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Culture

World Literature Around the Clock

Berlin is sounding a lot like the Tower of Babel as the 2nd International Literature Festival gets underway with more than 100 authors from over 50 countries transforming the German capital into a literary hub.

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Calling on all literary buffs - the opening day

At a movie theatre in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg last week, a young blond Adonis jumped on to the stage before the Hollywood flick could begin.

Much to the audience’s surprise, he dragged a microphone with him, whipped out a piece of paper and began reading a poem by a famous Italian poet. After five soul-wrenching minutes, the German hunk mouthed a thank you and disappeared.

The stunned audience was then treated to a quick flash on the screen with the words, "2nd International Literature Festival".

Too much, too fast?

Innovation is definitely what this year’s festival is about. And maybe a bit of over-ambition too.

For there is no way the die-hard literary buff is going to be able to take in over 200 events at various venues crammed in the space of ten days.

Besides book readings, a host of artistic and musical happenings taking place on the sidelines of the festival in Berlin’s central Scheunenviertel district invite visitors to discover the historic area.

Under the title, "Poetry in the Scheunenviertel", verse and literature will be held in public spaces in co-operation with local cafés, restaurants, galleries, universities, publishing houses and theatres.

To the clink of wine glasses and exquisite appetizers, films, discussions, lectures, performances, exhibitions, parties and historic city tours will form part of the agenda. There is just so much to do, see and hear as the city pulsates to literature round the clock.

Are we in Babylonia?

The festival's 400-page catalogue is a virtual language almanac where a plethora of foreign names and tongues meet the eye.

The over 100 authors from more than 50 countries who have descended on the city include the Nobel Prize nominee Breyten Breytenbach from South Africa, the Italian best-selling author Alessandro Baricco, Asia Djebar from Algeria, Chilean Antonio Skarmeta, the acclaimed U.R. Anathamurthy from India, Edwar Al-Kharrat from Egypt and Brazilian children’s books author Anna Maria Machado.

But apart from the famous names, this year’s international jury has also selected authors and poets who are relatively unknown in Germany and Europe, and offered them a chance to introduce their works.

In keeping with the multicultural tone of the festival, the German entries include Croation-born Zoran Drvenkar, Sherko Fatah, a writer of Kurdish-German origin, and Henryk M. Broder, who was born in Katowice and is one of Germany’s most famous essayist.

Remembering Sept. 11

At the official opening ceremony at the Berliner Ensemble on Tuesday, the director and initiator of the festival, Ulrich Schreiber said that globalisation should be used to broaden horizons, enrich experiences and to enjoy different cultures.

Bosnian author Dzevad Karahasan held the opening lecture titled "literature as defence of our history". He emphasised that everything depends upon "whether we can save our culture from its fundamentalist ‘herders’ and whether we’ll have enough good literature".

The festival took on a meaningful note on the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States as such personalities as French philosopher Bernhard-Henri Levy, the Green politician Daniel Cohn-Bendit and German author Peter Schneider participated in a day-long symposium on the causes and consequences of the September 11 attacks.

Besides Sept. 11, authors and intellectuals also tackled other weighty issues as anti-Semitism, the Middle East conflict and Islam.

Passion for literature's enough

Getting the ambitious festival on its feet was no easy feat. With coffers in the city-state of Berlin facing a major cash-crunch, the festival, which is under the aegis of the German UNESCO commission, had to look elsewhere for the main bulk of financing. The list of sponsors is long, ranging from Albanian Airlines to Zapf Movers.

But it’s clear to all that more than the funds which barely suffice to cover the organisational costs, it’s the sheer enthusiasm for literature that will sustain the festival till September 21.

The 2nd International Literature Festival runs through Sept. 21, 2002

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