Roger Willemsen and Mannheim

Roger Willemsen Bildquelle: Mathias Bothor

Roger Willemsen
Bildquelle: Mathias Bothor

My experience was like so many who come to Mannheim. I ended up staying here. First it was just a leg on my tour, a bit later a friendly place to stay and later still the city secretly became my home. Event organisers became friends, friends had children, others started taking on official posts and were nice enough to manage my affairs, my cousin lives in the city, my closest friends sing here on the opera stage, others bring their charm to local television, I buy my clothes here, I have favourite restaurants in the city and people are friendly to me. So coming to Mannheim is different to coming anywhere else.

I can now say that I have not only had a series of unforgettable evenings on stage and premieres in this city – I have also developed a feeling for the Mannheim audience. I have often peered into the hall of the Alte Feuerwache wanting to stir up this so willing and receptive audience. Because this is an audience who are really great when filled with enthusiasm.

And the Lesen.Hören literature festival became a matter of the heart. While initially still focusing on new publications, this year I wanted to try something different – not just readings but also themed evenings, cross-overs between literature and cabaret, between photography and music, between the oral tradition and human rights, between the trivial, the cheerful and the classical.

Obviously, we are still keeping the reading format – taking the stage here will be contemporary writer Thomas Glavinic whose works we have been following in Mannheim for years now, the brilliant, young humorous stage narrator Kirsten Fuchs as well as Bernstein, Knorr and Eilert, the classics of subtle humour. But I am also delighted and honoured to see the peace prize winner Liao Yiwu at the festival as well as Judith Hermann and Manuela Reichart at an evening devoted to Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro.

And let’s not forget that this year we have a special line-up of hosts and programme designers: there is no-one better than recent Alfred Kerr Prize winner Insa Wilke (together with Maria Schrader) to convey female contemporary lyricism. Ursula März, one of the finest literature critics in the country, will be joining forces with Barbara Auer and Michael Maar to organise a glittering diary evening. Katja Kraus will be holding a refugees evening while Julia Westlake will be here as one of the most experienced culture programme presenters on television. I know ChrisTine Urspruch’s evening on Christian Morgenstern will be fabulous and the tearaways at the Perry Rhodan evening are now legendary.

I myself didn’t bring my premiere of “Das Hohe Haus” to Mannheim for nothing. But I will also be there on as many of the other nights as I can. I will hopefully get trashed, buy clothes, give shoddy speeches and have lots of fun with Mannheim friends, my colleagues from the Feuerwache, especially Katharina Tremmel and Sören Gerhold. Just thinking back to one of my favourite evenings that juxtaposed highly suggestive photos of Mathias Bothor with Frank Chastenier’s unique piano improvisations, then I know happiness is ours and outside people will be pressing their noses up against the city walls and thinking: Mannheim, you’ve got it good!

Roger Willemsen