Hamburg, whilst it is the second largest city in Germany, is not the city most artists visit, if they happen to visit Germany at all. Berlin, Munich and perhaps Frankfurt or Cologne is where they go. But rarely, they do decide to venture off the usual itinerary and that’s what happened last night when Neil Gaiman paid a visit to the Literaturhaus in Hamburg to promote the release of the German translation of his novel The Ocean At The End Of The Lane.
I had seen Neil Gaiman do a reading in Sydney about 5 years prior. There was over 100 people packed into a bookstore hanging on every word he said. Neil is one of those rare authors who can not only write amazing books but can narrate them as well. His voice is like liquid chocolate, the only disappointment being when he stops. On that visit to Sydney, I was way too nervous to get a book signed by him. I have fears of saying really stupid shit to people that I admire. However, I wasn’t going to let my fears get the better of me this time.
Neil’s appearance at the Literaturhaus was in a way the same as any author event. There was a moderator asking questions, the author answering them and then the author reading some of their promoted book to the audience. However, with the visit to the Literaturhaus, there was an extra twist. It was assumed that whilst some of the people in the audience might speak English, all of them could speak German so the event was bilingual. The moderator asked Neil questions in English and Neil answered them in his typical storytelling way and then the moderator tried to paraphrase what Neil had said in German. Quite a few details got lost in translation and the moderator added some of her own, but it worked for the most part. The only drawback is that we didn’t get to hear Neil read very much as most of the reading was done by the man who had translated The Ocean At The End of The Lane into German. This, of course, made sense, but given that I could listen to Neil read for hours on end, I would have liked to have heard him read more and the translator read less.
What was wonderful about the Literaturhaus event was the numbers were limited, perhaps just slightly over 50 people there. This made the event feel very intimate and it also meant that the line to get a book signed was not very long. Neil was kind and gracious with every single person getting a book signed, taking the time to have an actual conversion with them. The two girls before me had a discussion about the current Doctor Who series and I in a rare moment of not embarrassing myself completely admitted that I had chickened out of meeting him in Sydney 5 years prior and he asked me lots of wonderful questions about why I was in Germany and how I was finding learning German whilst he signed my copy of Neverwhere.
Now that I know that English language authors do indeed visit Hamburg from time to time, I’m going to keep a lookout to see if any of my other favourite authors decide to pay us visit. I’m also going to hold out hope that Neil Gaiman will return to Hamburg in the future cause I have quite a number of his books that I would love to get signed.