Jan Skudlarek is a poet from somewhere in Westphalia. He’s 28 and published his debut collection, Elektrosmog, in 2013. He’s lived in Berlin-Neukölln for three years.
We order beer when we arrive, and Jan asks if we should have a Mexikaner to go with it. I’m surprised because for me, a Mexikaner is something to round off the end of an evening. But Jan says it’s a classic Herrengedeck. For those who don’t speak German: a Mexikaner is a shot of schnapps (I think tequila, Jan thinks gin and vodka) with tomato juice and Tabasco. And a Herrengedeck – literally a gentleman’s place setting – is when you have a beer and a schnapps in front of you at the same time. We start with the Mexikaner and it’s excellent; really thick and soupy. I don’t ever want to spoil the magic by finding out what’s in it.
What did we talk about?
A mutual friend recommended I should go out drinking with Jan because he’s good fun. And I thought it would be a good idea because I’ve never been out drinking with a poet before. He doesn’t know much at all about me, and I don’t know much at all about him, and I think we start out with the usual “how long have you lived in Berlin” pleasantries and a bit of “my, how Neukölln’s changed”. Jan tells me he studied in Münster before he moved here, and we chat about Münster for a while and then of course about Tatort, because the only things I know about Münster is that it has a university and is a setting for Germany’s favourite crime show. We’re both rather take-it-or-leave-it about Tatort, neither lovers nor haters.
We have a hell of a lot of mutual acquaintances, as we establish over the course of the evening. Jan translated a poem by an American woman I know, Lyz Pfister, and he tells me he underestimated how much hard work it would be. He says he saw her reading at an event that wasn’t part of the usual Young German Poets circle; there were bands playing and poets he’d never heard of. I’m pleased there’s someone out there who manages to cross the great German-English divide in the Berlin literary scene. As I see it, there are two parallel universes of German poets/prose writers and Anglophone poets/prose writers, and I keep wishing they’d come together and assuming the answer must be translation, but not many people seem to be interested in seeing that happen. I have a little complaining session about organizing events that not many people attend. Oh, but there are so many events in Berlin, Jan consoles me.