Going Dutch with German Writers (12) : The Comedy Placebo

Did you hear the one about the two London lasses and the East Berlin boy? Katy Derbyshire meets the humorous bi-national writing team Jacinta Nandi and Jakob Hein and talks bad science, hipsters, Stasi and – well, what was that argument actually about? Perhaps it was one white wine too many.

London and the GDR: The book Jakob and Jacinda wrote together.
London and the GDR: The book Jakob and Jacinda wrote together.Foto: dpa


Jacinta Nandi is a writer, blogger and slammer originally from London. She’s been in Berlin for thirteen years. She has a book and CD out called Deutsch werden – Why German people love playing frisbee with their nana naked.

Jakob Hein has lived in Berlin almost all his life, and has published fourteen different books, the most recent being Deutsche und Humor. Geschichte einer Feindschaft (with Jürgen Witte).

Jacinta and Jakob wrote a book together, Fish ‘n’ Chips & Spreewaldgurken. It’s about how Jacinta imagines the GDR was and how Jakob used to imagine London was while living in the GDR.


We start off at the rather nice venue where they’re reading, Seebad Friedrichshagen. Then we go to Heiner’s Bar in Neukölln.


Jacinta and I drink white wine, Jakob drinks beer.

What did we talk about?

The first thing we talk about, during the break at the reading in Friedrichshagen, is that I arrived late because I got lost and also because the trains aren’t running properly. Jakob says they were rather worried but he told the whole audience I’d be coming. I find this acutely embarrassing, which I suspect he notices because he talks about the blog again during the second half. Twice. Both times, he calls it “Drinking with German authors” and he and Jacinta have fun mispronouncing the word authors in different ways. The second time, I tell him from my seat halfway back that it’s called “Drinking with German writers”. He looks disappointed.

I’m a bit shy about meeting Jacinta. She seems like one of those small, self-possessed women who make me feel gangly and boring. Her writing is great – funny and angry – but on stage she seems less assertive, flashing the audience a lot of very sweet smiles, especially when Jakob complains that she writes about sex all the time. She does write about sex quite a lot. Jakob doesn’t so much. The audience likes it, laughing loudly and buying a decent amount of books afterwards. That’s good because Jakob has to carry them around in his rucksack for the rest of the night.

So they’ve finished by about ten and we decide to go to Neukölln, where Jacinta lives, rather than running the risk of getting stuck in Friedrichshagen where the bloody trains aren’t running properly. They want to go to Heiner’s because they met a lovely woman who works there once, in Leipzig when the last train was cancelled. They ended up sharing a taxi to Berlin, which I think sounds great because I love taxis. Jakob says it wasn’t because Jacinta had eaten a curry and was sweating profusely because the audience at their reading hadn’t been terribly friendly. Jacinta smiles sweetly. Apparently you can actually get good Indian food in Leipzig, which is great news for me. I hate the piss-poor excuse for Indian food you get in Berlin.

On the tram and the train to Neukölln, we talk about various things I don’t want to write about here. Relationships and family matters and genital flora. Jakob is a psychotherapist and has to give a talk somewhere the next day, about ADD in adults. Jacinta is one of those people who look up syndromes they might have on the internet, but Jakob seems quite good at calming her down. She asks him about bad science and he says, well, just because something hasn’t been proved to be true, that doesn’t necessarily mean it isn’t true. I am still being polite at this stage, so I don’t make any cynical comments. He says doctors value the placebo effect too, and most medicine wouldn’t work at all if the doctor said, well, we can give it a try but it’s a very tiny pill for such a large body. He tells a story about when he worked in the hospital and people came in who couldn’t sleep at all, and he’d say to the nurse, do you think it’d be OK to give him the special pill from Switzerland, just as an exception? I’ll take full responsibility for it, I’ll get the boss’s signature for it tomorrow. And then the patient would be out like a light. Maybe I shouldn’t have written that. Maybe the kind of people who look up syndromes on the internet will now be immune to that particular comedy placebo effect.

The Blogger: Katy Derbyshire

Katy Derbyshire is a London-born translator who moved to Berlin in 1996. She has translated many contemporary German writers, including Felicitas Hoppe, Francis Nenik, Clemens Meyer, Inka Parei, Dorothee Elmiger, Simon Urban, Sibylle Lewitscharoff and Christa Wolf. She likes talking about books.

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