibliophile. “I only started reading when I was 21 years old, while serving in the army. I started writing at the same time. To this very day I’m still not sure why. Literature didn’t really interest me,” Lutz Seiler writes in an essay. While in the National People’s Army of the GDR he came upon some books, including a volume of poems by Peter Huchel. It was here that his initiation experience took place. He then started studying German, in Halle and Berlin. His first attempts were at poetry, and he was successful with it from the beginning. His first volumes of poetry were published: for example, berühtgeführt (touchedled) in 1996, Pech und Blende (Fire and brimstone) in 2000 and Vierzig Kilometer Nacht (40 Kilometres of Night) in 2003. Suhrkamp took Lutz Seiler on as an author and the culture sections of the media showered praise on him. Various juries then awarded him the corresponding prizes: the Kranichsteiner Literature Prize, the Anna Seghers Prize, the Bremen Literature Prize.

“I withdraw into the writing cave”

By that time, Lutz Seiler had long since adapted his lifestyle to the profession of writer. He has lived in Peter Huchel’s house in Wilhelmshorst near Berlin since 1996. Huchel’s widow had entrusted him with the keys to the almost enchanted looking building with its lush garden. All this seems very consistent, including the reclusive life he leads there. Lutz Seiler needs seclusion; his writing is expressive of the greatest concentration. This also applies to his second residence in Stockholm, home of his current wife. “Even when I’m in Stockholm I behave as if I were in a village, I don’t go out much, I withdraw into the writing cave,” he said in an interview shortly before the presentation of the German Book Prize. Experience requires a lot of time until it engenders a poem or a piece of literary prose – and Lutz has a lot of experiences to work on. His story Turksib, with which he won in Klagenfurt in 2007, is based on a train trip to Kazakhstan in 2001. It is a puzzling story in a tone that is typical of him, with descriptions of sounds, fragrances and images that all become little stories, as if in slow motion and somehow timeless.

The story of a friendship

Everything takes time, and an author’s writing process is no exception. It took a long time for Lutz Seiler to decide to write a novel at all. It was in summer 2010. The intention was to exploit the theme of Turksib for a novel, but nothing seemed to want to happen. Then his wife suggested using the time that he had spent as a casual labourer on Hiddensee in summer 1989 as the starting point for a story. This idea led him to the German Book Prize. “I had never really intended to write a book about it,” Lutz Seiler confesses. “It’s often like that. At first you don’t regard what you have experienced yourself as particularly exotic or interesting.” It’s also not the case that in Kruso he simply wrote down his personal experiences. “You have the material provided by your own experience, but then you march right into something invented. Literature requires something totally different. But you need the staring point, so that you can march on in there, into the realm of the fantastic.” Kruso tells the story of the friendship between Ed and the Utopian Kruso, who becomes a kind of guru for intellectuals driven out of the GDR and shares his ideas about freedom with them. Lutz Seiler once described himself as a “Spätling”, a late-comer. His arrival on the German literary landscape has been at just the right time.

Martin Maria Schwarz is an editor and presenter in the culture section of the broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk.
октябрь 2014
Pauline Cumbers

Residencies for translators
Worldwide Ambassadors for German Literature

The Festival Hall in Dresden-Hellerau; photo: Shoshana Liessmann
Photo: © Shoshana Liessmann

Despite their importance for literature, translators are rarely in the spotlight. “Translating Books – Building Bridges” is the motto of a residence program that enables translators to spend time working in Germany at two unusual places and so puts their literary and inter-cultural achievement in focus.

Golden yellow fields of grain, the beach of the Baltic Sea and a picturesque manor make up the unusual setting of a translators residence in Siggen, East Holstein. It belongs to the Hamburg-based Alfred Toepfer Foundation, F.V.S., which since the 1970s has regularly made available the actively cultivated estate, historic manor house and now also a new building as a forum for European encounters, interdisciplinary summer schools, seminars and chamber music concerts. Special about this co-existence of conference center and agricultural enterprise is that all the income earned by the farm goes directly into sponsoring culture.

Siggen: enthusiasm for the individual translator

Since 2008 the Foundation, in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut, has also offered literary translators the opportunity of a working stay at Siggen during the summer months. A quiet, brick outbuilding, the former chauffeur’s apartment, has now been converted into a flat for translators-in-residence. Ansgar Wimmer, chairman of the Foundation’s board of directors, recalls the beginning of the residence program: “We decided for a translator’s residence because translators are still too little noticed. The translation of literature in particular is an achievement that we especially prize and that fits the concerns of the Foundation”. Selection criteria are not confined to planned translations and the professional experience of the candidates; “we’re above all interested in fostering the particular life of a person. We therefore look for personalities among translators”, explains Wimmer, and quotes the Romanian philosopher Andrei Plesu: “Culture is the attention to the individual, the enthusiasm for the unique”.

