Archive for the ‘In Leipzig’ Category


March 18, 2008

At the first reading, I sat on a sofa made out of books and read my story about impossible love. How much would people understand? The rest of the readings had been in German. I sat there listening to the texture of the language, and words I understood popped out like crocodile heads in that arcade game where you have to hit them down again with a club. It felt good to read, it is something I love doing. I would like to have a job where I just read stories to people, like the village letter writer, I could be the village story reader.

I read last, after three men, all of whom left straight after they had finished. Once the applause faded, their coats were on and they were down the stairs. There was a big reading at the Moritz Bastei that they were all going to. At least most of the audience stayed to hear me. As I read, one man smiled beamingly the whole way through. He was in his 50s, I guess, wearing a yellow jumper, sitting up very straight, and looking very very happy. I read my story for this man.

After I finished, Ulrike read the translation of it. It is the first time I’ve had something translated, it is a strange experience to hear your story made into something else. I like it, it was like it was not mine anymore, it was alive and it had evolved. Ulrike and I are exchange partners, I guess I would say, she came to Sydney last year. I felt like we were both given the same set of blocks, but when we held up our constructions, despite being of the same stuff, they looked completely different. Mine had structural faults.

The second reading was at the launch party of the student anthology, Tippgemeinschaft. There were white blossoms in big glass vases and white tablecloths. Each of the authors in the anthology had a corresponding portrait, which was printed on postcards and also slipped into matchboxes. The matchbox on my seat had Alexander Langer in it, which I decided to take as a good sign, Alexander is one of my lucky names.
But Alexander did not help me. I could only read a few pages before I had to stop. The terrible cough that had been plaguing me for the last few days took over and I had to stop at the end of a paragraph about ice buckets and apologise that I could not read any longer. I went back to my seat in the front row, feeling disappointed. One of the presenters of the evening got up and said how sorry she was, and that I must get better.

“Can you get everyone to say it?” I asked, and she did!
”1-2-3 Get Better!” the whole room said in unison.

Afterwards, Ryan said that this was probably the only time this has ever happened at a literary event. He is possibly correct.



Horse Apple

March 16, 2008


You buy this from a small fruit stall at Halle train station. You eat it while the train slides through the fields, and people sitting around you finish off their day’s work on laptops, or shut their eyes and dream. The apple is from China. One had the Playboy symbol and the words “I Live You” on it. You found the horse more appropriate, but no less strange.

You are on a train from Halle to Leipzig, eating a Chinese apple with a horse design bleached onto it.

You are thinking what you are doing while you are doing it. It runs through your head like a caption. Much much rarer is to just find yourself being, without you thoughts being moulded into descriptions. You cannot remember the last time you caught yourself unawares.

Hey Ho Heino

March 16, 2008

The police roadblock is set up just after the record stores, which is lucky, because that’s where we want to go. At the first store I buy an album of Russian folk songs and Ryan buys Hip Priest and Kamerads. We’re in there for a while and we forget about the police until we’re outside again. Some lean against their vans, eyes shut, absorbing the sun. Others are blowing steam off the tops of cups of coffee. There’s a picnic kind of atmosphere at the roadblock. What on earth are they doing?
”The Neo-Nazis planned a demonstration, but they didn’t turn up,” the man in the second record store says. He is very enthusiastic. “The anarchists are there, though. There are a hundred anarchists in between all the police. Is there anything you’re looking for in particular?”
No, we say, just browsing. He asks us if we’d like coffee. Sure! He bounds out to the back room and I can hear the sounds of a tap running as he fills the kettle. He brings a basket full of teas out for me and I choose Arabische. I’m not sure what is in it but there’s a nice camel on the packet.
I feel so good being in this shop, surrounded by records, with this enthusiastic man telling us about the Nazi demonstration. Every one of his sentences travels in a wide arc, they bounce with excitement. He is thrilled by the action. His phone keeps ringing and he speaks into it in bursts. I can hear other, excitable voices buzzing from the receiver. I look from him out the windows to the sunbaking policemen, their white riot helmets dangling from their hands as they yawn.
I sip at my tea a bit, then go off into easy listening land.


