Pongo Estonica

I took a friend’s suggestion very literally when she mentioned during a little gathering with friends last spring, how important it is to always watch your back when you’re spending time in the Estonian forests. She said that she had developed a move that allowed her to keep picking chanterelle while watching over her shoulder. I wondered, what could possibly happen to you in an Estonian forest that required to stretch your body into such an odd position. Well, she said, that she wouldn’t want to run into one of the 700 brown bears that wander through the 2 million hectares of abundant forests in Estonia. I laughingly added, that you naturally wouldn’t want to lose you dear hand-picked chanterelle when running away, which she in turn explained dutifully to be the exact wrong thing to do when encountering a bear. Make yourself bigger than you really are, she said, scare-the-bear so to say. I noted her advice and came up with another reason, why you’d want to watch your back in the forest – you wouldn’t want to lose track of where you are. I’ve been told the story of an old lady, that went into the forest to pick mushrooms, but didn’t return for a couple of days until she surprisingly popped up healthy but a little confused on the side of a road. While gently cutting chanterelle, she had taken the occasional sip from a bottle, that she was still carrying around when she was found again.

A few weeks after this conversation I followed my friend’s advice when I decided to go to the forest. I just wanted to breath fresh air and drove off from the city. It was still quite cold, but sunny. When I got out of my car, I took my stuff (no bottles with suspicious liquids), turned on my GPS-Tracker and marked where I had parked my car. Google had helped me to find this place, from above it seemed like a great spot. A tiny river, loads of trees, few meadows and even fewer signs of people. From time to time I crossed a few narrow roads, jumping over small, muddy ponds induced by 4×4 wheels until I passed an abandoned wooden house. It must have been a cozy home one day; in the months before I had seen dozens of these kinds of houses with roofs fallen in and grass peeking through the empty windows. The setting was really romantic, but another friend recently told me that we’re romanticizing way too much. Life’s not romantic at all, he said, it’s full of hard decisions to take, not to mention the horror that we hear about from less peaceful areas. I also noted that advice and decided to keep the romance at a minimum when describing my adventures in the Estonian forest. By the way, there was still old hay in the house’s little barn and boxes full of moldy apples.

I could go on and on about what I saw that very day. About the trees and their branches reaching out to each other like in a dance, or the moist soil and soft moss covering everything the sun doesn’t reach. But there was one thing that truly made this trip exceptional. I would have never even hoped for such a discovery. At some point, I sat down on a stone next to the river, I wanted to rest, eat a bit and just pull in the intense green around me. Still I was everything but light-headed. I made sure to look over my shoulder once every minute and attempted to find a way that didn’t seem too ridiculous (to myself). But nothing ever was behind or above me. My back was safe until I heard a noise, a splashing sound not too far from me. I didn’t dare to watch right away, as it could have been a bear. Very slowly I turned around, preparing to get up and scare the hell out of whatever there was behind me. When I had completed the 90° turn I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Eesti-pl CC BY 2.0 Orang.jpg Can you spot Pongo? 

I had hardly ever thought of this opportunity – across the river, about 70 metres away, one of the very rare and incredibly shy Pongo Estonica sat and watched me. For the first time, I had heard about the wild Estonian Swamp Orangutan in my Estonian class at university and I wouldn’t believe my teacher. She said that Pongo Estonica is a little smaller than his Southeast-Asian sisters and brothers. It also differs in the color of his fur, as its red-brown is much darker and a slight greenish touch. Also, they like to swim and eat plants from lakes and rivers, which explains why their fur is often very moist and  darker than it really is. Nobody knows how many of Pongo Estonica there are, because it’s so very rare to see them. 

And there one of them sat just as astonished as me. I couldn’t stop smiling but reminded myself that Pongo Estonica is just as wild as Ursus Arctos. Anyways I didn’t get up, as Pongo sat just as comfortably as me. I took a quick snap with my camera and continued watching him. He barely moved until he eventually had seen enough of me and got on his feet. He went away with dangling shoulders and soon became one with the greenery around him. Still, I could swear that he did glimpse at me once again over his shoulder.

P.S.: By the way, Pongo Estonica is more fortunate than his brothers and sisters in Southeast-Asia, they are endangered and need help. Read more about them here (National Geographic) or here (Orangutan).

Pic based on: Sheila Thomson & Eesti.pl, both CC BY 2.0


A lyrical conquest

Mr. Claus Høxbroe is quite the prominent poet in Copenhagen’s vivid scene of lyricists. Back in 2013 he and I started working together, as he allowed me and a couple of Danish students from the university of Kiel to visit his very unique study at that time in the district of Amager. Afterwards he took us on a walk through Amager, showing the oddities of the neighborhood, that he enjoys so much.

Høxbroe truly is a lover of Copenhagen, even though his admiration for the Danish capital at times turns into a love and hate relationship, as the busy city tends to make life more and more foreseeable and also marginalizes his much loved odd characters and corners. He’s recently switched his Amager-based study with a bunker-styled basement apartment in the city center, in order to be an attentive observer of the ever changing heart of the city.

During the last year a number of new publications provide evidence for Høxbroe’s observant eye. Most prominently Høxbroe launched a new record with his good companion, the pianist Oscar Gilbert and a small orchestra. Check out the video below, to get an idea of the most recent release.

