That, I’m embarrassed to say, is just about the extent of my German vocabulary, despite the hours I spent listening to foreign language CDs in preparation for my BODY DOUBLE book tour to Germany and Austria. (Well, okay. I also knew the all-important “where is the toilet?”) Most of us Americans are way behind western Europeans when it comes to foreign language skills. I myself can speak some barely passable Spanish. But if you stop the average young Dutchman or German on the street and ask him a question in English, chances are, he’ll answer you right back, and in perfectly fluent English. He can probably also manage in French, Spanish, and maybe even Italian.
Which is why my book tour in Germany was not such a wild and crazy idea. Although I don’t speak German, many of my readers there could understand my English readings. Plus, my publisher came up with the brilliant idea of pairing me with a well-known German actress, Michaela May, who read excerpts from the German translation of BODY DOUBLE (The German title: SCHWESTERNMORD.) Accompanied by our guys plus our fun-loving publicist Dr. Berit Boehm, we were a traveling road show, moving from city to city, drawing crowds of readers from Frankfurt to Munich to Hannover. I gave interviews to radios and newspapers, hung out in bars with Berit, and sipped wine late into the night with my Frankfurt Crime Festival hosts, Lothar and Eldad .
If it sounds like fun, well it was! And if you know me well, you also know which question to ask next of this restauranteur’s daughter:
“What did you eat?”
One of my favorite photos from the trip is of my first wide-eyed confrontation with a wienerschnitzel. No, folks, it’s not a dog! It’s a specialty of Vienna, a tender veal cutlet pounded paper-thin and dipped in egg and bread crumbs. The one I ordered at Figlmuller Restaurant in Vienna (on Wollzeile) was so huge it draped over the edges of the dinner plate. At the Sacher Hotel, also in Vienna, I ordered a slice of their famous Sachertorte, and made the mistake of sharing it with my husband. It turned into a desperate duel of forks as we fought for the last bite of chocolate cake and the richest whipped cream I have ever tasted.
In Frankfurt, I ordered a “curry-wurst”, a sausage with a rather bizarre-sounding sauce made of ketchup and curry, and discovered it was not so bizarre after all, but quite tasty. A few days later, the front-page headline in a German newspaper proclaimed that “Eating curry-wurst might prevent Alzheimers Disease.” (Of course, it’s really the curry that’s beneficial; the Germans just had to throw in the sausage for good measure!)
Finally, the beer. Ah, the beer. I used to be a Guinness girl, until I sampled Munich’s famous white beer. It’s said to be a cure for kidney stones. Well, I don’t know about the kidney stones cure, but I do know that white beer is just plain delicious, and with just a hint of sweetness. In Munich it comes in an enormous, vase-shaped glass. (Confession: I didn’t stop at just one!)
But wait, this is a writer’s blog, after all, and I guess I really should get back to the writing biz, and why, exactly, an American writer would even be touring in Germany. The reason is simple: Germany is a HUGE book market. It’s the second largest market in the world, after the U.S., and it deserves any writer’s attention. A look at their national bestseller list (published every week in Der Spiegel and viewable at http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/charts/0,1518,belletristik,00.html ) shows that Germans are reading many of the same books we are, from Harry Potter to The Da Vinci Code. They’re wildly enthusiastic about familiar names such as John Grisham, Diana Gabaldon, and Stephen King. Crime thrillers are big there, and romances have an enthusiastic following.
In other ways, the German book market is different. Their online book sales are a far larger segment of overall sales, and I’ve read that the German Amazon site is actually the second largest bookseller in the country, after their largest brick-and-mortar bookstore chain. (Amazon sales make up a much smaller sliver of overall book sales in the U.S. I would estimate that only 3% of my own book sales go out through Amazon.)
The other big difference is that Germans seem to LOVE attending author readings. I was told by one German reader that it’s a major social activity there, much like going to the movies or attending a play. Not only do they turn up in large numbers at bookstore events, they often have to PAY to get in, with prices somewhere around five to seven Euros. Despite that entrance fee, my readings were much larger in Germany than in the U.S., where I’ve occasionally sat through some truly depressing book signings with only two or three people turning up. In contrast, my reading in Hannover, Germany drew 200 people, and the bookseller sold out of all my books. Every single copy was gone.
Here in the U.S., we writers can only dream of such events.