Wish you were hier

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As well as using old postcards in our artwork, we have recently started using postcards to make... postcards. Specifically, a series of art cards offering variations on original motifs of German postcards from around the beginning of the 20th century.

Why?

Well, one of our central aims with the whole Rixdorf Editions project is to introduce a combination of time and place largely unfamiliar in the English speaking world (Wilhelmine Germany) and show how it was actually a crucible for progressive thought that exerted an unacknowledged influence on later eras from the Weimar Republic to the present day.

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Taking original imagery from the time and cropping, blowing up and amplifying the colour symbolises this process by liberating the latent Modernism of the age. There are the dots seen in close up which foretell everything from Pointillism to Pop Art. There are the mismatched colour registrations and their evocative suggestion of new and dynamic graphic realms. And even when (actually especially when) catering to mass market tastes, there are surreal juxtapositions of imagery.

The first series of eight cards is called 'Landscape', referring to both the format and the subject matter, with the source material depicting scenic splendour throughout Germany from Heligoland to the Bavarian Alps. Some of the original cards were photographs, some illustrations, some a strange amalgam of the two.

Anyway, it's just an experiment for now. We'll be including a selection of postcards with each online order until we run out.

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Prepare yourself for Death

It's time we had a little talk about Death - the forthcoming English-language debut by late 19th/early 20th century German writer Anna Croissant-Rust which I translated for Rixdorf Editions.

Perhaps we should start with the author's highly unusual Franco-German name. She was actually born (1860) as Anna Rust in the Palatinate, then part of the Kingdom of Bavaria. But in 1888 she married Hermann Croissant – descended from French Huguenots – and added his name to hers. Bonus fun fact: Anna’s mother-in-law was called Philippine Croissant.

As remarkable a name as it is, even the bookish German of your acquaintance is likely to draw a blank if you mention it. Anna Croissant-Rust sold relatively few books while she was alive and posterity hasn’t been much kinder. And until now, she was one of a large number of women writing enthralling, groundbreaking works in German at the time who have never been translated into English: Maria Janitschek, Elsa Asenijeff, Laura Marholm, Ilse Frapan – to name just a few.

 Anna Croissant-Rust

Anna Croissant-Rust

In 1890 Anna Croissant-Rust became the only female member of the Society for Modern Living, a group of forward-thinking Munich-based writers largely associated with the Naturalist movement. But she was already thinking further forward than her male colleagues, and certainly beyond Naturalism. One of her most contentious early works was ‘Wedding’, a tale that relates a bride’s terror of imminent deflowering with pre-Freudian psychosexual frankness; the issue of the journal in which it appeared was promptly banned from sale.

Throughout the early 1890s, Croissant-Rust published works that read like they were conjured from the future, breaking down forms well before ‘breaking down forms’ became a thing in the early 20th century. She was out on her own, fusing free verse and fragmentary narrative in an intense emotional register, but these experiments met with little more than bewilderment at the time. And by the time other writers (usually men) were creating similar work, Croissant-Rust's pioneering work was forgotten. I thought it was essential to highlight Croissant-Rust’s dazzling formal innovation, so the forthcoming Rixdorf edition is actually two books in one: Death, as well as the early book Gedichte in Prosa (Prose Poems). The original publication of Prose Poems (1893) is set in Fraktur, which just highlights its uniqueness. You would struggle to find anything else from this time in the old font – which had defined the look of German books since the dawn of movable type – that was as fearless, as avant-garde, as this. In fact you really have to jump ahead to the pre-WWI Expressionists to find anything comparable.

 A page from the original 1893 edition of  Gedichte in Prosa  ( Prose Poems )

A page from the original 1893 edition of Gedichte in Prosa (Prose Poems)

By the time others had caught up, Croissant-Rust’s thoughts were turning to Death. Based on the medieval danse macabre, or Totentanz, Death (1914) finds the Grim Reaper scything through a selection of unfortunates in a cycle of 17 stories. In 'Corn Mother', for instance, it comes to a sick child as an apparition from local lore (related to the 'corn dolly'), in 'Shadows' it appears to be a young woman's own beauty which snuffs out her life, in 'The Bird' it's, well, it's a bird, but the fact that it apparently plucks a man from a cliff and tosses him into a valley suggests this is no normal winged creature. Even in these short tales there is space for mystery and ambiguity. And there's surprisingly little morbidity, in fact if anything it’s a celebration of life and colour and light. Especially light. If nothing else, Death is a thesaurus of the effects of light.

 The cover of  Der Tod  ( Death ), 1914

The cover of Der Tod (Death), 1914

The original 1914 publication (Der Tod) was a bibliophile edition of 800 copies with illustrations by Willi Geiger showing Herr G. Reaper at work; Geiger was later defamed as a ‘degenerate’ artist by the Nazis. My first reading of the book was a revelation; suddenly not translating it was simply not an option, and later encountering the electrifying originality of Prose Poems merely confirmed that I had to try to bring this largely forgotten writer to a wider readership. Hopefully I have preserved something of the wonder I found in the original. Now that the book is here in Cara Schwartz's beautiful cover I am extremely proud that Death will be available through Rixdorf Editions on 21 May. I can't wait for you to read it.

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Visionary of vision

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After an unseemly spell of blogging silence we are now emerging from hibernation and full of spring plans. We've just announced the first of our two titles appearing in May 2018 - The Beauty of the Metropolis by August Endell.

Originally published in German in 1908, it wears its 110 years lightly. This is an extremely forward-thinking book that offers a way of visually accessing urban surroundings, even for those of us who know little else. Endell was an architect, a designer and a theorist, and an aesthete more than anything. But for him this didn't mean constructing his own refined environment and retreating into it, but rather finding and appreciating the visual enrichment offered by the things around him. Or in his own words: 'Open your eyes, don’t invent miracles or another world above the clouds; for here in your world you have the kingdom of Heaven.' Endell's love of the city, with all its chaos and squalor, shines through in this book.

