leipzig

Cities That Inspire Us For All Sorts of Reasons

This weekend marks the second year that I’ve been writing Acid Free Pulp. My first post was titled Prague and it was conceived after I returned back from a trip, which included a visit to the Czech Republic. Prague is one of my favorite cities for various reasons including its ability to inspire me. The hometown of one of my all time favorite writers, Franz Kafka, my mind constantly whirls with ideas when I’m in Prague. Even on a follow-up trip, as I sat on a wall overlooking the Vltava River, the skeleton of an idea came to me, which I was able to flesh out later in our apartment and on my flight back to the US. What came of this visit was a novella concerning a mysterious event in Prague (when I am done with my current project, I hope to return to it and expand on the characters and plot).

As I was contemplating the blog’s 2 year anniversary, I read a profile in New York magazine for their Winter Travel edition, which focused on “lesser-known cities for equally fine wine, just-as-ancient architecture, and even-more-secret warehouse parties.” They profiled Leipzig, a city about an hour away by train from Berlin. While Berlin is also a favorite destination and I’ve spent a good deal of time there, there is Leipzig, a former East German city that had once been grand before the World Wars.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig is a city I have mixed feelings about, but it has inspired me exponentially. I have written some of my best stories while living there or now, thinking back to it. It is a strange place where beauty and destruction have been forced together. There are elegant villas lining some streets, with a row of odd Soviet bloc apartments (plattenbauten) still standing and sticking out like sore thumbs. I’ve twice stayed in one of these apartment buildings where all personality is stripped and the shower can only be used when the sink is turned on. A third time in Leipzig, I stayed much longer and lived on a different side of the city with abandoned warehouses that had been turned into businesses or which were normally abandoned save for the midnight parties they hosted. Leipzig is a former city of greatness that is striving to retain that glory. I took the above photo in the neighborhood where I lived the third time. The buildings crumble on one street and empty spaces are being used by students for art and literary readings.

It is a city that inspires me in a different way than Prague. Where Prague is a city filled with rich colors and beautiful buildings, Leipzig crumbles around its own beauty. Part of it is full of life, where a large portion is still a ghost town since the dissolution of the USSR.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig, Germany.

There are many cities that inspire me–Prague, New York, Bratislava, Edinburgh, to name a few–but something still holds me to Leipzig. I do not know if I will ever return; I feel as if my time there is done with. I have soaked up as much as I can and the friends I have there are starting to float away to other places, too. As I walked the streets, the thoughts of its great past always came over me.

Leipzig has been home to many great writers and musicians. Also, the second largest book fair in Germany takes place there–Leipziger Buchmesse. Many of the photos I have of the city are of crumbling buildings and graffiti but the city is quite beautiful in many places. Here are a few.

Emerging German playwright, Juliane Stadelmann talks writing, theatre, and jet skis

Not only is Juliane Stadelmann a talented emerging playwright, she is [I hope!] the first  in a line of interviews on Acid Free Pulp. I wanted to showcase her talent and get her perspective on writing and publishing outside of the US.

Juliane is originally from Salzwedel, Germany. She has studied as an actor, worked as a surf instructor in Hawaii and France, and co-edited Tippgemeinschaft 2013. This past year she worked in collaboration with an American playwright to translate and stage dramatic readings of both of their plays in New York City. She currently studies writing at Deutsches Literturinstitut Leipzig and was awarded a place this year in the Stuck für Stuck program at Schauspielhaus in Vienna.

js1How did you make the leap from actor to playwright?

It was not really a leap I think. I’ve been playwriting even before I started acting and going to drama school in Berlin. It was more a thing of changing priorities. After drama school, I felt like I loved being on stage but at the same time I realized working as an actress cuts my personal freedom in a really weird way. From psycho group processes in a company over weird castings to how the fuck am I gonna earn money with that?? So I decided to focus on writing and applied at the Deutsches Literaturinstitut Leipzig. I got in and finally had the space and flexibility I needed to be creative and happy but still theatrical.

You recently were involved in a translation project with an American playwright. I know this was the first time you had your work translated. How was the process? Were there aspects you expected or didn’t?

The technical process was getting in touch with each other by a workshop in Leipzig lead by the translator, Uljana Wolf, and then work on our translations over the winter and present the work in New York in April where we had another great workshop with the distinguished Walser-translator Susan Bernofsky. The process on a personal level was quite unusual I think: I met my translation partner here in Germany personally which has been a quite luxurious situation because usually you are not interacting with your translator on that personal level I guess. Still it was hard for me to give my text away to him. (Maybe, especially because I got to know him.) It was harder than giving it to a theatre (because that’s what naturally happens with dramatic texts). Maybe because I was afraid he’d change too much by putting it into English. While our annotations went back and forth via email I was thinking all the time: Hopefully he understands what it all MEANS! Like literally. I know I shouldn’t have but that’s the truth. Putting text on stage is an act of translation, too, but it allows room for interpretation whereas putting a text into a different language might change it completely. You really have to trust your translator. I had to learn that.

But also I appreciated the things I learned about my own language. And it’s true what [another collaborator] said in one of our presentations: You don’t have to be fluent in the language you are translating but you have to be perfect in your own language. And there is something really true about it. You sometimes touch the border of almost untranslatable phrases…that’s where it becomes really interesting not only as a translator but as a writer.

