I took a brief, unexpected trip to Berlin last week, thanks to a wonderful birthday present from a good friend. I’m so happy I got to round off 2012 with a sojourn in my ‘second home of the heart’, not just for the chance to see much-loved friends, but also to attend the launch of Five Dials’ German-language edition. I first discovered Five Dials several years ago, when I spent a couple of weeks interning at Hamish Hamilton with one of its editors, Anna Kelly. Even though I ultimately decided to dedicate myself to translation full-time rather than going down the editorial route, it helped to give me a more well-rounded view of publishing processes and introduced me to some great people. During those two weeks I lent a hand to Five Dials’ editor Craig Taylor, transcribing an old audio file of a conversation between Ian Fleming and — a slightly inebriated — Raymond Chandler. It was a challenging task, but ultimately a very rewarding one… and I even got a mention in the editor’s letter for my DJ-software-aided detective work. The Number 7 vintage of Five Dials can be found here. I’ve been reading it ever since — and so should anyone who likes the sound of a beautifully and quirkily illustrated online magazine showcasing great literary talents. So, jumping forward a few years, Craig and Anna put together an edition dedicated to German-language literature, and it was launched in Berlin last Monday at a disused post office in Kreuzberg’s Skalitzer Strasse. Its pages include writing by Simon Urban, Peter Stamm, Ulrike Almut Sandig, Clemens Setz, Judith Schalansky among others; and non-fiction by Jan Brandt and Juli Zeh. In the words of Anna Kelly on Katy Derbyshire’s blog: ”One slightly exceptional inclusion in the issue is an essay by German literary translator Ulrich Blumenbach, about his experiences translating David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest into German. [..] I loved the idea of including this essay. I find the process of a book’s movement from one language into another fascinating, and I thought that there was a sort of beautiful mirroring in the idea of English-language readers finding out about the process of a particularly well-known — and famously challenging -– book being translated into German, at exactly the same time that they were reading, in the rest of the issue, writing that had been translated the other way.” This aspect of cultural exchange was also central to the launch night, which brought together German and English-language writers, translators from German to English and vice versa, and an Anglo-German DJ. It was a freezing cold Berlin night, and the snow was already starting to fall outside, so we were more than happy to huddle together with our wine-filled paper cups, listening to the tantalisingly brief readings. I particularly loved Jan Brandt’s lip-twitchingly-sardonic rant about Berlin, Katy’s translation of an extract by Tilmann Rammstedt (whose biggest fan I am, if you remember this post), and a poem (‘Owl-in-Law’) by Joe Dunthorne, a father’s lament that his daughter has fallen in love with an owl. You can find the issue, Five Dial’s longest ever, here.
Before heading back to London, I checked out the Helmut Newton exhibition at the Museum der Fotografie, had some great sushi with some dear friends and spent a snowy morning wandering along Bernauer Strasse looking at the wall memorial, which I can highly recommend. Berlin, I miss you already and hope to see you again very soon.
PS: If you’re looking for book ideas to fill someone’s Christmas stocking, you could do a damn sight worse than Craig Taylor’s addictive ‘One Million Tiny Plays About Britain’. On that note, maybe someone should translate it into German?