Anglophoner Tag in Greifswald - Event report

Event report by Mike Harrington, CIOL German Society

It was our turn this year to host the Anglophoner Tag and, at the suggestion of Walter Chromik, who has links to this fine old university city, we had chosen Greifswald in Pomerania, that province in the far north-east of Germany with its rich, Swedish-influenced history. Greifswald and the surrounding area were immortalised in the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich, one of its most famous sons.  The 2018 Anglophoner Tag included an exploration of the visual art of Caspar David Friedrich as well as translation in a selection of the other arts.

History was the setting for our first activity, a guided tour of the university on Friday afternoon. We met at the Rubenow Monument in front of the university for “Sechs Jahrhunderte Universitätsgeschichte in einem Rundgang”. Two student guides divided us into two groups and, before entering the university itself, we listened to an explanation of the monument. This featured several stone portraits of the city's worthies and regional princes over the ages, including the Mayor of Rubenow himself, who founded the university with papal encouragement in 1456. The university owned 8,000 hectares of landed property, so plenty of land to build on. The buildings are sumptuous. Our tour through the magnificent halls took us to the amazing conference/concert/lecture hall, underneath the library and surrounded by stone columns to support the weight of the books above. This ”Aula” is most probably the setting for Hermann Kant's famous novel of the same name set in the time of the GDR.

The gallery above the hall and several neighbouring rooms are studded with the portraits of the university's “Rektoren” (vice-chancellors) throughout the ages, exclusively male until at last the first “Rektorin”, Hannelore Weber, was appointed in 2013. In previous times, pain and pleasure seem to have coexisted in the university: in the graffiti-adorned detention cell, the “Karzer”, students convicted of being drunk or fighting in the streets, were incarcerated and fed on meagre rations. This was, of course, regarded as a mark of honour.

With its five faculties – Theology, Law and Political Science, University Medicine, Philosophy, Mathematics and Natural Sciences – the university is Greifswald's main employer: of the population of 60,000, around 20,000 are connected professionally with the university.

The Friday evening was spent networking and enjoying local cuisine at the Fritz Brauhaus on the picturesque “Markt”.

The core elements of the Anglophoner Tag were, of course, the seminars on Saturday at the St Spiritus Socio-Cultural Centre. The overall theme of the day this year was “Translating the Arts – The Art of Translation”, embracing historical linguistics, literature, film and media, art in its true pictorial sense, and music.

Following a brief introduction by Stephanie Tarling, Chair of the CIOL German Society, the first seminar was on “The Translation of Proverbs” by Professor Harry Walter of Greifswald University. Prof Walter's academic trade is Slavonic linguistics, and he started off by laying out and passing round several books of proverbs and sayings in most European languages, including weighty tomes of Russian provenance. Most importantly, he provided an exhaustive text titled “Sprichwörter im internationalen Kontext (The “Translation” of Proverbs)” with the sub-heading “Sprichwörter sind die Töchter der täglichen Erfahrung” (no need for me to translate the German terms in this report, but I was wondering if the best translation of “Töchter” here would be “offspring”.).  It is an amazingly erudite compilation of proverbs in a vast range of languages. Even so it is not always clear, or is still being researched, which is the original language of a given proverb, though each version seems to have more or less the same historical context. There is a distinction between “proverbs” and “sayings”, i.e. “Sprichwörter” and “Redensarten”. The latter are brief pithy or authoritative expressions, imparting advice (e.g. “Festina lente” = German “Eile mit Weile”, English “Hasten gently”), whereas proverbs/Sprichwörter tend to be longer and express a supposed truth or moral lesson, e.g. “Rome was not built in a day” and its equivalents in hordes of languages, using either Rome itself or national cities such as Paris, Moscow, Krakow, Aachen or Cologne. The original may or may not have been the Latin version. Another ancient one (originating in 14th century France and documented later by 17th century writer La Fontaine) is “Une hirondelle ne fait pas le printemps”: “Eine Schwalbe macht noch keinen Sommer” - with its versions in just about every European language, mainly identical as regards the bird and differing only in respect of “spring” or “summer”.

