Literature house Lettrétage Innovative Literature in a Wilhelminian Villa

The Wilhelminian Villa of the independent Literature House Lettrétage in Berlin, photo: Beek100 (Wikimedia)  CC-BY-SA
The Wilhelminian Villa of the independent Literature House Lettrétage in Berlin | Photo (detail): Beek100 (Wikimedia) CC-BY-SA

Whether in Berlin’s pubs or in traditional “literature houses”, the literary scene in Berlin has innumerable reading stages. A very special venue for young literature is the independent literature house Lettrétage in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg.

A small round table, a glass of water, a man wearing a jacket and rather striking glasses with black frames opens a book and begins to read aloud. The audience in the fully occupied rows of chairs watches him attentively. We are in what must be one of Berlin’s loveliest living-rooms in which several times a month writers present their texts. Today the well-known author David Wagner is reading from his new collection of short stories Welche Farbe hat Berlin?(What Colour Is Berlin?). The audience this evening is the usual colourful mixture: everyone is there from the young, leftish-looking German-studies student to the older fellow from the ‘68 generation with his round John Lennon glasses. For six years now exceptional readings have been taking place in the salon atmosphere of the young literature house Lettrétage.

Literature on a level playing field

In a cultural stronghold like Berlin countless literary events are on offer every day. At one end of the spectrum are traditional, intellectually demanding readings by the authors themselves, such as those, for example, which the Literarische Colloquium, located in the prestigious residential district near the Wannsee, has been organising for the past 50 years. At the other end, alongside these traditional literature house, reading stages and poetry slams have secured a prime position in Berlin’s cultural life. Here authors, usually inexperienced ones, tell the pub audience entertaining anecdotes from their everyday lives in a pithy, compact form. The Lettrétage hovers somewhere between traditional literature house and pub reading stage. It takes literature seriously, whereby it also wishes to give opportunities to young, not yet established literary voices and, not least, to be open for linguistic experiments. There should be no great distance between author and audience. “Literature on a level playing field” is the motto that perhaps best describes the event concept of the Lettrétage.

In September 2006 Moritz Malsch, Tom Bresemann and Katharina Deloglu established this special venue for young literature. “Actually we had the rooms first. And then came the idea with the readings,” says Moritz Malsch. No wonder that the founders of the Lettrétage immediately succumbed to the charm of this enchanting Wilhelminian villa! The salon-like reading room, with the ambience of a living-room, is just perfect for evenings in a cosy atmosphere where both writers and their listeners feel at ease. Only a few rows of seats separate the visitor from the author who is reading to them. Inevitably there is an intimate atmosphere, almost like a family gathering, which is really hard to resist.

Literary quality instead of mainstream

Although the Lettrétage is financed mainly by ticket sales, the expected turnover is not the decisive factor when planning the programme. Literary quality should never be disregarded, and moreover, as Tom Bresemann says, there are many other venues for bestseller authors in Berlin. Together with the income from ticket sales, the Lettrétage finances itself by means of donations, project subsidies and the eponymous association Lettrétage e. V. The organisers work in an honorary capacity. On average six events a month can thus take place in the Lettrétage – book premieres, publishers’ evenings, presentations of authors’ projects or literary journals, meetings and conferences. The events, says Malsch, are targeted at a particular audience that is open for literary experiments. “A well thought-out programme will normally finds its audience. You never know exactly how many people will turn up in the end.”

Openness and literary diversity

The programme of the Lettrétage is for the most part clearly influenced by the personal preferences of the team. Tom Bresemann, himself the author of two volumes of poetry, likes to invite poets such as Nora Bossong and Jan Wagner to the literary salon in Kreuzberg. The actor and long-term Lettrétage team-member Denis Abrahams reads literary classics such as Dickens, Wilde and Chekhov. Moritz Malsch, freelance translator, is currently organising the project Schriftproben(Writing Samples), for which ten young authors from the five Nordic countries will travel to Berlin (30.8. to 6.9. 2012). Katharina Deloglu is above all a lover of literature from Spanish-language authors. This finds expression in the programme section Spanish-Language Literature which she has established in the Lettrétage.

In autumn last year she organised an unusual conference entitled Literarische Brennpunkte: Mikrotexte aus Lateinamerika und Europa” in which Argentine, Spanish and German-language authors devoted themselves over a whole weekend to microrrelatos. These micro-narratives, that tell a story in very compact form, are still virtually unknown in the German-language realm. Here the organisers of the Lettrétage testified once again to their openness for linguistic experiments and their instinct for young, innovative literature.