Writer-in-Residence for the Goethe-Institut Denmark Reykjavik, the City of Literature– Seen from Within

Adriana Altaras in Iceland
Adriana Altaras in Iceland | Photo: private

In cooperation with Reykjavik, the UNESCO City of Literature, the Goethe-Institut Denmark offers German authors the opportunity to spend two months in the capital of Iceland to write and to do research. The writers-in-residence document their experiences and impressions in Iceland on the blog Literaturstadt Reykjavik – von innen betrachtet (Reykjavik, the City of Literature– Seen from Within). Adriana Altaras wrote an exclusive blog entry for The Latest at Goethe.

I’ve never been a writer-in-residence, but I always wanted to be. Once I spent four weeks at Künstlerhaus Lukas in Ahrenshoop on the Baltic Sea, but that can’t really be considered a foreign country. Yet even during those four weeks back then I was more productive, as far as writing was concerned, than I am in Berlin during six months.

Off to Iceland!

The anticipation, excitement, the plans and fears are huge. I pack my travel guide, thermals and gifts as, of course, I don’t want to arrive empty-handed.
It is spring when I depart from Berlin and winter when I arrive in Reykjavik. That’s bitter, but here, you need patience. I suddenly have much more time. Within a few hours, I realize, ‘Here, you’ll be decelerated, need to be self-reliant and have no friends in your hand luggage. But wasn’t that exactly what you wanted? Yes and no...'
 
Which kind of milk to get? Light blue, green or yellow packaging? Where can I find espresso? And who will ever exchange a word with me? No trees to be seen no matter where I take my daily run.
Six weeks are a terribly long time. Why on earth did I decide to travel to the end of the earth when my Italy is so beautiful?
 
The first days pass with organizing stuff and amazement. The flat is beautiful. I’m writing. My thoughts are freed from their old patterns.

Do I have to write as long as it’s light?

Am I a tourist or a little like a local? I get myself a season ticket to the swimming pool and a library card.
The buds are waiting for spring and so am I. Just don’t get homesick! Keep writing! The German ambassador invites me to dinner, treats me very kindly. That feels good. The ambassador’s wife is a communications whiz, giving me addresses and more addresses.
I write a blog, a somewhat one-sided form of conversation, but at least it is a way to sort through my experiences.

The land and the landscape begin to take effect.

Can hot springs, bubbling geysers and volcanoes fundamentally change a person? Are the new passages in my texts influenced by the hot pots? Probably. I am awakened by a small earthquake: welcome to Iceland!
I travel around; see glacier lakes, seals and steaming mountains and black earth over and over again. I am thrilled by this rugged, bizarre region. I watch movies, read books by and about Icelanders.
Not so long ago they were a small, desperately poor people, rarely visited by strangers, never by Jews... The inspect me carefully and I them.
Reykjavik’s tranquillity summons one to write Reykjavik’s tranquillity summons one to write | Photo: Ariana Altaras After three weeks it’s half-time and by now I’ve met a few great Icelanders. We occasionally go out for coffee or a beer and laugh a lot. Ah-ha, our senses of humour have more in common than our landscapes, not to mention the temperatures.

I bombard them with questions; we go to the cinema and to the theatre. They invite me to their homes, they love my gifts and I love their food. At the same time I begin enjoying the time and tranquillity I have for my work. ‘How will it be back in hectic Berlin?’ I think for the first time and notice that the buds have begun to open. By gosh, spring is arriving in Iceland! And I only have three weeks left...