Heidelberg has always been a centre of learning and literature and its famous writers include the great Romantic-era writers Clemens Brentano, Bettina von Arnim and Friedrich Hölderlin and the Russian poet Ossip Mandelstam who started to write while studying in Heidelberg in the early 20th century. Well-known contemporary writers related to Heidelberg are for instance Michael Buselmeier, Hilde Domin, Ralph Dutli, Jagoda Marinić, Anne Richter, Bernhard Schlink and Saša Stanišić.
The Ruperto Carola, or Heidelberg University, as it’s more commonly known, was founded in 1386 and is the oldest university in Germany. Dozens of writers now associated with Heidelberg attended the University and the University has ten Nobel Prize winners to its name. The University has instituted a poetics lectureship, and together with the city awards the Brentano Prize once a year, a literary award recognising emerging talent. Part of the University is a renowned centre for translation, the Institute of Translation and Interpretation, and the city’s international outlook is seen in the range of writers drawn to the city. From Muhammad Iqbal and Mark Twain, to Charles Bukowski and J.K. Rowling, visiting writers are treasured just as much as home-grown authors.
Heidelberg is distinguished by a very broad and vivid creative sector. Just in the field of literature, up to 150 authors and translators are living in and around Heidelberg, and about 50 publishing houses are based in the city which—due to 1.5 book shops per 10,000 residents—has one of the highest concentration of book shops and second-hand booksellers in Germany.
Heidelberg nurtures its literature in many locations: from the German-American Institute and the Public Library to numerous cultural centres, university institutes and bookshops to private and public book clubs. Heidelberg’s municipal and university libraries make up a huge part of the fabric of the city’s literary life and reading programmes. The University Library of Heidelberg is one of the best visited libraries in Germany, with a steadily growing electronic library, and works of historical importance including the Manesse Codex, a beautifully illustrated collection of medieval German poetry.
Heidelberg honours local and international writers with literary prizes. The ‘Clemens-Brentano-Prize’ awards 10,000 euros to emerging promising writers. The Hilde-Domin-Prize for Literature in Exile (15,000 euros) is awarded to works of fiction by writers in exile.
COLLABORATION WITH OTHER CITIES
‘Expedition Poetry’ offers a special format for a bilingual intensive intercultural translation workshop. During several days’ duration, poets from two UNESCO Cities of Literature (up to three poets from each city) work together on the translation of their poems from and into the other language.
Each poet offers up to ten of their own poems to the working group. In addition to the original version, these poems will be offered in an interlinear translation into the other language.
The special feature of this kind of translational process is that no professional translators are involved in the final textual production. Based on an interlinear (word-by-word) translation and accompanied by an interpreter, the poets of the two different lingual and cultural backgrounds find the personal poetic equivalent expressions.
The benefit of this format is an intense exchange and deeper understanding of the general cultural implementations as well as the particular language use and personal opinions of the translation partners. The poets involved get in direct contact with their colleagues in other foreign cities. The workshop and the experience of holding a shared reading offer the chance of an ongoing personal and working relationship.
In 2016, ‘Expedition Poetry’ took place between the cities of Prague and Heidelberg, in 2018 between the cities of Granada and Heidelberg and in 2021 as an extensive ‘Expedition Poetry’ online between the cities of Melbourne and Heidelberg (with five poets from each city).
To mark the XII UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) Meeting in Krakow and Katowice, poets from each City of Literature have contributed to the project ‘Poetic Encounters’, initiated by Heidelberg UNESCO City of Literature and Fabriano UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art, to produce a specially bound and printed anthology celebrating literature and its vital place in world culture.
Fifty-one poets from 28 UNESCO Cities of Literature have come together to celebrate the collaborative spirit which lies at the core of the UCCN and to support linguistic diversity through poetic expressions from around the world. The book is dedicated to all people worldwide who value the power and richness of literature and advocate freedom of thought and speech. All texts have been written or printed on beautiful handcrafted, folio-sized paper from Fabriano UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art. The paper was sent from Fabriano via Heidelberg to all UNESCO Cities of Literature worldwide and, after being filled with literary works, was sent all the way back to Fabriano where the unique book has been bound.
The book was gifted to the Mayors of Krakow and Katowice by the Mayors of Heidelberg and Fabriano at a special presentation during the annual meeting of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network in June 2018.
Contributing to the book, the authors were filmed as they wrote a literary piece of art on the Fabriano paper. The film, edited by Tel Aviv UNESCO City of Media Arts, with music provided by Mannheim UNESCO City of Music, illustrates the project and its worldwide cooperation between UNESCO Creative Cities.
Heidelberger Literaturtage has been a highlight of the city’s cultural event calendar for 30 years. It takes place every May/June on five days in a beautiful spiegeltent at university square in the old town. Readings of international and well-known national writers, multilingual events and talks, exhibitions, and a varied literary program for children and young people are part of the regular program as well as literary city tours, workshops and much more.
Since 2016, Literaturherbst Heidelberg has presented the regional literary scene every autumn at the end of September with readings, presentations and talks that take place all over the city in book shops, libraries, cafés, bars, galleries or in the streets.
Heidelberger Stückemarkt is an annual festival for new theatre plays and takes place every spring at the city theatre of Heidelberg. Over the more than three decades since its premiere in 1984, the festival has become one of the most important festivals and competitions for emerging playwrights and new dramatic forms in the German speaking countries. Furthermore, the festival hosts important current guest performances and every year puts a spotlight on the theatre scene of another country as guest of honor.
The Artist's Residence Dilsberg residence comprises a Work Grant awarded by the ‘Kulturstiftung Rhein-Neckar-Kreis e.V.’ in cooperation with Heidelberg UNESCO City of Literature for authors from UNESCO Cities of Literature in the ‘Commandant’s House Dilsberg’, at Dilsberg Fortress, in Neckargemünd (approximately 14 km from Heidelberg). The building served as the Commandant’s quarters of the Dilsberg garrison in the 17th century. The former Commandant’s House was acquired 1996 and renovated by the Rhein-Neckar-District. Since then the ‘Commandant’s House Dilsberg’ has been a center for the promotion of art and culture: exhibitions, chamber music concerts, open-air concerts, readings, symposia and discussion rounds enrich the cultural life of the region. Here art, music, and literature grant holders find a creative work sphere.
The duration of the biennial scholarship is three months. During the residency time, the guest artists from other UNESCO Cities of Literature have the opportunity to connect with the regional literary scene and to present their work to a local audience.