Mainly translators from other European countries have had the opportunity to work in Siggen on the translation of German literary works into their languages. During the good two months stay, grant holders also take part in the seminar and cultural activities at Siggen and are cared for by the estate staff. Above all, despite the hustle and bustle of tractors and harvesters, the rural setting provides the best conditions for concentrated literary work.

Dresden-Hellerau: building on literary traditions

Likewise in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut, a residence program in Hellerau has offered translators the opportunity of a working stay since 2009. The residence in Hellerau also has a special atmosphere. Today part of Dresden, Hellerau was built in 1909 as Germany’s first garden city. The cultural heart of the settlement is still the imposing Festival Hall and the facing pensioner lodge, which today houses both the Cultural Foundation of the Free State of Saxony and the studios of the grant holders.

“Dresden and Hellerau can look back on an important literary and publishing history. Up to 1914, many well-known representatives of the European cultural elite used to gather here, including writers such as Franz Kafka, George Bernard Shaw and Stefan Zweig”, says Manuel Frey, deputy director of the Cultural Foundation of the Free State of Saxony. “About 1912 the translator Jakob Hegner founded a ‘Hellerauer Verlag’ (i.e., Hellerau Publishing House), which published the works of Theodor Haecker and translations of Paul Claudel. Unfortunately, it no longer exists.” 

Looking for new funding formats and building on this tradition, the attention of the Cultural Foundation of the Free State of Saxony soon fell on literary translators, a group that, according Frey, must still work in difficult conditions despite its importance for literature. With the translators residence in Hellerau, the Foundation would like to provide support for this group. One special emphasis of the program is the promotion of Eastern European translators and translations of literature about the 1989 turnabout that treats former East Germany. The Hellerau setting offers the translators many opportunities to follow the traces of recent German-German history. In addition, grant holders can use their stay to network with publishers, writers and other translators. Both grant holders and the staff of the Foundation find their immediate proximity in the Foundation headquarters and the opportunity to lunch and talk with each other an enrichment. “Translators are ambassadors”, says Manuel Frey. “They call attention worldwide to German literature. And we also hope that their stay in Hellerau will encourage them to discover the literary scene in Saxony.”Translating Books – Building Bridges, the Goethe-Institut’s European Translators’ Residency Programme, in cooperation with the Alfred Toepfer Foundation F.V.S. and the Cultural Foundation of the Free State of Saxony are offering a work grant in the towns Siggen and Hellerau in Germany to literary translators from abroad.

Shoshana Liessmann
is a freelance journalist and lecturer based in Munich.Translation: Jonathan Uhlaner 

Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion 
October 2012

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Literature in the Maghreb
“First poetry, then journalism”

The moroccan author and journalist Yassin Adnan at an event organized by the Goethe-Institut at the Leipzig Book Fair 2016 Photo: Andreas Wünschirs
The moroccan author and journalist Yassin Adnan at an event organized by the Goethe-Institut at the Leipzig Book Fair 2016 | Photo: Andreas Wünschirs

At the Leipzig Book Fair, the Moroccan author Yassin Adnan spoke with Klaus-Dieter Lehman and Donata Kinzelbach about the impact of the Arabellion on writers in the Maghreb. In this interview he speaks with Kersten Knipp about how his work reflects Morocco’s social transformation, how the Islamic State uses Islam as a pretext for its crimes and why literature and poetry are so crucial in this situation.

Mr Adnan, in recent weeks, Germans have turned their attention to refugees coming to Germany from Morocco. Now the kingdom, along with Algeria and Tunisia, has been declared a safe country of origin. Nonetheless, how do you feel considering the attempts by young Moroccans to reach Europe?

As far as I can see it, in spite of its economic problems, Morocco is still a safe country. There is no war and the citizens are not subjected to any ethnic, ideological or religious discrimination. If some young Moroccans are seeking asylum in Germany, they are mainly attempting to profit from the flow of Syrian migrants. For them it’s a golden opportunity to fulfil their dream of living in an Eldorado called Europe.

Unlike many other countries, in recent years Morocco has not gone through much political upheaval. Why is that?