A more contemporary saying is Mikhail Gorbachev's famous “Wer zu spät kommt, den bestraft das Leben”. This was originally a German saying, coined “in the heat of the moment” by the interpreter, Helmut Ettinger, during the meeting in 1989 between Gorbachev and Honecker. It translated Gorbi's words spoken in Russian: “Dangers only await those who don't react to the demands of life”. This German-original-yet-translated-version became the “stock quotation”/”Geflügeltes Wort” of that momentous period of recent history.

Many sayings and proverbs are of religious and/or Biblical origin, such as “Neither fish nor fowl” / ”Weder Fisch noch Fleisch”, which has its origin in the Protestant vs. Catholic doctrinal rivalries of the 16th century onwards. On the other hand, the simile of the rich man having less chance of getting to heaven than a camel passing through the eye of a needle stems from Hebrew and Amharic, wherein the “eye of a needle” designates a small gate in the city walls, the only one left open after closing time and too narrow for a fully laden camel to get through. “Man does not live by bread alone” is obviously Biblical.

Prof Walter's talk concluded with some expressions that only exist in German, such as “Einen Kater haben” when suffering from a hangover, i.e. the noise of wailing cats in one's head; “Kohldampf haben” for “to be starving”, for which no explanation has yet been found, and the rather dramatic “Es zieht wie Hechtsuppe”, i.e. “It's blowing a gale in here” or “There's a terrible draught”, comes from Yiddish: “hech” = “wie” and “supa” = “Sturm”.

The next speaker was Nick Tanner from ITI, i.e. a real “hands-on” translator, on the subject of “Translating Harry Potter” and with the subtitle of “Witchcraft and Wizardry”, i.e. translating the arts in their dark form.

Nick dealt not only with the translations into German but also compared translations into several other languages.  He had read some of the German versions of the series in order to improve his own “rusty” German.  He was aided in this by the easily recognizable contexts for the terms used in the stories.  There have been official translations of the Harry Potter books into more than 70 languages, French being the first.  The main translation issues concern the localization of the characters' names and place names and of the magical terms and concepts invented by J.K. Rowling.  A further problem is continuity: when the translator decides upon specific renderings for words used in Book One, she/he, or a subsequent translator, must use them in the rest of the series, running to seven books.  An incident in an earlier book is often resumed or further developed in a later book, and the use of new translations would prove to be confusing.  Perhaps that was one of the reasons why the instructions from the Ukrainian publisher to its translators ran to 51 pages in respect of what should be translated and what should be left in the original.  The translator Victor Morozov seems to have surmounted all obstacles.  Besides place and personal names, the terms to be translated or left in the original English include old British public school concepts such as “Head Boy”, “Prefect” or “House”, and magical processes like “(dis)apparating” or “splinching”, the game of “Quidditch” and non-magical people, “Muggles”.

Nick's comparison of the various language versions evidenced the great imaginative efforts on the part of the translators.  The German translation retained “Hogwarts”, whereas in Dutch Harry's school became “Zweinstein” and his Headmaster - Albus Dumbledore - was “Albus Perkamentus”.  One of the other magical schools, “Durmstrang”, already sounded quite German, with its mysterious location somewhere in Central or Eastern Europe and with overtones of “Sturm und Drang”.  The German, French and Dutch versions are quite inventive as regards concepts such as Muggle, Quidditch, apparating or splinching.  German, however, unlike French (préfet) has problems with prefect: “Vertrauensschüler” or “Klassensprecher” don't quite hit it.  German retained most of the original place names but did find a good one for the boringly suburban “Privet Drive”: “Ligusterweg”.  The novels are also popular in Scandinavian countries, with the Norwegian translator putting most of the terms and concepts into Norwegian , whereas the Swedish translator retained most of the English terms, in keeping with the conventions in Sweden's publishing industry.

Particularly challenging was the translation of the various riddles that are essential components of the overall plot.  They have to tally, otherwise they would be meaningless for the narrative.  For example, the Sphinx's “Spider” riddle in Book 4 “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” was done extremely well into German, and into French and Dutch, while the Swedish translator made use of Latin to avoid problems with Scandinavian orthographic features (good excuse for keeping to the Swedish publishers' convention?).

