Tuesday, October 12, 2010

From Darmstadt to Dortmund

Last week was book-ended (pun intended) by appearances at two different literary festivals in Germany: the first in Darmstadt, near Frankfurt, the second outside Dortmund in a region known as Hellweg  - which translates as “Hell’s Way” for reasons connected, so I was told, with salt.
The two events were very different, but I enjoyed them both. At Darmstadt I had the great pleasure of meeting two other British writers, Matt Beynon Rees, who had flown in from Jerusalem, and Martin Walker who came via Switzerland from his holiday home in a French vineyard.  Matt has, not unjustly, been called the Dashiell Hammett of Palestine; while Martin’s comical writings about crime in Bordeaux (in his reading the ‘victim’ was a bottle of Chateau Petrus 1989) reminded me of Clochemerle with a dash of Georges Simenon and a frisson of Inspector Clouseau. The event, which took place in the beautifully reconstructed Stadtkirche, was a sell-out, a fact which owes much to the energies and enthusiasm of the organiser, Martin Schneider. I also enjoyed meeting Béatrice Habersaat, one of the people behind DTV’s impressive marketing campaign for Das Einstein-Mädchen. Getting retailers to stock the work of an unknown writer is a huge challenge, and to this day, I’m still not sure how they managed it.
My involvement with the ‘Mord am Hellweg’ crime festival was more leisurely. Beforehand I got to spend a sunny Saturday afternoon wandering around the little town of Unna, with a very companionable minder from my German publishers, called Marianne. Like me, she suffers from a poor sense of direction and a tendency to trip over inanimate objects in her path. I bought some rather superior toy cars for Leo and consumed a variety of regional dishes.
The event itself took place on Sunday at a specially converted railway station in Werl, a small town of 20,000 (which nonetheless boasts two book shops), the birthplace of Franz von Papen, the last Chancellor of Germany before Hitler. My short readings in English were supplemented by longer readings in German by the actor Eckhard Leue. Eckhard’s is quite famous in Germany.  For millions he is the voice of WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk), one of the biggest broadcasters in the land. (The company HQ is known as the Funkhaus, which sounds like it ought to be where James Brown lived…) He read extremely well and with extraordinary assurance.
Despite delays on the local railway network, the turnout was extremely good. In Germany, I was told, people still enjoy gathering to hear books read aloud. Certainly the interest in literature there seems more evident and lively than just about anywhere else I've been.

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