Upon seeing this, I have a question for the man in the shop.
“Can you explain Heino to me?”

I first encountered Heino in the book Incredibly Strange Music. Heino seemed too weird to be real, too good to be true. At the time I was learning Russian and I had a German guy in my class. I asked him about Heino and showed him the book, and he gave me a look of utter surprise. He was amazed that anyone outside of Germany would know about Heino. He described the busloads of old women who go to his concerts, and, most interestingly, that he is an albino. I have since realised that everyone who talks about Heino must mention this fact. In the break he went to photocopy the article, as he wanted to show it to his friends. “There will be many laughs tonight,” he said, famously.

Now I am unable to resist the chance for another explanation of Heino. As I expected the record store guy pounces at my question. He comes out from behind the counter and joins me at the Heino section. He flips through, purposefully, all the while explaining Heino.
“Do you know Schlager? Heino is the most famous of all the Schlager singers.”
”Does he own a restaurant?” I ask. (A Heino fact my fellow Russian student told me.)
“It is possible. Here, at first he is wearing the normal glasses,” he pulls out a very early Heino album. “And then he is wearing the dark glasses. He is an albino.”
He is obviously looking for something in particular.
“I am sorry to say that I have a Heino album, and I put it on when I want people to leave my home,” I say. I feel a bit bad about this. The guy obviously is proud of Heino in some way. I can imagine how you would feel proud of Heino, but I still can’t imagine listening to any of his dozens of records. The record store guy even sings excerpts as he flips past Heino after Heino. Every record cover features him on it, always with the shock of white blonde hair and the dark glasses. Heino’s house must be full of framed pictures of himself.
“Ah,” he says, taking out a Christmas album. Inside the gatefold sleeve is a pop up nativity scene. Mein Gott! I laugh and call Ryan in from the next room.
“You have to see this.”
“Coming!” he says. We feel very at home in the record store, what with the coffee and tea and chatter.
He joins us regarding the pop up nativity.
“Heino should be in it,” I say.
“Maybe he’s in the manger,” Ryan suggests.
The record store man starts to tell me about Schlager. He picks out some albums to put on for me, as examples, while explaining the structure of the one record company that existed in the DDR, VEB Deutsche Schallplatten. Amiga was the popular music branch of it. Now I noticed that every record in the section we were looking at had AMIGA in the corner. Amiga Amiga Amiga.
The first record he puts on, I know within 20 seconds that I will buy. It has that wide, warm 60s sound and makes me feel instantly happy. My friend is very pleased that I like it so much, and leaves me to listen as he bounces off to help some other customers, his blonde hair swinging. It is cut very straight, just below his ears.
I can imagine myself listening to this record at home in a few weeks time, lying on my bed, with all my reassuring clutter around me, taking me back to this one lovely sunny morning in Leipzig, looking at records with Ryan, dozy cops outside, drinking a cup of tea made by this surprisingly friendly man, who tells me, when I buy the record, to look after it, because it is very special.


March 10, 2008

The elk is nosing his snout along the bars. The two layers of fencing are designed so that I cannot reach him, no matter how hard I stretch forward. I want to pat his velvety snout very badly, I think this will make me feel better.

Before I left Sydney, many people asked me what a writer in residence does. I have the answers now: I am woken up at 7am by drills on the other side of the wall, forcing me to flee my cardboard apartment. I find it difficult to write on my blog as my computer is not compatible with the university’s network, and as an iBook is an obscure machine, there is nothing that can be done about this. Even if there was, everybody in the university is on holidays. I get sick of hearing ‘I cannot help you’.

I am left to watch disasters on the streets: bicycles colliding, people dropping their sandwiches. To this I nod, because this is exactly the kind of bad luck that has been plauging me, too. Too afraid to venture out at night, with a telephone that only connects to University phone numbers, I eat chocolate bars and listen to people’s voices echoing in the stairwells.

I think all this as I stare at the elk. The elk regards me, thinking that I perhaps have food. If the elk ate disappointment he would be greatly satisfied.