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Book Launch: Bread and Rose— Berlin Stories, the Chinese Version of Berlin

On May 27th, Slovenian poet and prose writer Aleš Šteger launched the Chinese version of Berlin at the Shanghai Yanjiyou Bookstore to share his creative experience with readers.

The Chinese version of Berlin is published by East China Normal University Press and includes Steger’s many years of essays, prose, poetry and photography. “Bread and Rose” in the book’s Chinese name derives from a restaurant in Berlin. Steger combines his experience in Berlin to imagine, and adds the stories of poets, writers and thinkers such as Pessoa and Bachmann who once lived in Berlin. The permeation of sensibility and ideology in the work reveals a world vision. It has modern language style of irony and humor and broad themes. It is a book of wandering that is full of intricate details and a book of tribute to great literary figures.    

For born in the border zone of Slovenia and Austria, Steger crosses the border only for half an hour, and speaks both Slovenian, his country’s language and German, so he is more likely to accept German culture and tries to translate poetry into German version. In this way he trains his language creation ability. Before writing this book, Steger was in Berlin for one and half years. He would not want to write such a book about Berlin. The whole writing experience was terrible for him because he wrote not only the beauty of Berlin, but also the history of Berlin. He traveled through the streets and alleys of Berlin to write some stories, which was actually a spiritual journey.

Berlin has a large area with the population of only 3 million. It was once occupied by two countries with two different systems: East Germany and West Germany, which permeated the memory of destroyed homes. For example, Steger stated that there was a place called “stumbling blocks” in Berlin. Stones were engraved with the names of the Jews who were sent to the concentration camp by the Nazis. Therefore, Berlin is a place where contradictions coexist. Meanwhile, another life is presented. Many different people gather in Berlin to revel, make fun or reopen new life. Especially we can see many possibilities from a group of crazy young people. Steger said that in Berlin, there were a lot of empty apartments with low rents or even being free, which was also a temptation for young people. They can create the life they want in Berlin.

Steger admitted that there were his own photographic illustrations in this new book, because once he discovered he lost some manuscripts and added photos in this book. The illustrations showed the artistic feelings rather than notes of stories. A friend asked why you did not write your own homeland but Berlin. He responded that every city had its own city language. People who were in a city for a long time, were not sensitive to it. When a person came into an unfamiliar city, he could get its unique perceptions from small details at the first glance. He also mentioned that he specially bought a suit on a Shanghai store to attend the book launch. However, in Berlin, many people din’t pay attention to their dressings and looked scruffy unlike Shanghai people. People in Shanghai wore well. He thinks everyone has different feelings to different cities. The history reflected by big cities can make people see their future direction.

Steger mentioned that for the official language of Slovenia was a minor language, Slovenia bore considerable external pressure. The Slovenian government tried to preserve his national language through songs and books. Now all countries are promoting large languages. He has been eager to read North American novels since he was a child. But he knows different languages have different ways to treat the world. He suggested that Chinese readers should read books in different languages so that they could get more knowledge to learn the world.

 Steger said, after the publishment, this book was defined as prose or poem, which once caused arguments, so he made a new word “poetic prose”. This exactly coincides with a poetic theory of Chinese poet, Zang Di: to search the prose in the poetry. Two poets from different countries hold the same view on language exploration.