Summing up, Nick said that translating the Harry Potter series fosters the development of strategies for dealing with translation problems, thus proving valuable in the world of business translation. I had the impression that everyone agreed with this.

Continuing within the wider literary and media field, our next speaker was Andrea Kirchhartz of the VdÜ – Die Literaturübersetzer on “Translating subtitles”.  As a member of the German Subtitling Forum (Deutsches Untertitelforum), Andrea is fully up to date on the pressures afflicting the subtitling industry, and a recurring keyword in her talk was “deprofessionalization” (see below).  Subtitle translating appears to straddle the technical and the artistic fields of translation.  Certain distinctions can be made: In the translation of films “temporality” is important, i.e. the translation must take place within a time framework.  Only the dialogue is translated.  It can take the form of either subtitle translation (Untertitelfassung) or dubbing (Synchronfassung).  As we know, the latter is most common in Germany.  In the case of “voice-over”, a medium invented for television, e.g. for feature films and reports, a strict time-frame is less important.

At all events, subtitling seems to be getting poorer and becoming “deprofessionalised”, involving literal translations intended for mass consumption.  In other words, it is moving away from the “artistic” field, a field in which subtitle translation can be compared to poetry translation, since it is necessary to work within the constraints of time and form and to follow the “rhythm” of the film.  Here, English has an advantage over German in that English lends itself to the formation of short, snappy sentences without detriment to good style.

There are two main software programs for subtitling: “Easy Titles”, preferred by freelancers, and FAP, used mainly by agencies. Increasingly sophisticated technology, however, tends to foster the above-mentioned deprofessionalisation in that automation and minimalistic sentences result in condensation into graphic language that can be immediately understood.  This is not lucrative for the translator.  Indeed, with the advent of Netflix and similar online platforms, fees have been pushed down to as little as a third of previously agreed fees. Also, translation work that has been done for original versions of films, e.g. those first shown at international film festivals, is often “sold on” to companies making DVD or online versions, who may re-adapt the translation using non-professionals, contributing yet further to deprofessionalisation and reduction of fees. The film industry is also being affected by the EU's policy of awarding subsidies running to billions of euros for machine translation.

Following a restorative buffet lunch in the delightful courtyard of the Socio-Cultural Centre, we went a little bit down the road to the Caspar David Friedrich Zentrum for our guided tour. This ought to be regarded as one of the seminars since the tour was highly informative and dealt with art in its true pictorial sense. Greifswald was the birthplace of Caspar David Friedrich (CDF), that amazingly evocative painter of forlorn landscapes made intimate through the portrayal of the people in them. The centre is actually a museum.  It first showed some rather prosaic artefacts relating to CDF's family business of soap and candle-making but then continued to some highly interesting 3D devices that visualize the techniques used by the painter in portraying his landscapes and figures. CDF was actually the first artist in Germany to make a living as a freelancer. He moved to Dresden to work on the free market in that city of artistic innovation. Landscape painting was not highly regarded in the first half of the 19th century, so it was a courageous move by CDF, which paid off when his work was appreciated by the Prussian Crown Prince, leading to the establishment of the “Berliner Sammlung”. His most famous painting, of the chalk cliffs, “Kreidefelsen” on the island of Rügen, was produced in 1816 when the culture of sea bathing and tourism was starting to become popular.  The sole original painting is unsaleable, and its insurance value is set at 80 million euros.

Returning to St Spiritus, we had a brief overview, “News and views”, of the coming events hosted by the various language associations: CIOL, ITI German Network, ATICOM and the BDÜ, who will be organising next year's Anglophoner Tag. Please check the associations' websites and watch this space for further information on the various events.

The final seminar was given by CIOL member Sandy Jones on the “Translation of Libretti and Music Lyrics for Performance”.  Like Prof Walter, Sandy provided a detailed hand-out text with the sub-heading “Taking Liberties with Libretti? - Textbuch oder Textbruch?”.She began by mentioning the three-way relationship between composer, librettist and translator.  This can involve the composer as his own librettist, such as Wagner, and several translators over the succeeding decades; the “monogamous” relationship between composer and librettist, e.g. Richard Strauss with Hugo von Hofmannsthal, who also had a “monogamous” translator, Alfred Kalisch; and the “polygamous” or “one-off” composer/librettist relationship, such as Handel and Beethoven, who had various collaborators and “many latter-day translators”. An interesting “one-off” example is Mendelssohn who, for his “Volkslied” had Ferdinand Freiligrath translate Robert Burns' “O wert thou in the cauld blast”. So Burns was actually Mendelssohn's librettist in this instance.