However, Høxbroe is not only performing in Copenhagen and Denmark. Together with Helena Nagelmaa we were able to bring Høxbroe to Germany for the first time in 2014. Høxbroe and Gilbert performed in Kiel and Berlin. I had the pleasure of translating a selection of poems to German and performing them with Høxbroe. Since then Høxbroe was invited to perform at the summer of literature, organised by the Literaturhaus Schleswig-Holstein, based in Kiel. The reading tour in summer 2015 brought the author and the pianist to remote places in Northern Germany. Again we had the chance to perform together.

Reading with C. Høxbroe in Friedrichstadt, Germany, 2015.
Reading with C. Høxbroe in Friedrichstadt, Germany, 2015.

Shortly before the readings in northern Germany, Høxbroe and I had the pleasure to publish the first Danish-German edition of his poems with the great publishers hochroth! The Danish Arts Council supported the project “Asphalt und Auferstehung / Asfalt og opstandelse” willingly and thankfully and we’re very happy, that the bilingual edition can be ordered online and has helped us to continue our journey.

Cover of the bilingual poetry selection by Christina Egede
Cover of the bilingual poetry selection “Asphalt und Auferstehung” by Christina Egede

Since the publication, our publishers and the Nordic Embassies in Germany have invited us to perform at the Book Fair in Leipzig on the 18th March.

Last but not least after performances at the book fair, Høxbroe will continue his lyrical conquest of Europe, performing at the literary festival PRIMA VISTA in Tartu, Estonia on the 5th of May. Together again with pianist Oscar Gilbert, he will introduce the Estonian audience to their jazzy improvisations and the beat of Copenhagen! Make sure to come by to one of the various readings!

Putting focus on the Baltic Sea and its literature

Let me draw your attention to an interview I did about a year ago with Mr. Klaus-Jürgen Liedtke, the head of the Baltic Sea Library, for the Onebsr project.

Not too far from my own home in Berlin lives Klaus-Jürgen Liedtke, writer, translator and head of the literature project “Baltic Sea Library”*. We meet on a grey, rainy afternoon in his appartment, have coffee at the kitchen window and talk about Liedtke’s relation to the Baltic Sea and the ambition that drives his engagement for literature from the region.

Tobias Koch: Dear Mr. Liedtke – before we start I would like to kindly ask you to present yourself in a few own words to our readers.

Klaus-Jürgen Liedtke: I was born in the Baltic Sea Region, in Schleswig-Holstein in a small village close to the Danish border. After studying German, Scandinavian, English and American philology in Kiel, Uppsala and Berlin I started working as a translator from Swedish to German in 1975. In the late 70′s I went to live in Turku for five years and became part of the editorial team of the literary annual “Trajekt” and was in charge of the Finland-Swedish part. My international Baltic Sea Region activities started in that period and I got the chance to start spearheading projects. In 1992 there was the legendary cruise of writers „Baltic Waves“. 400 writers from all over the region came together and travelled for two weeks all around the Baltic from Saint Petersburg to Sweden and back. I joined the cruise and one year later the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators in Visby, Sweden was founded. From 1997 onwards I participated in the annual meetings of the Baltic Writers’ Council in Visby, which I became head of in 2005. As I met many writers from all over the region, we all realized that there was little that we knew about the literature of our respective origins. We began to focus on the Baltic Sea and from the end of the 90’s onwards the idea of a Baltic Sea Library began to take shape.

TK: Nevertheless it took about ten years to establish the library?

KJL: Yes, that was mostly a matter of finding the right people and editors. I wanted to have a great team of younger and older men and women. Also finding editors from all over the region was difficult.

TK: How would you describe the work of the Baltic Sea Library?

KJL: Right now we are 15 people with different professional backgrounds, that are the editorial team. Unfortunately we meet too rarely. Last time all the editors met in 2011 – so our work is not as continous as I imagine it to be. Initially we all chose three most important texts, that were to be published on the platform. There are many ideas, wishes and potential for what texts we want to publish. For instance among our 300 texts, there is no text written by Swedish August Strindberg. That is something we need to tackle.

TK: What are the difficulties in your work?

KJL: Publishing translations is always a question about purchasing the respective rights. Not all texts are easily available or affordable. We try our best getting the texts we want and still respect the criteria of selecting texts that deal with other people, countries of the region or with the Baltic itself. We also try to select texts that are forming an echo to other publications or events. When I worked as an editor at “Trajekt” I learned for instance, that there are poems from Estonia functioning as responses to Bertolt Brecht’s escape to Denmark, Sweden and Finland. They seem to be really interesting and we would like to include these in the library!  

At this point we start losing ourselves in talking about Brecht and his refuge in Svendborg and Helsinki,Mati Unt’s processing of Brecht’s life in Finland in “Brecht ilmub öösel” and the misconceptions of Brecht’s life as a refugee. We somehow get on track again …

You want more? Read the full interview at: http://newswave.eu/putting-focus-baltic-sea-literature/

One Baltic Sea Trip

I have a past as a Baltic Sea Region blogger. I admit it. The Onebsr project contributed a fair share to my fascination for the Baltic Sea Region. Part of it was a trip to Warsaw, Helsinki and Tallinn with my fellow bloggers. Take a look at the video or check out my story on storify.com