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It is typical of Endell's equivocal relationship with posterity that he is best known for a building that no longer exists - the Elvira photo studio in Munich, which opened just weeks before the beginning of the 20th century. Its radical design looked like nothing before it (and frankly not a lot that came after it, either). Just as interesting is the story of the studio's proprietors, Anita Augspurg and Sophia Goudstikker. A lesbian couple who lived in relative openness, they were the first women in Germany to run a company independently of men. You can read more about them in the Afterword to The Beauty of the Metropolis.

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And as we were working on the translation we learnt that a museum here in Berlin, the Ephraim-Palais, was planning an exhibition of artworks depicting scenes of the city and which is inspired by Endell's book, even taking its original title - Die Schönheit der grossen Stadt. It's already under way and will be running until late August; we're going along soon and will duly report back. Meanwhile, we'll check in shortly to share news of our other spring title...

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Launched!

Huge thanks to Dave and Orla of Curious Fox for hosting last night's Rixdorf Editions launch and reading in Berlin, Jodi Rose for organising and taking photos, Cara Schwartz for the brilliant artwork and most especially everyone who came along! It was a fantastic night, with a full house of lovely, attentive listeners and smart question-askers - the best start in life a new publisher could hope for.

Metropolis Documents

Magnus Hirschfeld’s 1904 report Berlin’s Third Sex – probably the first sympathetic account of gay and lesbian city life ever published – is a remarkable enough book in its own right. But in fact it was just one part of a much larger project. The Großstadt-Dokumente, or Metropolis Documents, of which Hirschfeld’s book was the third instalment, were issued by the Hermann Seemann publishing house between 1904 and 1908. In all there would be 51 volumes, together representing one of the most far-reaching studies of urban existence ever undertaken, a vast portrait of the city at the outset of the 20th century. And around three quarters of the titles were about one city in particular: Berlin.

 The original German edition (1904) of  Berlin's Third Sex

The original German edition (1904) of Berlin's Third Sex

The books appeared at an astonishing rate (up to 16 in a single year) and were printed on cheap stock to be sold at the price of one mark – significantly less than the average paperback of the time. Later they were issued in hard cover thematic anthologies of five volumes apiece. They were the brainchild of Berlin-born writer Hans Ostwald (1873-1940), and reflected his enormous interest in the society around him, particularly those of its members who stood outside the mainstream – including bohemians, prostitutes, cult followers, socialists, petty criminals, vagabonds, unwed mothers and juvenile delinquents. Each book addressed a different phenomenon of urban life. Five of the titles were by Ostwald himself, while the 39 other writers he chose were typically young, male journalists of his acquaintance, few of whom found lasting renown. The sole female author, Ella Mensch, used her platform to attack what she regarded as overly radical elements in the women’s emancipation movement.

 Hans Ostwald

Hans Ostwald

It all began with Ostwald's own Dark Corners of Berlin (1904), which took the reader to dive bars, homeless shelters and other haunts of the down and out ordinarily invisible to the bourgeois reader. Subsequent volumes blended reportage, polemics and sensationalism, and while they certainly pushed at the limit of what Wilhelmine Germany would allow, only one volume was actually banned from sale – Germany’s first major study of lesbianism, written by Wilhelm Hammer. But even the less contentious titles revealed parts of the city readers might never otherwise encounter, including court rooms, sweatshops and the offices of public servants. The last of the Metropolis Documents was Edmund Edel's Neu-Berlin (1908), a stroll amid the bright lights and consumerist revelry of the Ku’damm and other gathering places of the moneyed bourgeoisie in the rapidly expanding city.

 Rixdorf Editions' collection of  Metropolis Documents  anthologies

Rixdorf Editions' collection of Metropolis Documents anthologies

Even within Germany this remarkable series excites little recognition beyond academic circles, in contrast to the broad, educated readership Ostwald originally had in mind (any German-speakers who wish to find out more are directed to Ralf Thies’s exhaustively researched 2006 book, Ethnograph des dunklen Berlin). Berlin’s Third Sex is the first of the titles to appear in English and considering how much these books tell us about Berlin at the outset of the century it would define like no other, it is remarkable that over 100 years later the Metropolis Documents are all but unknown to Anglophone readers.

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Tossed in translation

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Happy International Translation Day!

Forthcoming fiction collection The Guesthouse at the Sign of the Teetering Globe is the first book by German author Franziska zu Reventlow (1871-1918) to appear in English. Reventlow herself was a prolific translator, almost exclusively from the French, introducing well over 40 works to German readers. Titles by Marcel Prévost account for almost half of those works, along with Guy de Maupassant, Anatole France and one book by Emile Zola.

Reventlow – look away now, conscientious translators – was not above taking shortcuts with her work, as she admitted in a 1901 letter to her lover, philosopher Ludwig Klages: "You should know that I am very haphazard with the novels, and I cut wherever they seem too long."

In addition to French books, Reventlow translated one novel by Norwegian author Bernt Lie and a sole English work, perhaps the strangest entry in her bibliography. Originally entitled The World Allies: A Survey of Nationalism, Labour and World-trade, it was written in 1917 by eccentric American millionaire John Wesley De Kay, who made his fortune with sausages in Mexico. De Kay, evidently quite the polymath, wrote a number of works on big issues of the day as well as a 1910 dramatization of the life of Judas, for which he enlisted no less a stage presence than Sarah Bernhardt. It was banned in New York after just one performance.