March 30, 2009

Affordable Berlin, the new writer’s haven


The lit haus, one of Berlin's more upscale literary hangouts

The Literaturhaus, one of Berlin's more upscale literary hangouts

“A New York Times report notes that “the word has been out for more than a little while about the cavernous spaces available in Berlin for a seemingly ceremonial fee — even by the standards of crisis-chastened New York and London … that means ultracheap nooks for the aspiring authors who need room only for a laptop (or, in advanced cases of the writing bug, an antique typewriter) and a precarious stack of books.”

What’s more, says the TimesNicholas Kulish, “The teeming masses of authors are supported by a superstructure of foundations and grants and ubiquitous antiquariat (used-book stores) seemingly on every corner, not to mention the noble cultural villas, like the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin and the American Academy in Berlin, both on the same lovely lake — the Wannsee — near where the poet Heinrich von Kleist killed himself in 1811 after first shooting the incurably ill Henriette Vogel.”

While there’s even worse history than that in the air there, of course, Kulish notes there’s no attempt to hide it. “It is that history as much or more than the economics that appeals to writers,” he notes. German novelist Thomas Pletzinger tells him,  “Berlin openly tells stories and heavily breathes history on every street corner.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives