Five Dials: The Berlin Issue

Newspaper sitting on the steps

Five Dials: The Berlin Issue

Though some speculate that the prevalence of Twitter and facebook in the daily lives of Everyman has been detrimental to the culture of writing, the Internet offers one clear advantage to literature: more and more high-quality writing is available instantly and sans-cost to readers across the globe. One example of this is Five Dials (5D), a free literary journal with an issue focusing on Berlin and German-language writers.
by Nicolette Stewart

London publishing house Hamish Hamilton is responsible for 5D, with writer and editor Craig Taylor at the helm and Anna Kelly co-editing.  Kelly’s love of the German language, she explains in Issue 26, was the driving force behind the Berlin issue.

After a short fascination with pig Latin as a child, Kelly became interested in the language of Goethe: “I stared at [my sister’s] homework until she explained to me that a ‘j’ was pronounced like a ‘y’ and that in German all things – tables, chairs, houses – were either a ‘girl’, a ‘boy’ or a mysterious ‘other’, which she didn’t really explain. To my eight-year-old self, unversed in gender theory, this seemed like the height of exoticism, its strangeness so exciting I couldn’t wait to make it my own.

“Much later, when I’d finally got enough German down me to get into university, I sat at a desk and felt something strange happening when I read Rilke’s Duino Elegies for the very first time. It felt like I was flying, like I was getting high. I read Ingeborg Bachmann’s Malina three times in a row, fascinated, disturbed, reading in it something I couldn’t quite understand but was instinctively drawn to. I realized that there’s something about German poetry which is beautiful in a way I can’t describe in English, something about its isches and swisches and klisches and klasches that makes it an ideal playground for onomatopoeia, but something more, too, in the wide, bleak expanses of its vowel-sounds. I read The Confusions of Young Toerless and felt that Robert Musil could see into my soul.  I gorged on Kafka, Schnitzler, Mann, Jelinek.”

The Berlin issue includes thirteen German authors (with a dash of Swiss and Austrian penmanship included) translated into English and covers topics that range well beyond the city that gives the issue its theme: from translation to poetry, from vampires to palindromes.  The mixture of fiction and essay is startlingly high-quality for a free online publication.

Issue 26 was unveiled at The Wye in Berlin in 2013 with a party and a ceremonial unleashing of the journal with the pressing of send on a Mac held above the crowd.

Lucy Renner Jones of Transfiction called the opening’s series of readings “revolutionary” for being limited to five minutes each and offered this praise for the evening and the publication: 

“The proof is, however, in the final product though, which is a joy to behold: quirky pictures and illustrations, a fantastic range of texts and writers, and of course, superior quality translations by some of the best.”

Though it was the beauty of the German language itself that inspired Kelly to put together the Berlin issue of Five Dials, the German language is absent—all the pieces have been translated.  But that, says Kelly, is meant to be part of the experience and explains why she included pieces about translation itself:

“I thought that… they might be provoked into thinking about what it means to read writing in translation, about what is lost and gained in the process, about how close and far two different languages can be to one another, about what that says about our understanding of the world, and about how that understanding can be expanded.“ 

The magazine does not offer the German words themselves, but it does provide a cultural bridge to help us appreciate what their use or absence means for a piece of literature, and for those who don’t speak German and cannot appreciate the subtleties of the language, the Berlin Issue of Five Dials is a leg up into the world of its writing.

Read Five Dials for free here.


Hamisch Hamilton

Five Dials

by Nicolette Stewart