Educating, Not Simply Reminding: 30 Years of the P. Kirchheim-Verlag in Munich
The Beatles are to be found alongside Moby and books about the Holocaust sit side by side with Bret Easton Ellis, with old editions of encyclopaedias nestled somewhere in amongst them: a period apartment in the centre of Munich, piled to the rafters with books, CDs and films, is both Peter Kirchheim's home and the headquarters of his publishing house. A room adjacent to the living room has been set up as an office, and it is from here that Peter Kirchheim runs his business. This requires nothing more than a telephone. In today's era of digital technology and short communication channels, he says, it is pretty much irrelevant where you actually are. His central distribution warehouse is located in Leipzig, while his website is designed by his eldest son in Berlin. His typesetter, with whom he has worked for many years, moved away from Munich long ago, and in any case, as he explains, it is best to have the printing done abroad. This is the sort of business organization and the sort of attitudes one might well expect in young, independent publishing houses, yet the P. Kirchheim-Verlag has been around for 30 years.
It all started with Achternbusch and bioenergetics
| Bioenergetik für Jeden|
Kirchheim, who not only completed an apprenticeship in bookselling, but also did a degree in German literature and Romance studies, gained work experience in an art dealer's and worked on a voluntary basis at Piper, had shortly before opened a book shop in Gauting near Munich. "Right from the first year, we also organized readings – I felt it was important to take a more hands-on approach to literature. Strangely enough though, this never prompted people to link the books to the publishing house", says Kirchheim, "but this was no doubt partly due to the fact that we had arranged the publishing house and book shop as separate business entities from the outset. This was because we realized that the book shop could provide a reliable living, while the publishing house couldn't. To give the publishing house a sound financial foundation, however, we did a few rather successful books right at the beginning. One of these was a book by Alexander and Leslie Lowen entitled The Way to Vibrant Health (Bioenergetik für Jeden); the American edition of this book had already sold very well in our shop, so I was keen to get hold of the German rights to it as soon as possible. The other was a book by my friend Herbert Achternbusch. In publishing these two books, we also defined the directions in which we wanted to proceed – one scientific, the other literary." To date, Bioenergetik für Jeden is the most successful book published by the Kirchheim-Verlag: first published in 1978, the 14th edition is now on sale; for a while the licence was held by the Goldmann publishing company, which also sold three editions.
Focus on young authorsIn the 1970s, film-maker and author Herbert Achternbusch was still a young author. "My interest, both in publishing and personal terms, has remained focused on young authors", says Kirchheim, despite the fact that many, like Werner Fritsch and Helmut Krausser, later moved to larger publishers: "That only discouraged me temporarily." After all, there were always new young authors waiting to be discovered. The most recent of these was radio journalist Katja Huber, whose novel Fernwärme (i.e. district heating) – which is set in Russia – received a very broad and effusive reception and in 2006 won the Bavarian State Award for Fine Art in the literature category. Her second book, Reise nach Njetowa (i.e. journey to Nyetova), has just come out.
Peter Kirchheim is well-known and well-connected within literary circles in Munich and on the young German literature scene. Indeed, his relationship with those in charge at the Berlin publisher Verbrecher Verlag goes beyond simply being colleagues: "We have similar ideas about our publishing activities, and are interested in the same authors, also in political terms. This is why we decided to share a joint booth at this year's book fair in Leipzig." However, even without such cooperation with other publishers, Kirchheim is perfectly capable of coming up with a "jewel" for the book trade from time to time. For instance, he is the only person to have published three of Rosa Chacel's eight books in Germany – she is considered to be one of the most important Spanish writers of the 20th century. What is more, he has just brought out the third book by Gabriele Stötzer, who was regarded in East Germany as controversial and at the time was known under the name Gabriele Kachold – as well as publishing a book by Michael Pfeifer about the PISA study entitled Bildung auf Finnisch (i.e. education in Finnish) and No Man’s Land by Vietnamese author Duong Thu Huong. "Essentially, our range is just like that of any large publishing house", concedes Kirchheim. "I cannot get used to the idea of only publishing one type of material." At the same time, however, he does not believe in restricting himself to any particular specialties, as he has seen too many colleagues fail because of this over the years. He prefers to invest more money today into PR to boost awareness of his books. This may mean that he can't do ten books a year any more, but only four – but at least he will do those four properly.
"A question not only of reminding, but also of educating"For Peter Kirchheim, publishing books is not only a job but a mission, as he explains using the authors Stötzer and Huber by way of examples. He finds it annoying that "the book market is still extremely divided. I cannot get anyone over here interested in Gabriele Stötzer, yet in the states of the former East Germany it is like preaching to the converted. At the same time, there is no point in trying to sell Katja Huber over there – despite her focus on Russia it is only the West that is interested in this type of literature. To this extent publishing is certainly a political activity, as it is a question not only of reminding but also of educating."
is a literary editor for the Hanover magazine STADTKIND who regularly writes on contemporary fiction for a variety of media.
Translation: Chris Cave
Copyright: Goethe-Institut, Online-Redaktion
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