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The German soccer team Autonama
Soccer mad writersImage: Norbert Kron

Soccer poets

November 24, 2011

National soccer teams consisting of writers exist in numerous countries. They are kicking it in Italy, Finland, Sweden, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and - of course - in Germany where they have been at it since 2005.


We're at an ordinary soccer field in the heart of Berlin. Astroturf and floodlights. And a team training out on the field.

It's nothing special.

But the people kicking the ball here are not your standard soccer players. They are members of Autonama - the German national writers' team.

"We train once a week and try to play a friendly game against teams in our age group every two weeks. Sometimes, shortly before bigger tournaments, we organize training camps, too," says Frank Willmann, leaving the field for a quick break to catch his breath. "I've been part of this from the very beginning - when we were kicking around at a children's playground."

Frank Willmann has written several books on soccer, including one about hooligans in the Germany.

But it's not only non-fiction authors who are in the team. It's also poets, novelists and dramatists. So what drives these notorious "paper pushers" onto the soccer field every Monday?

The desire for a huge audience

"I believe people in the arts and literature crave for glorious moments and an inability to plan," says Moritz Rinke.

Two men on the soccer green
The German national team started in 2005Image: Norbert Kron

The well-known dramatist is the author of books such as "The blue whale in the cherry orchard" and "The man who fell through the century."

"When you play soccer and the ball is thrown in it sets off a randomness that you don't have in literature," says Rinke. "In literature, you polish every sentence to its very end. But soccer has more in common with Italian Opera - the audience is electrified. And we, of course, as authors, would love a huge audience."

Thomas Brussig initiated the authors' national team in 2005. It has become much more than just a night out for a wild bunch of poets.

Before their international matches, they train with Bundesliga professionals like Hans Mayer. And it has paid off.

They have mastered the famous back four formation and German head coach Joachim Löw's favorite - how to keep changing the speed of the game.

But there is more to it than winning and losing, says Norbert Kron, author of the novel "Autopilot."

"The best thing about the game is that it's a chance to meet writers outside of academic panel discussions and lectures," says Kron. "Witnessing a person playing soccer - whether they're Israeli, Swedish, or Italian - is such a personal encounter and it gives you a better understanding of their work and yours."

"It's also about us writers building bridges with other countries through soccer," he says.

Memories of the great game

Autonama is a successful team - as seen in matches against Italy, Sweden and Saudi Arabia.

But one encounter that is especially dear to the players' hearts.

Former trainer Jörg Berger with players in the locker room
Former trainer Jörg Berger in the authors' locker roomImage: Norbert Kron

"We invited the Israeli authors' national team to Berlin," says Rinke.

"They entered the Olympic arena while the Israeli anthem was playing and it was hard to find the words to describe what it must have meant for those authors, whose grandfathers had been killed at concentration camps in Nazi Germany - walking onto the pitch like that. But soccer has helped us build bridges for the third generation."

It has also helped inspire collaborative work.

"By playing soccer together we have also developed ideas for joint anthologies," says Norbert Kron.

With a twinkle in his eyes, Moritz Rinke describes the experience as a beautiful interplay.

"We get to play in beautiful stadiums, on beautiful grass and in front of a big crowds, and in return we offer lectures and new translations. And the German Football Association gets to say: Literature kicked it off!"

Author: Mirko Schwanitz /sst
Editor: Zulfikar Abbany

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