In the spring of 2011, the Moroccans also went to the streets, but they did not demand the overthrow of the regime. Years before, Morocco had attained democratic breakthroughs for freedom of speech and freedom to protest. In addition, ten years before the Arab Spring, the Moroccan government introduced sweeping economic and development policy initiatives. They stimulated the income of more than nine million people, especially in marginalized communities. The state also took care of the food security of the citizens, as well as jobs in rural areas. There were also investments in tourism and infrastructure development. Also, Morocco created a new constitution in 2011. It is considered one of the most progressive in the Arab world. It pains me, however, that Moroccan agricultural products are at a disadvantage on the European market due to the trade interests of European agricultural lobbyists.

The terrorist organization Islamic State (IS) is now also present in the Maghreb, particularly in Libya. What is it that makes radical Islam so appealing to some Arabs?

Islam is the greatest victim of IS simply because it serves as a pretext for all the crimes committed by the IS, Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. None of this has anything to do with religion and religiousness. It is an expression of the historic depression in the Arab world that began with colonialism and since the displacement of the Palestinians. Many Arabs also consider the Gulf War and the dismantling of Iraq as evidence that the west pursues a policy of double standards and places its own interests above all else. This west also supported corrupt regimes that allowed regions to become impoverished and ignorance to grow. This, in turn, solidified the absence of education and the arts. All this is now coming back down on the west like a boomerang.

The children and grandchildren of the emigrants are living in Europe with split identities. They are familiar neither with the foundations of the Muslim religion, nor Arabic grammar. Yet they see in this religion a justification for their violence and their hate for the societies of the west, societies that did not deem it necessary to integrate these young people.

I am not justifying the terrorism, but explaining its origins. In Morocco and the other Arab countries we must work against obscurantism and nihilism and battle poverty and marginalization. We also need to advocate academic reading of the Qur’an that opposes false and extremist interpretations.

“First poetry, then journalism.” You described your work in this way. What drives you as a poet?

Shoshana Liessmann, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, Donata Kinzelbach and Yassin Adnan at the Leipzig Book Fair Shoshana Liessmann, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, Donata Kinzelbach and Yassin Adnan at the Leipzig Book Fair | Photo: Andreas Wünschirs Literature and poetry give the individual a voice; they articulate his uncertainty, his doubts and his mistrust. In this way, poetry is an obstacle to extremism that manifests absolute self-certainty. It is also a counterweight to the media and their generalizations, clichés and stereotypes. All of us in the Arab world who occupy ourselves with poetry and literature are waging a dual battle. First, we argue on behalf of the individual and his fragility as well as his right to freedom, to dream and even to make mistakes. Secondly through our books – when they are translated into foreign languages – we attempt to prevent the humanity and national identities of the Arab people constantly being reduced to terrorism in the international media.

In your book Le Livre du passage you write of a “poète voyageur,” a “voyager poet.” What guides you to use this imagery?

I love travelling. In the “book of the passage,” a long poem of over 200 pages, I described the free movement of my body and spirit between international capitals, airports, train stations, cafés and bars in Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Scandinavia and America. The poem is a kind of walk with no barriers, a potentially endless dialogue. I wrote over 30 pages of the poem while in Germany, in Berlin, Bavaria and Frankfurt. As I was working, Hölderlin stood closer to me than any Arabic poet.

You’ve now published your first novel, Hot Maroc. What is it about?

The novel is about Morocco and the changes this country is going through. It is about Marrakesh and the changes in the city, for example the decision to sacrifice the trees and plants to urban renewal. It is about the university and student mobility. It is about the decay of the culture of debate on the Internet and about cutting digital connections. The novel’s protagonist is Rahal Laouina, a shy and cowardly young man who attacks others only from the anonymity of the Internet.

I gave the characters animal features. Each protagonist has traits that are usually attributed to an animal. It is an “animal comedy,” but its heroes are people of flesh and blood with real feelings. It is also an “electronic comedy,” because part of the adventure and events takes place on the World Wide Web, mainly on Facebook.

Hot Maroc is a contemporary novel that also observes the social milieu and artistically grapples with its problems. It is an urban novel about Marrakesh, where local and international traditions intermingle. It reveals the Marrakesh of the middle class, people who deal with the old city and the tourism centre. But the novel also shows the Marrakesh of the slums that grow larger every day. It is about a city to which new people move year after year and in which life is becoming ever more difficult.

The interview was conducted by Kersten Knipp. He is a journalist and author who has been writing about international politics and culture for over 15 years, primarily from the world between the Arab peninsula and the Maghreb.

Faith Ann Gibson

Current themes
History, Homeland, Work Worlds

Aktuelle Literatur
Foto: (c) Goethe-Institut

Contemporary literature written in German has grown remarkably heterogeneous, diverse and broad in its range of topics. Nonetheless, it is possible to identify a few areas authors are choosing to focus on.