Sandy explained these relationships by taking the three composers Mozart, Wagner and Richard Strauss and juxtaposing them with their librettists and translators: Emanuel Schikaneder, Wagner himself and von Hofmannsthal respectively for the librettists and, for their modern translators, Jeremy Sams for Mozart, Andrew Porter and Jeremy Sams for Wagner and Alfred Kalisch for R Strauss. The translators combine(d) multilingual and translation ability with poetic and musical talents. Their finished work must do justice to the “Pentathlon Principle”, i.e. achieve a satisfactory score in the five “translation-athlete events”: sing-ability (suitability of text for performance), sense (equivalence of the original and target texts), naturalness (in the target language), rhythm and rhyme – a combination difficult to achieve, but it often works out beautifully.

Sandy provided excerpts of the original librettos and the English translations of representative works of the above three composers: “Die Zauberflöte/The Magic Flute”, “Götterdämmerung/Twilight of the Gods” and “Rosenkavalier” and asked us to comment on and discuss them. This made for a very lively, “hands-on” session. Sandy's highly entertaining talk went into great intellectual depth and detail.

We spent a most relaxing evening at the “Fischer-Hütte” in the picturesque harbour suburb of Wieck. It is very close to the ruins of Eldena Abbey, one of CDF's famous motifs. After supper some of us took a walk over the old wooden “Klappbrücke” (“bascule bridge”) and along the mouth of Greifswald's river, the Ryck, to a pier affording us a magnificent evening view of the Greifswalder Bodden.

Our final AT activity was on Sunday morning: Prof Dr Horst Wernicke from Greifswald University (who also gave us the excellent talk on the history of the Hanse in Lübeck last September) gave us a guided tour of Greifswald's city centre. Our route took us from the city wall to the Rubenowplatz and its statue, via the St Marien-Kirche, a “Westphalian hall church” from the 1st half of the thirteenth century and known to the locals as “Dicke Marie”. The city's other main church, the cathedral itself, is the Dom St Nikolaus, also with a nickname: “Langer Nikolaus”. Both are examples of medieval “Backsteingothik”. Several of the merchants' houses also featured this architectural style, and the Pommersches Landesmuseum was originally built as the first school for the townsfolk in the 15th century.  

On reaching the Market Square, the Professor gave us a detailed description of the patrician houses dating from the late 13th century onwards and the more modern, art-nouveau-type buildings. The range of styles makes for a visually attractive and colourful square. The foundations of the buildings had to be rammed on oak piles into the “Schiebelehm”, i.e. subsoil consisting of glacial moraine clay (or boulder clay). The 14th century town hall (Rathaus der Universitäts- und Hansestadt Greifswald) and the area around it featured more modern artefacts: the bronze door by the famous artist and sculptor of GDR days, Jo Jastram, and the Fischerbrunnen, also by the same artist (together with Reinhard Dietrich) with its maritime figures. This was part of the effort to make the area more attractive prior to the “re-consecration” of the Dom St Nikolai in summer 1989 in the presence of Erich Honecker (one of his last official appearances) together with Berthold Beitz of the Kruppstiftung (so socialism, capitalism and religion can go together, particularly if funds are involved).  Nearby is the bronze statue of CDF, constructed in 2009 by Claus-Martin Görtz. On reaching the end of the tour we learned that the Rubenowplatz was originally the market square of the “Neustadt”, quite autonomous from the “Altstadt”, prior to it becoming the “forecourt” of the University.

Prof Dr Wernicke thus packed a vast amount of information into the one-and-a-half-hour tour, so I think that it can be regarded as the “sixth seminar” of an incredibly informative and enjoyable Anglophoner Tag.

A heartfelt thank-you to the organisers, speakers and participants for making the AT such a successful and interesting event.