Jo Lendle is one of those people for whom the day seems to have more hours than 24. Until very recently he was running the Dumont Buchverlag publishing house, and as of January he’ll be heading up Hanser Verlag in Munich. He’s also published four books with another novel to come in August, and spends quite a lot of time communicating with his 1,500 Facebook friends.
Where? Mysliwska Bar, Kreuzberg
What? Gin & tonic, tap water, Jägermeister, Club Mate, tea, vodka & tonic, beer (between us all)
What did we talk about?
Jo is visiting Berlin for a couple of days before going on holiday with his family. He wanted to go to Burma but his wife refused, so they plumped for Albania because it seems to be the European equivalent. We’re both a little awkward to begin with – usually we meet at big parties or book fair-type occasions and this is suddenly rather intimate. Hence, I suspect, the early wife-mentioning. We talk about our kids for a while, a nice safe topic that feels too personal to write about here. Jo says he’s really enjoying his sabbatical but raring to go at Hanser, very keen to meet the authors and so on. He asks about my work and I tell him it usually takes me a few days to get into the tone of a book I’m translating but I try not to come to it with preconceptions about how I’m going to translate it. I prefer to avoid setting rules for myself because I think that makes for samey translations. I ask Jo a question that people ask me fairly often: how do you find time for all the things you do? It’s not so much a question of finding time, he says, as of wanting to do things. And he doesn’t watch much TV. I agree wholeheartedly. The only problem is that he never manages to leave his phone at home and keeps getting distracted by Facebook.
I ask him about his new book and he looks uncomfortable. It’s a love story but he’s not very good at talking about his own books. We have a little discussion of the English word crush versus the German Schwarm. Perhaps it’s called a crush because it makes your heart scrunch up in agony, and perhaps it’s a Schwarm because it feels like insects crawling all over your body. His book is about requited love though. I run out of things to say and start talking about a date-like meeting I once had in the bar next door, and on our next date-like meeting the guy came wearing a skirt and it was all a bit too much for me. Jo tells me he used to like wearing dresses when he was younger but he hasn’t done for a long time now. There is no irony in his voice. We wonder which of the other men in the bar like wearing skirts in private. It feels rather bitchy.
Jo seems to be going through the topics I post on Facebook in his mind, and he asks me whether the other English-speakers I know in Berlin spend as much time with Germans as I do. There are two generations, I tell him: those who came earlier and were forced to learn German to get by, because they didn’t want to hang out with army and embassy types, and those who came after the advent of the internet, which means you can work here in your own language. You mean the people who come because it’s hip and don’t stay for long and don’t bother learning German? I don’t think it’s quite as simple as that – although I do think they’re missing out and have a rather superficial experience of the city, someone explained it to me recently as being quite beneficial if you want to concentrate on writing, for example, because not understanding the place and the culture and the language is like living inside a protective bubble.