their reading

Falko Reads Lenin, Gregor Reads Faust: Martin Scharfe on “volkslesen.tv”

Screenshot von volkslesen.tv; © volkslesen.tvScreenshot of volkslesen.tv; © volkslesen.tvIn Search of readers, Martin Scharfe, founder and organiser of the platform Volkslesen.tv (i.e., Popular Reading.tv), travels the length and breadth of Berlin with his video camera – and thereby gets to know both people and books. He explains his purpose in an interview with Goethe de.

Vicars read, Hindus read, homeless people, the elderly, taxi drivers, philharmonic musicians, blind people and molecular geneticists read: week after week on the website volkslesen.tv, three to four representatives of a group recite passages from their favourite books.

Martin Scharfe; © privatIn an interview, Martin Scharfe, founder and organiser of the platform, talks about his tours through Berlin with a video camera, about reading preferences and amateur reciters – and about Kafka’s The Castle, with which it all began.

Mr Scharfe, why is it pleasant to have something read to one?

A book in itself is something very beautiful. Then to have it read to you by another person to whom it’s important is the optimum bonding.

“The singers were especially good”

Why did you choose molecular geneticists of all people to read their favourite books in the 29th calendar week in 2010?

That was because of my curiosity. I’d just read in the paper an interesting article on molecular genetics and then rang up the Max Planck Institute.

Screenshot of volkslesen.tv; © volkslesen.tvSince the project began in 2008, very many different groups have read from their favourite books. Has there been a group that read better than average?

The singers were especially good. Singers have learned to train their voices, and for them the connection between voice and text is professionally very important.

The common reader

Have there been celebrity readers on volkslesen.tv?

Screenshot of volkslesen.tv; © volkslesen.tvMPs of various parties have read for us. Gregor Gysi is one of the best known. He choseFaust, the dungeon scene. Volkslesen.tv, however, isn’t really about celebrities but rather simply the man or woman who reads.

Does the choice of text betray something about the character of the reader?

Certainly! In a reading, you get pretty close to a person. At first I thought everyone would read from the detective story or latest bestseller that they’d read on holidays. Not a bit of it. The readers chose books that were close to their hearts, and therefore revealed a good deal about them.

Reading is individual

Do vicars particularly like to read detective novels and accountants love stories? Have you been able to make out specific reading preferences of individual groups?

Screenshot of volkslesen.tv; © volkslesen.tvNo, not really. I also thought I would eventually develop a feel for what people like to read. But not at all. It’s a surprise every time. Reading preferences are evidently something completely individual.

You travel the length and breadth of Berlin with your video camera to the individual readers ...

… but also to readers in Zurich and Vienna, Dubai and Nairobi, and most recently to Dessau. But it’s true most come from Berlin. My goal, however, is to break through regional specialisation. I’d like to gain readers from all over Germany and am looking for co-organisers in other cities.

Reading reflects society

Who is missing from your collection?

Screenshot von volkslesen.tv; © volkslesen.tvThere are infinitely many possibilities. There are so many different people, and each person could read in many different groups. With volkslesen.tv I want to paint a portrait of society and continually round it out.

The project will run as long as possible. It would be great if in 2040 you could look back on 2010 and see how people looked then, how they talked, and what was important to them.

Kafka in the white castle

How did you actually get the idea for volkslesen.tv?

A few years ago I was working in Zurich. There I had a good friend who owned a restaurant where I could always eat for free. On weekends, country or jazz bands would play there. My friend asked me if I wouldn’t sometimes give a reading. I didn’t really want to, but didn’t see how I could refuse.

The restaurant is called Das weiße Schloss (i.e., The White Castle), so I read from Kafka’s The Castle. It was really fun, and so I thought about what I could make out of reading. At a Christmas party, late at night, I told old friends about it, and one of them at once said: “Oh, then I’ll read Remarque’s, The Black Obelisk (Der schwarze Obelisk). Then Falko wanted to read Lenin and Udo the Old Testament and Bex Goethe, and so the idea was born.

How has volkslesen.tv gone done with the public?

Interest is increasing constantly; currently the website has 500 visitors a day. I think it would be good if the idea spread. Actually, there should be a volkslesen.tv in every country and in every language.

Verena Hütter
conducted the interview. She is a freelance writer and editor living in Munich.

. Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
December 2010

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