You’ve been involved with prestigious awards and workshops in Vienna and Graz recently. What have these experiences been like?

For me it has been great. I know that other writers feel different about it, but I think I have a very competitive character. I would trying being an athlete if I wasn’t trying to become an author. And if I was 15 pounds lighter, of course. But that’s a different issue. I like this mixture of competition and creative gathering, because usually those drama awards go hand in hand with some workshops before. So it’s not just about winning. You come together with other authors, in groups of maybe 4 to 6 and some mentors (dramaturges, directors, theatre heads, writers – anyone who is already successfully making a living with words or theatre work) and you read and discuss your text. Sometimes, as in Graz, you even get a director and actors to try some first rehearsals and stage concepts. So it’s a great chance to really work with your words! Critiques in those workshops are often sharper and maybe more honest than in the seminar-situation of my writing class in Leipzig, beause we don`t know each other that well and we all want to have “the best play in the universe” to MAYBE win the award at the end. I really enjoy it though it can be frustrating sometimes of course. You are compared to each other all the time and influenced by the critical words of the jury maybe more than by your own ideas. But that’s something you have to learn to deal with in general.

Although, Austria and Germany share, to an extent, the same language and certain historical and cultural points, are you finding any differences in the theatre world between the two countries?

That’s a hard question. I guess a real theatre-reviewer could write a whole essay about that issue. I can only say that theatre in the German speaking world is diverse in general. Even from Hamburg to Leipzig you’ll find different theatres with different concepts and a different approach to scenic work. That’s the nice thing about theater and playwriting: take one sentence out of a play and every group of a director and some actors will create something different out of it. Besides this, the ensemble-system exists in both of the countries which still is something really “old-school” that other European countries don’t have anymore in that strong of a way. I think tradition still plays a big role in German theatres on stage and also behind the scenes–in some more, in some less. But the hierarchies inside the business are strong and it’sworth being reformed in Germany and Austria. But that’s my personal point of view.

What is the German literary world like? How is it for young, emerging writers and what is the process?

That’s another question which is hard to answer. A common and popular way to get some attention is to win some “Literaturpreis” (literature prize) given away by some publishing house, TV stations or magazines. You apply and you can be awarded with some cash and maybe some publishing deals but there’s no guarantee to be successful after it. Also many young writers think the way those awards are given away are cheesy and you have to write “commercially” to be successful in this game. I’d love to know how you write commercially though…I’d be ruling the world with my books then! But I guess everyone has to decide which game to play. I like having those workshops around any award or prize because whatever you win or don`t win, you can always get some work done with those people and you have a well crafted text after that process. But not all the prizes go with workshops. Some are just pure gambling: Win or loose. I never took part in one of those.

Another way is residencies given away by German cities or states (Bundesländer). They usually go with a free apartment for some months and a little grant. So you have a chance to focus on your work for a couple of months. But usually those are given away to people who already have had some little success or at least got printed somewhere.

And then you can of course just do your own thing. Publish your stuff by yourself and try to keep it underground and individual. There are good possibilities to get support for those projects, at least here in Saxony where I live right now. It’s a lot of organizing and paperwork but you are free do make your own decisions and you also get to know other people publishing.

In general, I guess in the literary world it’s still more complicated to get one’s foot into the door than into the playwright world, because I feel like the general need for good young plays right now is bigger than the need for another novel. But I don’t have figures to proof that. It’s just a feeling.

Jet ski or 100 bottles wine? Which is a better prize?

Are you kidding me?? Every author should win a JETSKI! We would all be better writers and human beings, I`m sure. And I could finally work on my big-wave-career because from a certain wave size on you need a jetski that pulls you into the wave as your human paddle-arms are not able to speed up the way a jetski does. You have to be as fast as the wave to be able to catch it. That’s what I’m talking about!

The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I don’t know why it has taken me so long to finally read Goethe’s famous novella, The Sorrows of Young Werther. This work is short and can easily be read in one or two sittings. In fact, I recommend reading it straight through; if you take this approach, in my opinion, it is easier to “witness” Werther’s obsession with Charlotte and his eventual decision to end his own life (sorry for no spoiler alert but this work is infamous and besides, it was published in 1774).

The novella is somewhat autobiographical. What I find really interesting about the structure is that the majority of the novel is composed of letters written by Werther to his close friend, Wilhelm. The epistles are interrupted occasionally by a first person narrator who is collecting the letters and other evidence into a chronology leading to Werther’s death.

Legend has it, that around the time of original publication, many youth were emulating Werther’s suicide. This has become known as the Werther Effectimitative suicide. Besides this bit of information, it is always a pleasure to see when such a classic work has crept up in other places whether it be directly or inspirationally.

“We are happiest under the influence of innocent delusions.” –The Sorrows of Young Werther

post script, Recently, a woman on the street was giving away books. She had so many! I took a few including Die neuen Leiden des jungen W. (The New Sorrows of Young W.) by Ulrich Plenzdorf. I thanked her for the books and she replied, “Thank you for adopting these books.”

post post script, Both Goethe and Plenzdorf studied in Leipzig–a prominent city in the history and culture of the arts. It is quite beautiful and on my next trip, I’ll try to take better photos and share them. Right now, I have very few and they’re nothing to write home about.