Going Dutch with German Writers (3) : A surprise date

What happens when an e-book publisher and the writer of an incredibly long novel get together? Nikola Richter and Jan Brandt talk to Katy Derbyshire about Schlecker, evil plastic bags, Club Mate and literary criticism. Were there fisticuffs? Well, no.

Nikola Richter, Jan Brandt, Katy Derbyshire's thumb.
Nikola Richter, Jan Brandt, Katy Derbyshire's thumb.Foto: Privat


Nikola Richter has written and published a heck of a lot of things – poetry, drama, short fiction, blogs – as you can tell from her Wikipedia entry. Her most recent venture is the e-publishing company Mikrotext, launched just the other week to bring you short digital texts.

Jan Brandt has written and published one novel, Gegen die Welt. It is very long indeed and only available in print form. I am translating it into English. It will take me at least a year.

Where? Morena Bar, Kreuzberg

What? Jan had Flensburger Pilsener, Nikola and I had a rather nice Tempranillo.

What did we talk about?

I thought I’d try going out drinking with two writers at once, just to see what happened. And Jan said I should surprise him with my other guest, so I invited Nikola. The rationale being that they’d argue about long and short form, digital and print, etc. Obviously, this idea was doomed to fail. They were both terribly nice to each other.

The first thing we – or they – talked about is how they knew each other. They weren’t quite sure – was it from one of Nikola’s former poetry circles? Jan looked sceptical – he doesn’t do poetry but he did used to hang out with the poet Jan Wagner quite a lot. In fact people tend to muddle them up, and also another bespectacled writer, Jan Böttcher. Jan Brandt once ordered a book in a bookshop and the man behind the counter noted down his details and said, “Jan Wagner, right?” Or people would tell him how much they liked his last novel before his novel was even finished. I made a lame joke that has got me into trouble in the past – What d’you call a guy who hangs out with musicians? A drummer. Nikola told us the best part of one of her old poetry circles was the quickie round. They’d do it at the end of the evening once everyone had drunk a litre of wine each. You had to read your poem aloud and then someone else read it aloud, then everyone discussed it for five minutes but the poet wasn’t allowed to say anything at all. It didn’t sound much fun to me.

We then spent quite some time talking about ebooks. As you’re no doubt aware, ebooks are the same as normal books only in a different format. Which makes talking about them kind of nerdy and dull, although we found it fascinating personally. I won’t bore you with the details. Jan had his snazzy new phone with him, so he downloaded one of Nikola’s books right then and there. It was Alexander Kluge’s essay, and we all agreed that Kluge and Enzensberger are totally cool old geezers while all other German male writers of their generation are boring old farts. I told a story about how I was once in a bar with an American who didn’t speak German and this woman with facial tattoos came up to us and told him he’d look back one day in his old age and regret having his phone on the table distracting him when he was out with such a pretty woman. What did she say? asked the American. Oh nothing, I said. Jan put his phone away. He’s such a charmer. There was then some discussion of VAT rates for ebooks, which was less interesting than the nerdy technical details, except for a great comparison involving packaged pre-sliced salami and salami sliced at the deli counter, which turned out to be a complete bluff. Actually though I just checked – next time around, remember the simple VAT formula: 7% if you buy a horse, 19% if you buy a donkey (speaking of salami). I tried to steer the conversation to something slightly more controversial, or at least more interesting.

There used to be a club right next door, run by Irish people, where I first drank Club Mate with vodka. Jan seemed to find the idea revolting but Nikola loves it too (spoiler: this was the height of dissent between the two of them all evening). It gets you drunk and lively at the same time, which occasionally leads to shenanigans in my case. It’s also the coolest drink because you have to take a glug out of the bottle and then they top it up with vodka. The last time Nikola went to that club – it’s moved to Neukölln now and we couldn’t remember the name – Kleine something? – a pipe burst in the ladies and there was water pouring out of the wall, and she ran up to the bar and told them and they were like, Oh yeah, we’ve got a mate who’s a plumber, we’ve called him, he’ll be round later. Nikola left once the water reached the dancefloor. Wait, I asked, weren’t the toilets there unisex? No, Katy, they weren’t. Oh. I may have blushed.

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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