“Worldliness”, “contemporaneity”, “urgency” - these are the slogan-like demands that are continually imposed on literature and authors. Such expectations are dogmatic to the core and serve only to curb creative freedom. If literature intends to address contemporary concerns in all their complex forms, compulsions, neuroses, pathologies and causes, it must do so on its own terms. One has a free[ZA1]  choice. And yet, one can recognize trends and tendencies that have intensified in recent years, even at the expense of omitting some exceptional works of literature from groundbreaking authors’ in the process.                      

Coming to Terms with Germany’s History

 Dealing with Germany’s past in literature, whether with Nazism or the GDR, continues to be a central concern of many authors, regardless what generation they belong to.  In her bestselling novel, “The Blindness of the Heart,” which also won the prestigious German Book Prize, Julia Franck (b. 1970) tells the story of a woman that spans the early 20th century, from the ravages of war to the post-war era. In his novel, “Flut und Boden” [Flood and soil] the historian Per Leo (p.1972) explores his own family history, focusing on his grandfather, who was an SS-Sturmbannführer at the Race and Settlement Main Office.
The authors Monika Maron, Angelika Klüssendorf, and Judith Schalansky deal with their experiences with the former East Germany in very different ways: While Monika Maron in “Zwischenspiel” [Interlude] examines what it means to act morally in a dictatorship, Angelika Klüssendorf describes the oppressive feeling of growing up in a dark land called GDR. In “Der Hals der Giraffe” [The Giraffe’s Neck] Judith Schalansky presents us with an aging East German teacher whose outer life has fallen apart as a result of the fall of the Wall. She desperately tries to maintain an inner order by searching for structures to give her life meaning. Lutz Seiler, who won the German Book Prize in 2014, has written a lyrically textured novel that takes place at the end of the GDR. Action takes place on the small Baltic Sea island of Hiddensee, which for many East Germans was the starting point of an often fatal attempt to escape to the West. Ricarda Junge and Jochen Schimmang also contemplate their country from another perspective, namely the West German: In novels such as, “Die letzten warmen Tage” [The last warm days’] or „Das Beste, was wir hatten“ [The best thing we had] they draw our attention to an entire generation of West Germans who believe they also had lost their spiritual home with the end of the old Federal Republic.

Homeland and Multiculturalism

The concept of homeland also plays a role in the works of authors with so-called immigrant backgrounds in many ways. Writers whose roots are not in Germany, yet write in German and can claim their experiences have broadened their perspective on German everyday life: Ilija Trojanow's novel, “The Collector of Worlds” is such an example; Feridun Zaimoglu, who has written numerous novels, has grown to be one of the most recognized and decorated writers in Germany. Recently, he published „Siebentürmeviertel“ [Seven towers district], a novel that resurrects the cultural confusion in Istanbul of the 30s. And the novels of Sherko Fatah, who was born in East Germany to an Iraqi father and German mother, talk about the relationship between Islamic jihadists and Europe.

New Working Structures / Utopias and Dystopias

While politics is making the world an increasingly confusing place to live in, the microstructures of work and private life have also dramatically changed as a result of globalization. Authors such as: Thomas von Steinaecker’s “Das Jahr, in dem ich aufhörte, mir Sorgen zu machen, und anfing zu träumen“ [The year in which I stopped worrying and started dreaming], Thomas Melle’s “Sickster,” and Terézia Mora’s „Der einzige Mann auf dem Kontinent” [The only man on the continent] and her subsequent novel “Das Ungeheuer” [The Beast] are focusing on individuals getting lost in a ruthless working environment, where language deliberately distorts the truth of a merciless free market. Young authors also describe a possible way out of this stark reality by attempting to create social utopias that nonetheless are on the brink of quickly turning into dystopias. Typical of this trend is: Leif Randt’s “Shimmering Haze over Coby County” or Franz Frederick “Die Meisen von Uusimaa singen nicht mehr” [The Meisen of Uusimaa don’t sing anymore].
These few examples are illustrative: Contemporary German language literature is alive and well and is dealing with urgent themes, while creating original forms for depicting these issues and they are doing so on their own terms.

Christoph Schröder


Litrix promo Video 1 Belletristik GR
© Goethe-Institut Kairo


Litrix Promo Video 2 Non-fiction and books for children and young people

Litrix Promo Video Sachbuch GR
© Goethe-Institut Kairo

Litrix Promo Video 2 Non-fiction and books for children and young people

Litrix Promo Video 2 Non-fiction and books for children and young people