Thees Uhlmann in the Netherlands14 november 2016
Gastblog van Thees Uhlmann
Only one year after my first novel was released in Germany my book has really been translated into Dutch and I am really invited to Den Haag to the Crossing Border Festival. I have been making rock music with German lyrics for the last 18 years and so I was only playing in the region between Flensburg and Graz – from the north of Germany to the south of Austria. I love singing in German, but going abroad with my art is a wonderful, holy thing.
I was booked on a flight from Berlin to Amsterdam but now I regret that I did not decide to take the train so the process of going to the Netherlands would have taken longer. To enjoy the ride of going somewhere. I meet my manager Rainer at the airport. The only things we don’t do together are share a bedroom and talk about the weather. Besides that we share everything. A friend of mine once said: ‘Thees, your wife is called Rainer!’ and I liked that.
We get picked up from the airport by Juliette and Saskia and they are just as we Germans imagine people from the Netherlands would be. They are dressed like famous Swedish designers, are eloquent as Obama’s speech writers, and of course they understand German near perfect and know double the English vocabulary. And they are just wonderful from the first moment on.
We drive to Den Haag and I love that it looks just like where I was born in Northern Lower Saxony. We check into the hotel, I get my festival tickets and I say to Rainer: ‘Look where this little book of ours has brought us, all the way to the Netherlands!’ And Rainer replies as always: ‘Thanks so much.’ And I say: ‘De rien!’ – because we are Europhile idiots.
We go to the offical ‘get together’ of the Crossing Border Festival and meet a lot of people from Signatuur. I get a white wine and a beer and then again a white wine. Because I am very nervous I go outside to smoke a cigarette. I neither smoke because of the taste, nor because I am an artist who wants to show that he’s an artist. I smoke because it is the only border I like. It is like a little fence around my insecurity and my joy of being here. A girl from Signatuur approaches me and asks: ‘Can you give me a cigarette? Officially I don’t smoke but I really want to smoke now.’ People here are very nice. Nice and honest.
A guy approaches the stage and says it’s hard to sell literature. Even harder if you have one hour, 5 writers and a half drunken audience. So he comes up with the rule: each writer gets one question, 5 minutes of talking and then it’s someone else’s turn. We have the best of times. If I would be in charge, the guy on stage could move to Germany right now and be the next Rudi Carell, the one showmaster I loved so dear. The first author is from the U.S. and has a voice like the younger brother of Johnny Cash. I asked around and everybody in the room felt the same. Rainer sat on the floor to check his e-mails but he got up to see who the guy with THE VOICE was. After that a guy comes on stage who complains that everything is in English but I am really grateful that everything is in English. Therefore the guy from the U.S. can understand everything. Up next is Kat Kaufmann and she wrote a novel about how strange it is to be a perfect musician who just plays jazz standards at hotel lobbies. I feel ashamed because I play a minor and C major most of the time and I go outside to smoke.
We have dinner with the Signatuur crew and I remember I got into a fight with my 9-year-old daughter the other day. She said: ‘You don’t work! You just hang around!’ and I said: ‘Yes, I don’t go to work. And if I have one good idea while I hang around, we can live of that!’ My work this weekend is drinking free drinks, talking to nice people and eating food that is paid for by others. The only real work is getting interviewed for 20 minutes. And this is not work because: what could be greater than being interviewed in Den Haag because your very own book is translated into Dutch? I have to tell this to my 9-year-old, because then we can laugh about our argument.
I get to know the guy who translated my book. His name is Herman. It is strange to talk to a man you don’t know but who has spent days and weeks with your words and choice of words. This is so good I think I get an ochtenderectie. I also get to know the founder of the Crossing Border Festival. He has been doing art stuff for a very long time. It turns out that he has a letter from Charles Bukowski in which he explains why he can’t come to the Netherlands to read at a literature festival. Explanation: he hates other authors. How Bukowski can you get? And from now on I can say that I know a person who has a letter from Charles Bukowski at home. This makes me nervous – I have to smoke.
The next day is the same. Just without work. I didn’t make it to a FEBO, it was raining too hard. I have a good reason to return next year.
Thank you, Crossing Border Festival! Thanks for the translation, Herman! And thanks for putting out my book in the Netherlands. If anybody is interested in watching me smoke a cigarette after a lecture- feel free to get in touch.
Sincerely yours, Thees Uhlmann