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26 new books will help Germany discover Lithuania’s culture

Lithuanian embassy in Berlin

When Lithuania and the other Baltic states first received special attention at the international Leipzig Book Fair in 1997, only 5 Lithuanian authors’ books published in German were presented. In 2017, there will be 26 books at the epicentre of this celebration, which attracts book gourmands from around the world. They will serve as 26 windows onto Lithuania’s cultural historical landscape, which will soon be celebrating its 100th anniversary, and 26 invitations for German readers to brighten and enrich their mental map of a country they share so much in common with.

“To be continued“/  “Fortsetzung folgt“ – this message will kick off Lithuania’s presentation as a guest of honour at the 2017 international Leipzig Book Fair. Lithuania’s program at the Leipzig Book Fair was presented to Leipzig and Berlin journalists last week to ensure that its story is heard.

Information about new books, their authors and the events that will be part of Lithuania’s cultural presentation program were all presented at the offices of MDR (Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk) in Leipzig. MDR is a public broadcaster that covers the federal territories of Thuringia, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt and is also part of the ARD. MDR consists of several TV channels and radio stations, and it also owns the MDR symphonic orchestra and several choirs. 15 cultural editors became interested in Lithuania’s program at Leipzig, and during the presentation, they became certain that our country’s cultural present is very different from the stereotypes that formed in Eastern Germany during the Soviet period.

More than 20 journalists from central newspapers, websites, radio stations and other media channels based in Germany’s capital attended a press conference at the Lithuanian embassy in Berlin. Lithuanian ambassador to Germany Deividas Matulionis, Leipzig Book Fair director Oliver Zille, and Lithuanian Culture Institute director Aušrinė Žilinskienė presented Lithuania’s program for the Leipzig Book Fair. Lithuanian literature translator Claudia Sinnig (her translations of work by Antanas Škėma, Tomas Venclova, Eugenijus Ališanka and Laurynas Katkus will be presented in Leipzig), A. Žilinskienė and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung journalist Reinhard Veser discussed the unique aspects of Lithuanian culture, its development and the view of Lithuanian culture to be displayed at the fair.

Journalists were interested in Sinnig’s claim that the Lithuanian language – one of a few surviving Indo-European languages – has always had a poetic power to it. She emphasised that the soft and exceptionally nuanced sound of the Lithuanian language and its variety of forms, typical of archaic languages, demand sensitivity and care from the translator. “The subtle, melodious and concrete Lithuanian language is a lyrical language par excellence,“ said Sinnig, one of Lithuania’s most active literary translators, as she shared her many years of insights.

German readers in Leipzig will be presented with modern literary classics like Antanas Škėma, Jurgis Kunčinas and Romualdas Granauskas as well as contemporary authors like Tomas Venclova, Undinė Radzevičiūtė, Eugenijus Ališanka, Alvydas Šlepikas, Rūta Šepetys, Giedra Radvilavičiūtė, Renata Šerelytė, Grigorijus Kanovičius, Kęstutis Navakas, Rimvydas Stankevičius, Mikalojus Vilutis, Laimonas Briedis, Kęstutis Kasparavičius and others. A collection of Lithuanian poetry will also be released, presenting work by Sigitas Parulskis, Antanas A. Jonynas, Giedrė Kazlauskaitė, Agnė Žagrakalytė, Gytis Norvila and Aivaras Veiknys.  These works were translated by Sinnig, Cornelius Hell, Markus Roduner, Saskia Drude, Magda Doering and other translators, who have become ambassadors of Lithuanian literature.

Historian Dr. Nerijus Šepetys and art researcher Dr. Giedrė Jankevičiūtė’s study covering the last century of Lithuanian cultural development is being written especially for the Leipzig Book Fair.

The new books will be presented at a 140 sq. m. national display. The Leipzig Book Fair will also feature a creative display being prepared together with the Vilnius Art Academy. There, various interactive creative activities will interpret the letter “ė,“ which is unique to the Lithuanian alphabet.

A broad cultural program has also been planned that emphasises Vilnius’ traditions as a multilingual, cosmopolitan city and explores Lithuania’s relationships with its Polish, Russian and German neighbours. Our country’s cultural links to Germany will also be at the centre of attention during Lithuania’s presentation at Leipzig, including the figures of Thomas Mann and Johannes Bobrowski and the cultural and historical legacy of Eastern Prussia.

There are about 50 events planned for the book fair and the Leipzig Reads (Leipzig liest) festival, including readings, discussions, and debates on relevant political issues.

Artūras Valiauga’s exhibition J. Bobrovskio Lietuva: abipus Nemuno, tarp Rytų ir Vakarų and photographer Ramunė Pigagaitė’s exhibition featuring portraits of writers will both be presented. Work by the Berliner Malerpoeten artists’ group (including Gunter Grass, Aldona Gustas and others), which was founded in the 1980s, and works by contemporary Lithuanian artists Laima Oržekauskienė, Monika Žaltauskienė Grašienė, Bronė Gideikaitė, Lina Jonikė, Inga Likšaitė and Almyra Weigel will share contexts at the Oxymorons contemporary art exhibition (curated by Virginija Vitkienė and John Colton). Fans of contemporary music will be interested in Arturas Bumsteinas’ Vargonų Safaris project (for this project, Bumsteinas collected audio and visual meterial from ten German cities) and Rūta Vitkauskaitė and Jens Hedman’s (Sweden) Confessions, a spatial opera performed in the dark (produced by Operomanija). The Lithuanian Film Centre will present a program on Lithuanian documentary films.

In addition, Vytautas Landsbergis, a musicologist, politician and expert on the creative work of Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, has also agreed to hold a grand piano concert in Leipzig.

A historic study of the gastronomic ties between Germany and Lithuania is also expected in Leipzig. In this study, historians Rimvydas Laužikas and Antanas Astrauskas will present the history of the migration of culinary ideas from the XVII until the XX centuries.