Literature festival in schleswig-holstein: slowly closing the gap

Authors from Denmark in the Schleswig-Holstein province? It’s the summer of literature! And it comes with almost no Nordic crime fodder.

Neighborhood: Danes and Germans meet at the Literature Summer. Photo: dpa

It has already gone to China and Turkey. The literary production of Poland and Russia was taken up, as well as that of Finland, Norway, Italy and Japan – each for one summer. Last year, the "Literature Summer" of the Schleswig-Holstein literature houses presented what was being written in Iceland; in 2013, three countries were covered in one fell swoop: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

This activity, this reading and being read to, takes place widely scattered throughout Schleswig Holstein; not only in Lubeck and Kiel, but mainly in places that the city dweller usually only knows from driving through. Just like 20 years ago, when the Austrians came for the first time: Raoul Schrott and Franzobel and Josef Haslinger read in Kiel and Rendsburg, Husum and Friedrichstadt.

This year it’s Denmark’s turn, and that’s happening comparatively late. After all, the country is a direct neighbor, and there are many cultural relationships; for example, various museums and art houses committed to modern art on both sides of the border recently joined together to form an association.

60 Years of Neighborliness

However, there is another reason why the organizers are now focusing on this neighborhood, which is actually so close, a solid historical reason: this year marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the German-German art association. The Bonn-Copenhagen Declaration was issued for the first time.

The declaration clarified the long-difficult relations between Denmark and Germany at the highest level and was based on the ideal of personal reconciliation, which characterized postwar German society. In the so-called reconstruction years, the Germans soon went not only to Rimini, but also to the initially still sparsely equipped cabins on the Ringkoping Fjord, in Skagen or on the islands.

Last but not least, the signing governments granted extensive political rights to the respective minorities in the other country. They also agreed to promote each other’s culture, with the aim of turning the border region, which had previously been so tense, into a meeting place.

Since this declaration, cultural institutions in Schleswig-Holstein have of course been able to apply for funding from the Danish cultural fund," says Wolfgang Sandfuchs, director of the Literaturhaus in Kiel and organizer of the literature summer.

"After that, it just started happening that people sent each other books, poets and also music groups." About this year’s literature summer, he says: "With Denmark, we are slowly closing the Nordic gap" – only Sweden is missing.

So who’s coming in the coming weeks? It is noticeable that the really big names are missing: Neither the crime novelist Jussi Adler-Olson is appearing, nor Peter Hoeg, who once provided a brief Danish-German literary spring with his Fraulein Smilla. But readings by supposed book stars are usually disappointingly routine, barely disguised promotional events in which closeness to the audience may not arise.

Instead, one can look forward without reservation to the readings with Peter Adolphsen starting on August 25 … Wait: Peter who? Even Literature House director Sandfuchs admits that this author was previously unknown to him. "The Danish Cultural Foundation recommended him to me," he says, "and from what people said about him, I immediately thought, I have to meet this man."

Raised first in Denmark, then in the U.S., Adolphsen has delivered two slim, highly focused books since 2012: "Brummstein" tells of German history through a radioactive stone, featuring a Berlin anarchist, a Jewish girl and an artist inspired by Joseph Beuys.

"The Heart of the Primeval Horse", on the other hand, tells of a primeval horse whose carcass distills over millions of years into a drop of petroleum, which, converted into gasoline, leaves behind a particle of soot, which in turn is inhaled by a young American woman who then becomes terminally ill with lung cancer – such are the stories told by this Adolphsen.

Both texts received positive reviews from critics in this country, but were completely lost in terms of sales figures and are difficult to obtain today.

Not the really big names

Also recommended is a visit to the performances of Kim Leine (from 10. August): He grew up with his mother in Norway as a Jehovah’s Witness, was later sexually abused by his father, which led to a flight into addiction, which he seeks to escape by writing – the subject of his debut novel "Kalak," which he presented at the Kiel Festival of the Debut Novel and which has still not been translated.

"At the time, it wasn’t so easy to even get into conversation with him," Sandfuchs says. "But he has changed a lot in terms of external presentation." Leine’s second novel, "The Infidelity of the Greenlanders," was then a commercially decent success in Germany as well: in it, he has his desolate heroes experience desolate adventures in a desolate land: Greenland. Now Leine reads from the novel "Ewigkeitsfjord".

Claus Høxbroe (from 18. August) is a recommendation of his translator Tobias Koch, who lives and works in Kiel: Copenhagen’s Høxbroe can be roughly assigned to the beatnik tradition, or even more to spoken word poetry. All kinds of Youtube films document what he sounds like.

In the past few years, in addition to seven short volumes of poetry, he has also released three records on which the spoken word is accompanied quite gently on the piano by a certain Oscar Gilbert: it now makes sense for him to come along on the short tour through rural Schleswig-Holstein.

The novels by Anna Grue (to be seen and heard from August 2) are comparatively easy-going. With her hero, the bald-headed private investigator Dan Sommerdahl, she follows the tradition of Scandinavian serial detective stories: Sommerdahl has to solve just as many cases in ten volumes; half of them have already been solved.

That leaves Hanne Vibeke-Holst, whose reading next Tuesday in Dersau on Grober Ploner See will kick off this year’s literary summer. Her latest family novel, "The Girl from Stockholm," tells of a difficult sibling relationship that begins during the years of the German occupation of Denmark.

The pleasures of the provinces

Wolfgang Sandfuchs is by no means unhappy about the thoroughly heterogeneous program: "Sometimes a thematic thread emerges, but sometimes not," he says. "In the case of current Danish literature, it would only have been possible by means of the crime novel – and we didn’t feel like doing that."

And so he enjoys the freedom of the literary organizer in the so-called province, who can be sure of a loyal audience: "I’m allowed to be colorful, I’m simply allowed to mix things up. No one tells me what to do, it just has to be somewhat in line with the money."

And he can tell another nice story: Quite independently of the upcoming literature summer, he recently hosted Danish author Carsten Jensen with the novel "The Drowned" – which was published seven years ago, after all.

"There I have the hut full," the literature house boss tells us. "There I have an author who really wants to tell stories, and it becomes an evening you only dream about, and 100 people go home happy."