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Artist Residencies: “That’s Unknown Territory Out There”

Lucy FrickeCopyright: Lucy Fricke
The Heian Jingu shrine in Kyoto (Photo: Lucy Fricke)

21 March 2012

“A chap who goes a’travelin’ can tell you many a tale,” wrote Matthias Claudius, and they can also write about them. That is why the Goethe-Institut regularly sends writers on journeys to places like Kyoto, Sarajevo, and Tampere. We interviewed the writers Lucy Fricke, Marion Poschmann and Dieter M. Gräf after they returned from these cities.

What were your expectations when you boarded the plane to Kyoto, Sarajevo, and Tampere?

Fricke: My flight was very particular. The aeroplane from Frankfurt to Osaka was only half-full, the aircraft was the most ramshackle I’d ever seen. Cables were hanging out of the armrests, and the casings had fallen down in the toilets. I thought they must plan to scrap it after the flight. Yet, due to the circumstances – it was only a few weeks after Fukushima – I was glad to finally be on the plane. Finally peace, finally no more questions, and no more “Are you mad? Stay here!”

Poschmann: I was a little excited at first. But when they served crisp bread on the flight to Finland, I very quickly had the feeling I was headed in the right direction.

What were your residency lodgings like?

Gräf: Mine was beige and brown and there were bullet holes all round.

Bullet holes?

Gräf: Yes, from the years of the siege; the aftermath of the war is can still be seen and felt in the city, for example the so-called roses. Those are spots in the plaster where a grenade killed a person that have been filled with wax.

Copyright: Dieter M. Gräf
Wax-filled grenade holes in Sarajevo (Photo: Dieter M. Gräf)


Poschmann: I was housed on the top floor of a wonderful Jugendstil building with a direct view of the central square. It was once the home of the Finnish painter Hugo Simberg, whose works I became familiar with in Finland. The flat was now divided. A German artist was living in the other half.

For you it was quite different, Lucy. You were alone in Villa Kamogawa.

Fricke: First it seemed strange to me to be all alone in the big flat. In the evening, I tiptoed through the three empty rooms. Everything was still new and untouched. You’re afraid to be the first one to leave a scratch. So I moved very carefully through the rooms, very Japanese.

But, I hope you went out to take notes and pictures?

Gräf: I think we three have one thing in common: we all took photographs in our towns.

Are you using the photographs to remind you of things for your writing?

Fricke: Not really. In Kyoto I kept trying to work on my novel, but in the end all I managed were notes. Otherwise I wrote a sort of journal once a week; a column for a Berlin newspaper.

Did being abroad change your work rhythm?

Poschmann: I was torn between the work on my novel that I intended to do and exploring the city and the country.

Copyright: Marion Poschmann
View of the lake Pyhäjärvi in Tampere (Photo: Marion Poschmann)


Did you feel guilty whenever you sat down at your desk? You could have done that in Germany, too, though.

Poschmann: I wanted to use the time well in every respect. But, sure, something always had to suffer.

Gräf: My aim was to collect as many impressions as possible. When I returned, I wrote three poems about Sarajevo and Mostar. As a poet, I don’t have a fixed working rhythm – neither in Sarajevo nor at home.

Fricke: I have been searching for my work rhythm for about ten years – it all depends on the situation. Overseas, you sit at your desk, look out the window, and think, that’s unknown territory out there. That gets you away from the desk.

Did you experience something that you can’t get out of your head?

Gräf: My most impressive encounter was that with the writer Dževad Karahasan. I read two of his books while I was in Sarajevo. I admire how familiar he is with western discourse and how Oriental his love of storytelling can be. In this respect he personifies the advantages of his home city. I got to love the actually manageable city more and more, the simplicity of its lovely mosques; I repeatedly passed through the same places, but that didn’t make them stale; it brought them to life. I also came to realize how threatened the people must have felt in the 1990s. Every time I crossed the street and could see the mountains, I became aware that I could be seen from up there. That would have meant a clear shot. When I walked up to the Jewish cemetery from where the shelling of Sarajevo began, I discovered my supermarket.

Copyright: Gitte Zschoch
Writers Poschmann, Gräf and Fricke at the Leipzig Book Fair talking with Arne Schneider and Klaus-Dieter Lehmann (third and fourth from the left) from the Goethe-Institut (Photo: Gitte Zschoch)


Fricke: During my sixth or seventh week, I spent a wonderful evening at a club in Kyoto. Three independent bands were playing. I knew some of the musicians, but that evening I knew half of the club visitors. Almost everyone I had met in the previous weeks was there. After the concerts, we had a meal in the same club and an at-home feeling came over me. That made me very happy; the evening was a sort of turning point for me. I had arrived.

Poschmann: One of the best experiences of my residency also had something to do with dancing. I was at a tango club, which was so touching because, as one might expect, there were very many older people dancing. At an unusual hour; in the afternoon from about one until three-thirty.

Were you asked to dance?

Poschmann: I managed to stay on the sidelines.

What other place would you like to stay in for a while to live and write?

Gräf: Japan!

Fricke: Really?

Gräf: Yes, we can learn so much from the Japanese aesthetic. I love the stillness of its concentrates, an idea of perfection that includes the cult of the imperfect. That traces of use are more appreciated than the smoothness of new goods and that arranging flowers or drinking tea can be ways to contribute to an enlightened society.

Poschmann: I’m intrigued by St. Petersburg. The city is close to Finland. I went there by train on my return journey from Helsinki and would have liked to stay longer.

Fricke: Shanghai, I think. I simply cannot imagine that city. But, for now I’m returning to Kyoto again, that really was the result. I had this subtle desire, was offered a flat by friends, and went for it.

The interview was held by Martin Bruch and Jennifer Endro


Residency programmes have long been an important element of the cultural work of the Goethe-Institut. They enable artists to live and work in a different country for a time and thus promote intercultural dialogue. For example, the 37-year old writer Lucy Fricke (Ich habe Freunde mitgebracht, 2010) moved into Villa Kamogawa last year. The native of Hamburg was the first scholarship holder in the new residency in Kyoto. For the 50-year town twinning partnership between Essen and Tampere, Marion Poschmann (Geistersehen, 2010) went to Finland as a writer-in-residence. The 43-year old author was born in Essen. And the 51-year old poet Dieter M. Gräf (Buch VIER, 2008) spent four weeks in Sarajevo. By the way, applications for a scholarship for next year in Villa Kamogawa are being accepted until 30 April.
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