Fiona Rintoul – writer, journalist, translator

Tag: East Germany

Nothing’s as certain as uncertainty

Posted on November 6th, by admin in Opinion. No Comments

On November 9 it will be 25 years since the Berlin Wall fell. The Wall’s collapse was preceded by a couple of months of popular unrest in East Germany. The epicentre was Leipzig, where, on October 9, 1989, a month before the Wall was finally torn down, 70,000 demonstrators faced down a massive, heavily armed security presence to march peacefully through their city centre in one of the most impressive displays of civil courage seen in Europe since the war.

I hear that a former Chancellor of Germany, Helmut Kohl, is making out the Wall’s eventual collapse had nothing to do with these people. I disagree. That night in Leipzig the people looked into the eyes of the East German regime and saw it for the paper tiger it always was. They lost their fear, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Back then I worked for a publisher of academic journals and so I paid no mind to how professional investors reacted to this event. I hope they were pleased. But, to be frank, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they weren’t. Because it probably created a bit of uncertainty.

Now, 25 years later, the Occupy Central movement in … Read More »

Leipzig Affair – free extract

Posted on October 31st, by admin in Leipzig Affair. No Comments

Published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, The Leipzig Affair is the story of a doomed love affair between a young Scot studying at Leipzig University in 1985 and an East German woman desperate to flee. The Leipzig Affair is out on 10 November 2014 and is available to pre-order from Waterstones.

Prologue

The version of Marek’s death that Bob has played back to himself most frequently down the years is the one where Marek gets shot in the back. It goes like this:

Marek is walking across the raked sand of the death strip. His stride is loose. His head is held high. He looks confident, like a man who knows where he’s going and what he’s going to do when he gets there. He’s wearing what he was wearing the night Bob first met him at the club in Leipzig: Levi’s and a white cotton shirt. It’s night time. The strip is floodlit. The sky is clear. A half moon casts an eerie glow over the dim-lit buildings of Berlin, Capital of the German Democratic Republic to the east and the lime trees of the Tiergarten to the west.

A guard’s … Read More »

Fashionable resistance – “I don’t wear their clothes”

Posted on October 22nd, by admin in Leipzig Affair, Thoughts on things. No Comments

Sometimes fictional characters are not fictional at all. They are clearly based on someone real. Even properly fictional characters usually have some element of a real person in them. The genesis of the character Magda in my novel The Leipzig Affair was an idiosyncratic behavioural detail I observed in a friend of mine whom I met at Leipzig University.

The person in question was a man, not a woman, but I thought his attitude to one aspect of life in the GDR – clothing – was a perfect starting point for the character I wanted Magda to be: bold, defiant and a bit troubled. My friend – we’ll call him “Johann”, with quote marks like in Stasi reports, though that was not his name – made all his own clothes.

East German clothes were a bit of a joke, both among westerners and people from other Ostbloc countries. East German shoes, in particular, were the object of ridicule from Vladivostok to Vienna.

It was a highly sensitive topic for “DDR Bürger”, as the regime relentlessly styled its citizens. I remember the utter shock I felt when I learnt that the West German language assistant at St Andrews University had greeted East German exchange … Read More »

The lure of Shakespeare Street

Posted on October 7th, by admin in Leipzig Affair. No Comments

A recent article in Die Zeit about portraits of abandoned buildings in Leipzig prompted me to unearth some photos I took on Leipzig’s Shakespearestraße when I was studying at the Karl Marx University Leipzig back in 1986. The apartment buildings on Shakespearestraße were not abandoned exactly, but I was impressed by their advanced state of dilapidation.

There was something exhilarating about all that prime real estate being rented out at a pittance to old ladies and undesirable artists

For many years, I had several photos of Shakespearestraße pinned to the noticeboard by my desk. To me, they captured the romance of East Germany at that time. Beautiful, turn-of-the-century apartment buildings left gently to rot.

You could argue that was wrong. And it probably was. But to someone from Thatcher’s Britain there was something exhilarating about all that prime real estate being rented out at a pittance to old ladies and undesirable artists.

I discovered the area around Shakespearestraße by chance when I was wandering one day near Tarostraße (named after war photographer Gerda Taro) where I lived in a student residence in a modern building. I had taken a rough path by the railway tracks that led to the Bayerischer Bahnhof. After … Read More »

The Leipzig Affair

Posted on May 30th, by admin in Books. Comments Off on The Leipzig Affair

“You stare at the photograph. You wonder if you recognise the girl in the picture. Yes and no.”

“A gripping, complex debut” Zoë Strachan

“Will resonate loud and clear with anyone conscious of the dangers of CCTV culture in modern Britain” Rodge Glass

“Kept me hooked right to the end” Linda Leatherbarrow

“A story of betrayal only partly redeemed by love, by an author who hauntingly evokes the milieu” Jonathan Falla

The year is 1985. East Germany is in the grip of communism. Magda, a brilliant but disillusioned young linguist, is desperate to flee to the West. When a black market deal brings her into contact with Robert, a young Scot studying at Leipzig University, she sees a way to realise her escape plans. But as Robert falls in love with her, he stumbles into a complex world of shifting half-truths – one that will undo them both.

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Leipzig book fair 2012

Posted on June 22nd, by admin in Travels from Tinseltown. 1 Comment

Enriching, democratic and mobbed: the Leipziger Buchmesse, which takes place in March in Leipzig’s spectacular glass and steel Messehalle, is not to be missed. I travelled there with a group that included translators from England, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Scotland and Sweden. Our first appointment was at LesArt, a seemingly unique facility that uses innovative tools to interest children in reading. As LesArt’s director, Sabine Mähne, told us about overnight reading parties, trips to Berlin landmarks that feature in novels and reading groups that were so much fun they endured beyond childhood, I think we all wished we’d lived in LesArt’s catchment area when we were children.

The discussion quickly turned to the translation of books for children and young people. If the amount of literature translated into English is low overall – estimates suggest that only 3% of new titles released annually in Britain are translated works – it’s even lower in the children’s market, and the share going to German books is pitiful.

Publishers put up all kinds of obstacles apparently, citing cultural differences even when it comes to the drawings that appeal to young children. It seems a great shame to miss the opportunity to introduce children … Read More »

The Stasi Are Among Us

Posted on February 23rd, by admin in Projects. Comments Off on The Stasi Are Among Us

The Stasi Are Among Us was a 2011 collaboration between the Glasgow Film Festival and the University of Edinburgh organised by Susan Kemp in conjunction with Laura Bradley and Fiona Rintoul. It explored the very different experiences of four filmmakers who worked under the watchful gaze of the Stasi, the unpredictable East German censor.

During the two-day event, five films made by the East German film studio DEFA but later banned were screened at the Centre for Contemporary Art in Glasgow alongside a 2009 documentary about alternative East German culture entitled Claiming space: staging independent exhibitions in the GDR (Behauptung des Raumes: Wege unabhängiger Ausstellungskultur in der DDR). The film directors took part in panel discussions, and two East German writers, Gabriele Stötzer and Johannes Jansen, whose work had been translated and published in Glasgow-based Gutter magazine to coincide with the event read at a closing party.