Teresa Präauer is an Austrian writer and artist. Her book Für den Herrscher aus Übersee won last year’s Aspekte Prize for debut novels, an award well worth having. She’s currently staying at the Literary Colloquium in Berlin.
Schleusenkrug biergarten, Berlin-Tiergarten
Beer, Fernet Branca, pastis
What did we talk about?
Our first real subject is hairstyles. Teresa has an impressive up-do, which makes her look very sophisticated. The adjective bird’s-nest sounds too negative but is actually very fitting, as Teresa is very fond of birds. I’m just dipping a toe into the world of up-dos, what with not having very long hair. She’s been practicing for about ten years, so she’s very expert and offers to fix my hair if it does indeed start falling down, as I fear. I tell her how discovering the world of YouTube amateur hairstyle videos has reaffirmed my faith in humankind. All those women who share styling tips out of the goodness of their hearts! Teresa points out that they might actually make it big and get offered sponsorship by hair product companies, but I don’t let it cloud my rosy view.
We talk a little about her book. I’ve just read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. People tend to interpret what they like into it, Teresa says. The narrator might be a boy and might be a girl, and actually it doesn’t matter in the slightest, but almost everyone seems to assume one or the other. I spotted all kinds of stories in it, which Teresa denies having read, of course. There’s a brief excursion into the complicated structure of fairy tales – some of them are like road movies, Teresa says, with the hero following a linear quest or path, and the idea gets me quite excited.
I ask Teresa where she’s from and get a long list of places in Austria I’ve never heard of. Moving around as a child made school difficult, because most lessons took place in various dialects she didn’t understand well. But I suspect it’s given her that skill of getting on with people quickly, knowing how to fit in with new groups. She’s certainly charming and witty. We talk about humour: German, Austrian and British. Oh yes, it’s terribly important but in fact, I say, I’ve found many funny Germans over the years, despite the cliché.
A group of rather noisy young people have squeezed in at our table. We can’t help eavesdropping but it’s all rather banal. I do worry for a moment that they might consider our conversation rather pretentious, but in the end my antipathy towards them cancels that out. We hop to the next vacant table as soon as possible, finally free to talk as much tipsy crap as we like.
And so on to the subject of Yiddish folk songs. I tell Teresa about one where the singer asks where his shtetl has gone. It’s a song from the 1920s about how the past tends to disappear – or that’s how I interpreted it – but of course now it has a very different meaning. And the singer asks, where is the pond, where is the tree, where is the girl I loved, and so on, and then answers, in my mind they still exist. Teresa gets philosophical (our second round of beers) and ponders on all the things that exist in minds, like non-ponds and non-trees, and applies the idea to God, who must exist, she says, if there’s a non-God in our minds. Non-God and God, she says, are the same thing. A convinced but non-evangelical atheist, I steer the topic towards linguistic purists who say, but that word doesn’t exist. That annoys both of us: if I’ve just used a word, of course it bloody well exists! Laughing, we imagine the trouble such po-faced purists would have with non-trees.