Sunday, July 22, 2018

StadtLesen 2018

Every second year in July Freiburg’s sister city committees are invited to read the literature of their respective partner cities or countries at an outdoor event called StadtLesen. The reading takes place downtown Freiburg at the Kartoffelmarkt (potato market).


Two years ago Red Baron read Mark Twain’s “Über die schreckliche deutsche Sprache” and wrote a blog about “The Awful German Language”.

The leisurely ambiance at the Kartoffelmarkt (©Stadtbibliothek)
Although a meticulous search revealed some modern Madison lyrics the Freiburg-Madison-Gesellschaft (FMG) decided to read Mark Twain again this year. Mind you, on Kartoffelmarkt listeners lounging in seat cushions are expecting to be entertained.

So we choose “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine”, a fairy tale Mark Twain had told his daughters while he was in Paris in 1879 and of which he jotted down some notes. These notes were discovered in 2011 at the library of the University of California, Berkeley. “Co-author” Philip Stead used Twain’s notes to compose a full story.


In the run-up, Red Baron bought the English book and its German translation “Das Verschwinden des Prinzen Oleomargarine” to be read. The story is structured into the fairy tale proper and lengthy disputes between Mark Twain and Philip Stead about the direction the story should take. Therefore the text lends itself to be read by two people.

Suddenly I was stuck. My attempts to find a co-reader possibly an American reading out the fairy tale in German thus giving the presentation a certain touch failed. But the FMG can count on the help of friends. Margret Igel from the Carl-Schurz-Haus was so kind to read the main part of  “Das Verschwinden des Prinzen Oleomargarine” while I took on the conversation between Mark Twain and Philip Stead.

When we arrived at the Kartoffelmarkt thunderclouds threatened. We were told that the reading had been rescheduled at the lower floor of the municipal library. While we were walking the three minutes to Münsterplatz it started to rain.

At the library, we were welcomed by Ms. Türke, the director, and two and a half listeners. Disaster! People who had intended to attend* a lazy summer reading lounging in seat cushions on a warm evening did not show up for an indoor reading on wooden chairs.
*I had a couple of positive feedbacks

We nevertheless did our duty. Following my introduction, fabulous Margret took over while I interrupted her from time to time with the Twain-Stead dialog.

I do not intend to tell you the story in detail. Johnny, a rural boy without luck living in an unnamed country has only one companion, a chicken named Pestilence and Famine. Later in the story with the magic of a fairy, he understands the animal language. The animals become his friends and they help him to find the purloined Prince Oleomargarine.

Philip Stead wrote the book in 2017. So allusions to the present political situation are not accidental.

Following our reading, Margret presents the English book richly illustrated by Philip Stead’s sister Erin.
Thank you again, Margret, for helping out the FMG and reading like a pro. In the end, I donated my copies of  “Das Verschwinden des Prinzen Oleomargarine” to the municipal library and “The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine” to the library of the Carl-Schurz-Haus.

Freiburgers, if you want the read the full story as well as the story behind the story visit the municipal library for the German translation and the Carl-Schurz-Haus for the original.

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