The social life, the exchange
of thoughts, the atmosphere of an island, the everywhere present history and
the open horizon. These are some of the souvenirs that Cordula
Unewisse will bring back home to Bonn in Germany.
– The inner space becomes wider in this place and that has influence on your
work, for sure. I think that is the privilege and the advantage of the Centre. Here
you have a special setting where you can reflect upon your own work and your
identity as a translator, she says.
– Translation is a work and a state of being that makes me happy.
Translating is like an expedition that enlarges the world. It also means
constantly making decisions, choosing and rejecting words and their possible
configuration in sentences, she is telling me about her choice of profession.
When we meet a Thursday in September at the Baltic Centre for Writers
and Translators in Visby, she will be leaving early next morning. The German
translator Cordula Unewisse
arrived in Visby in the middle of August and has stayed at the Centre nearly a
month. This is her first stay on Gotland, and also her
first visit to Sweden.
– I arrived to Visby by the ferryboat. When I came to
the Centre at midnight the guests had just had a goodbye party and there were
still some people sitting outside welcoming me, she says.
– Next morning when I woke up I saw this amazing view.
From my room I can see the cathedral and the sea and that was my first
impression of Visby in daylight. I really appreciate this open space and
endless view, because that influences the inner space as well, I suppose.
knew of the Baltic Centre for Writers and Translators as being a cooperating
organization of the German Translators’ Fund, DÜF. She learnt more about the
Centre while staying at a residency in Straelen in
Germany, the collegium for European translators, where two colleagues who would
stay in Visby for a working residency later that year talked about the Centre.
In Berlin, another colleague emphasized how important the residency in Visby was
for her latest translation.
– Later, when I had the chance to apply for a working grant from the translator´s fund, I first wanted to go to Straelen again, but the house was full. I applied for a working residency in Visby, and
now I am so glad that it didn´t work with the other residency. The time here
has really been enriching in so many ways, she tells me.
During her stay in Visby she has been working with the translation of
the French book “Les attentifs” by Marc Mauguin, which is going to be published by the German
publishing house Verlag Freies Geistesleben
next spring. “Les attentifs” is a collection of
twelve short stories, inspired by twelve paintings of the American artist Edward
– It is a kind of dialogue between painting and literature. The author has been
trying to figure out what stories are hiding behind the paintings, what has happened
before he was painting them and what is going to happen after.
studied Romance languages and German Philology and Philosophy at the University
of Bonn, and did study visits to France, Italy and Portugal. She has worked as
a teacher of German as a foreign language, for DAAD, the German Academic
Exchange Service, in a research project at the University of Kassel about the
culture transfer from France to Germany in the 18th century and has been
teaching at the University of Bonn for several years. Since 2005 she has been
free lancing as a literary translator and proof reader.
– French was my second foreign language in school, after English. I liked to study
languages, but also sciences, and had some difficulties to decide what kind of
subjects I would choose at the university, she says and continues:
– At the University of Bonn a teacher in French had a very deep influence on my
choice of working career.
She did some translation courses, which weren´t obligatory and had no
grades, just for practice. Participating in these seminars was essential for
the decision to become a translator. She did her first professional translation
when she was still a student. Cordula was lucky to
have a professor in Philosophy who was also a publisher..
– He asked me to translate a text, which was quite challenging: a book by the philosopher
Jean-Luc Nancy, she says.
Since then she has done quite a lot
translations of academic articles for art exhibitions catalogues.
– For a long time now I have had the focus on art: history of art but also
interpretation of works of art and biographies of artists. When I was a university
student I saw a lot of exhibitions. I remember specially the retrospective in
Paris of one of my favorite artists Alberto Giacometti.
Paul Cézanne, Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Paula Modersohn-Becker
and Louise Bourgeois are some other artists whose work she likes and researched
in in connection with a translation work. Cordula´s latest
translation, which she worked with in Charente in France, was a book about the Flemish
14th century painter Jan van Eyck by Jean-Philippe Postel.
Art, philosophy and fiction is her field of work and she almost always she
translates from French into German.
Here in Visby, she was curious to participate in the local culture life.
She visited the historical and the art museum, went to an organ concert in the cathedral
and to Almedal library for a concert and a lecture,
which a Finnish author translated for her.
– I didn´t understand anything, but nevertheless it was a pleasure to listen to
the Swedish language. Anyway I had some ‘aha!’ moments
realizing the proximity between the Swedish and the German language.
One of her morning rituals here in Visby was to walk down to the beach
and the pier at Norderstrand.
– After a swim in the sea, I was sitting on the beach, doing my meditation and
sometimes I tried to write a poem or a little text, just for fun, about this
place, she says.
She appreciates the atmosphere of an island.
– I think that it´s very rare to have this view from a town: a wide view
without any other islands, just the open horizon. I have seen the ferry boat from
my window, leaving and arriving to the harbor, thinking that one day that
should be me returning home.
She also likes the Botanical garden, where she has spent some time
reading a French author that she would like to translate, Marie-Hélène Lafon.
– She has not yet been translated into German and I have tried to find a
publishing house, but until now I haven´t find one. I hope I will succeed one
day, she says.
During her stay on Gotland she has made excursions, to Fårö in the north and to Hoburgen
in the south. For the trip to the island of Fårö a
group of four women rented a car: Cordula, a Chinese
novel writer, an American poet and a Finnish writer. On their way up north they visited some medieval churches. On Fårö they drove along the west coast covered with sea stacks,
characteristic stones on Gotland called “raukar” in
Swedish, stopped here and there, walking, talking.
– We have the whole collection of Ingmar Bergman´s films here at the Centre and
we saw “Persona” before the trip to Fårö, the place
where it was shot. We were looking for the beach in the film, but unfortunately we got lost in the forest and didn´t find it,
she says smiling.
– For me it was a new impression, I didn´t know this sort of landscape before,
this kind of severe nature. This is a place where you can make decisions or see
things more clearly. A kind of serenity in the landscape.
As a break from the translation work at the Centre she has been walking
in cobble stone streets.
– I am impressed by the diversity of architecture. Before coming here I didn´t know about the German history of Visby, and
that the Hanseatic League was very important for the growth of the city.
She also has been walking along the seaside and this very day has done a
biking tour to Fridhem, the former summer residence
of the princess Eugénie, some kilometers south of
Visby. There she finally found fossils at the pebble beach, and enjoyed the calm atmosphere of the
– I have been moving to the countryside after many years in the city of Bonn.
It is quite isolated, there is no urban setting, so I really appreciate it here
– a small town life. You get to know everybody quite quickly at the Centre,
because you spend quite some time together. You have the kitchen where you
usually meet people preparing their meals, some of us spontaneously organize a
movie night in Centre’s “Cinema Baltica” or meet for
other shared activities, she says.
During her stay at the Centre the guests have organized poetry evenings,
reading to each other. Cordula Unewisse
chose the poem “You’re here, still” by Rose Ausländer,
with the final words: “Be what you are/Give what you have”.
– Here at the Centre you have the opportunity and the space to be what you are
and give what you have. I think it´s an important part of staying here: the
exchange of our different work and culture, the talks about writing,
creativity, language and literature.
Text and photo: Maria