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

The manor house of Gut Siggen; photo: Shoshana LiessmannSince 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”.

Outbuilding of Gut Siggen; photo: Shoshana LiessmannMainly 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.

The pensioner lodge in Dresden-Hellerau; photo: Shoshana Liessmann“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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