Tag: Germany

Faber podcasts February 2012 – James Palmer and Philip Oltermann

In this month’s Faber podcasts, I talk first to James Palmer about the momentous year 1976, which saw the death of Chairman Mao and inevitable machinations to be his successor, as well as one of the worst natural disasters in human history, the Tangshan earthquake.

To listen to the podcast, click here.

And to listen to James reading extracts from the book, click on the links below:

Reading 1: click here. “Beyond the violence, it was the sheer all-pervasiveness of the Cultural Revolution that had left people so exhausted…”

Reading 2: click here. “In Chinese folklore, omens attended the passing of an emperor. The same went for earthquakes…”

In my second interview, I speak to Guardian journalist Philip Oltermann about his book Keeping up with the Germans:A History of Anglo-German Encounters. Philip came to this country from his native Germany in his mid-teens and in the book turns his wry gaze on both countries and their history of mutual misunderstandings. To listen to the interview, click here.


Three questions for… Simon Winder

Winder GermaniaSimon Winder has just published a personal and highly entertaining history of Germany and the Germans. In his preface to Germania, he writes:

“[this] is an attempt to tell the story of the Germans starting from their notional origins in the sort of forests enjoyed by gnomes and heroes and ending at the time of Hitler’s seizure of power.”

He admits up-front that Germany is “a sort of Dead Zone” for English-speaking visitors today, unless they happen to have a professional reason for being there. But Simon’s spirited and idiosyncratic exploration of the highways and many of the byways of German history may well be able to change that. It’s certainly a long time since a book on German history made me laugh aloud in public as this one did.

An audio interview is coming soon. In the mean time, as an appetiser, here is Simon’s contribution to our “Three Questions for…” series.

Books of the Decade – Katy Derbyshire

Katy DerbyshireKaty Derbyshire is a translator and co-editor of city-lit Berlin (with Heather Reyes, who recently featured in Podularity podcast 36). She writes biased and unprofessional reports on German books, translation issues and life in Berlin at her blog, love german books.

Katy fell in love with German literature despite studying it at university, and was lured to Berlin in 1996 by a man, music and low rents. She stayed and now has a different man, a daughter and a lack of shelf space.

Inka Parei, Die Schattenboxerin

Inka Parei: Die SchattenboxerinThis is a wonderfully confusing short novel about a woman losing and finding herself in post-1989 Berlin. At first it reads like a detective story, but the psychology becomes more and more complex until the reader is just as disoriented as the protagonist.

What I love about it is the way it captures the sad settings of East Berlin in the early 90s: decaying factories, a tumbledown former fairground, an all but vacant house. And the interim mood after the Wall had fallen but before the city became quite the vibrant place it is today. All in beautiful, inventive language. Translated into 16 languages so far, I hope to start work on it myself very soon.

Selim Özdogan, Die Tochter des Schmieds

Ozgogan: Die Tochter des SchmiedsThis has to be my all-time favourite. It’s a “backstory” for Germany’s large Turkish population, the tale of a girl growing up in rural Anatolia in the 50s and 60s. It’s told with huge love and affection, with occasional flashes of Gül’s future life in Germany.

The story is made up of episodes and anecdotes, perhaps a little like a Turkish-German Laura Ingalls Wilder, if there can be such a thing. Özdogan takes great care to avoid cliché, and the novel even plays a cameo role in Fatih Akin’s award-winning film Edge of Heaven. This is the book I’d most like to translate myself. There’s a sample translation on the publisher’s website here (click on Download at the foot of the page for pdf).

Clemens Meyer, Die Nacht, die Lichter

Meyer: Die Nacht, die LichterClemens Meyer is an exceptional young talent, and this collection of short stories rightly won him one of Germany’s most important literary awards in 2008.

Heavily influenced by 20th-century American writing even down to some of the titles, the stories look at the darker side of life in Germany. Drug abuse, violence, gambling, alcohol – Meyer sweeps us along with the highs and lows involved. His characters are taciturn, down on their luck, unpleasant – and incredibly well drawn with just a few strokes of the pen. Again, it’s a book I’d love to get my teeth into – and you can read my translation of one of the stories in the Guardian.

36. Berlin – city of “eternal becoming”

Berlin crossing sign This week’s podcast features an interview with Heather Reyes, co-founder of Oxygen Books, and co-editor of the latest addition to their City-Lit series, which appropriately enough in the week which marks the twentieth anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down, paints a portrait in words of Berlin.

Although there are plenty of old favourites such as Christopher Isherwood, Alfred Döblin and Len Deighton, the emphasis of the book is on unexpected vantage points and new, less familiar voices. So there is no dutiful trot through the city’s history “from earliest times to the present day”, but instead themed sections which try to get under the skin of the city.

City-Lit BerlinOff the beaten track, some of the highlights of the book for me were: Rolf Schneider on the disappearing Berlin pub or Kneipe (it used to be said that every street crossing in Berlin had four corners and five corner pubs – but not any more); Dutch novelist Cees Nooteboom‘s reflections on a city every inch of which is “steeped in history”, from the opening of his novel All Souls’ Day; Chloe Aridjis in Book of Clouds on the “ghost stations” on the underground – the deserted, embalmed stations which although on West Berlin lines, happened to lie beneath East Berlin’s territory.

Book of Clouds coverThere’s also an excellent piece by Iain Bamforth about Berlin’s sense of itself as expressed in its architecture (he coins the memorable phrase “hyperthyroid neoclassicism” for Hitler’s default style). He mentions Stephen Spender’s visit to Hitler’s Chancellery in 1945 and writes:

“Spender noted the reams of building manuals above the Führer’s bed. Hitler didn’t believe in much but he believed in architecture.”

And Berlin, it seems to me, is hard to better as an expression of what a city’s people – or its leaders – believed throughout its history rendered in stone, glass, brick and steel. One of my own favourite books on the city (not included in the City-Lit anthology) is Brian Ladd’s Ghosts of Berlin, which looks at how the city has come to terms with its past through the built environment. That may sound rather dry and specialist – it’s not, since the past that Berlin has had to come to terms with has so often been so raw and painful.

Finally, I wanted to mention Heather’s co-editor on this volume, Katy Derbyshire. Katy has contributed many new translations to the book, which adds considerably to its appeal. You can find Katy’s blog on German books (Love German Books) here. It’s well worth checking out.

To listen to the podcast, click on the link above, or go to Podularity’s iTunes page using the link in the right-hand column.

To see my photo essay on Berlin, click on the “more” link below.

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23. Exploring the haunted city

Neil Gregor: Haunted City – Nuremberg and the Nazi Past

“By the end of the war, Nuremberg had a reputation second to none as a Nazi town.”

map showing nuremberg, bavariaIn this week’s podcast I talk to historian Neil Gregor about Germany’s often difficult process of coming to terms with the second world war in the decades that followed its defeat.

To bring sharper focus to his book, Neil decided to concentrate on how one city in particular – Nuremberg in Bavaria – reached its accommodation with the past. Neil’s own father grew up in the city and one of Neil’s earliest memories of learning about history was hearing his German godparents describe RAF bombing raids on Nuremberg. Read More