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Writing Away from Home

Many cities and towns boast residency programmes for Authors. One thing they all have in common is that they enable writers to enjoy a period of financial independence.
Collage Stadt- und Dorfansichten

The writer Charlotte Gneuß lives in Berlin, but she finds it easier to write elsewhere – particularly in the countryside. ‘I find the best words in places where there are hardly any words being spoken around me,’ she says. Gneuß was awarded a grant for a writing residency in a village in Lower Saxony, where she worked on her debut novel Gittersee. It was published in 2023 to great acclaim. ‘The idea of going somewhere where nobody knows you is very appealing to me as a writer. It often enables me to write passages I wouldn’t have written other­wise, or which would have taken a lot more effort to write because I would have had to create the space for myself first. I really need solitude in order to write,’ the author explains.

The writing residency in Dresden which Gneuß will begin in June 2024 does not hold out the promise of solitude – nor is it designed to. The author does plan to spend her six months in Saxony’s state capital continuing work on a novel she has already started, but she also wants to get involved in the life of the city. The hope – according to the organisers of the grant, which has been awarded since 1996 – is that Dresden’s writers-in-residence will ‘enrich the literary traditions of this city of culture and, by putting on their own events, give new impetus to the importance of language culture and literature.’ But Gneuß has other ambitions, too, in a year when state parliamentary elections will be held in Saxony and the far-right party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) stands to win a majority. ‘I think it would be pretty lazy to rest on my laurels at a time like this. I’m glad there’s something I can do – and I see that as one of the key responsibilities of the role. I’m not saying I can necessarily change the outcome, but I want to take action, to offer my own small contribution in a cultural form.’

Dresden Foto
© Pozhidaeva, Pixabay

The magnificent backdrop of Saxony’s capital will be the new setting for the six-month writing residency programme in Dresden.

Charlotte Gneuß has a special connection to Dresden. ‘Dresden is where I started writing. Many of my texts began life in that city. I feel as if I’ve lost something there, in a very personal sense, which I have to go looking for,’ she says. Her parents lived in the city on the Elbe before the Wall came down, and Gneuß herself studied social work and worked with asylum seekers in Dresden.

Dresden is one of the most renowned writing residencies, but far from the only one. Many cities and towns boast residency programmes. Apart from Dresden, the best-known residencies are in Frankfurt’s Bergen-Enkheim district, in the spa town of Baden-Baden, in Rhineland-Palatinate’s state capital Mainz, and in the town of Rheinsberg in Brandenburg. Eisenbach in the Black Forest has a village residency, Beeskow in Brandenburg a castle residency, Flensburg in northern Germany had a crime writing residency, and the North Sea island of Sylt an island residency. But one thing all the residency programmes have in common is that they enable writers to enjoy a period of financial independence.

Writing residency programmes are the brainchild of the writer Franz Joseph Schneider. Fifty years ago, in his hometown of Bergen-Enkheim, the first writer-in-residence was appointed: Wolfgang Koeppen. He was followed by a whole series of famous writers, including poets Peter Rühmkorf and Wolfgang Hilbig and also Herta Müller, who would go on to win the Nobel Prize. The reputation of these writers rubbed off on the small, unassuming neighbourhood.

In Bergen-Enkheim, the writer-in-residence – who moves into the residency house for a year and receives a grant of 20,000 euros – has no obligations. The extent to which the resident writer gets involved in local life is up to them. Nino Haratischwili, a well-known novelist and playwright, is Bergen-Enkheim’s fiftieth writer-in-residence; after giving her introductory reading she left Bergen-Enkheim for a while to put on a play in Berlin.

Bergen-Enkheim Fotos
© unknown

Tucked away in the historic town centre of Bergen-Enkheim is the ‘Stadtschreiberhäuschen’, the little residency house with its enchanting garden.

Haratischwili’s predecessor, Marion Poschmann, moved into the residency house with her husband. ‘She was part of neighbourhood life,’ says Mark Gläser, head of the Bergen-Enkheim Cultural Society. For Poschmann, who enjoyed having people round for tea, getting involved in the day-to-day life of the neighbourhood felt like the natural thing to do: ‘There are various ways of making your presence felt and enriching neighbourhood life,’ she says. ‘And perhaps the intellectual work that is done in the residency house also radiates outwards, not in a measurable but in a tangible way.’ The year in Bergen-Enkheim was also important for her writing: ‘In Berlin I live in the city centre, whereas Bergen-Enkheim is on the outskirts of the city, it has a more village-y feel, you’re only a few minutes from a green space. Since nature plays a key role in my books, I really benefited from spending a whole year in a rural environment.’

Chor der Erinnyen Cover

Marion Poschmann
Chor der Erinnyen

Nino Haratischwili wants to use the residency to start work on a new novel. She already has some initial notes and a structure. ‘Being able to work at a different desk helps me – it’s much more intensive and effective. I find it easier to write away from home – there are fewer distractions. But it’s also difficult for me because I have two young children, so my time is not entirely my own.’ For this reason Haratischwili plans to commute between Berlin, where she lives with her children, and Bergen-Enkheim.

Julia Schoch, who lives in Potsdam and will take up the post of writer-in-residence in Mainz from March 2024, is also going to be doing a lot of travelling; she too has children and family responsibilities. ‘I can’t just disappear from my life for a year,’ she says. In Mainz, where she will be based at the Gutenberg Museum, Schoch plans to finish the third book in her novel trilogy Biographie einer Frau. The novel will be published in January 2025. The idea behind the project is to ‘tell stories about women in society, particularly about how love and thus relationship patterns have changed over the decades.’ The thing Schoch is most looking forward to is being able to work without distractions. But she is also excited to discover a part of Germany she knows very little about. Part of this journey of discovery will take place on the water: she is planning a river cruise on the Rhine.

© Carsten Costard

A particularly splendid place: the historic part of the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz is home to the writers-in-residence.

Charlotte Gneuß


S. Fischer Verlag
Das mangelnde Licht Cover
Nino Haratischwili

Lack Of Light (Das mangelnde Licht)

Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt
Cover-The Couple of the century-Julia Schoch
Julia Schoch

The couple of the century (Das Liebespaar des Jahrhunderts)

dtv Verlagsgesellschaft


Holger Heimann is a literary critic and works for various newspapers and broadcasters. He lives in Berlin.

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