Sunday, November 25, 2012

HERE'S HERR RICHARD KÜNZEL! (Part 2) (October 10, 2011)


Vim Nadera: How would describe your family?
Richard Künzel: Four heads – just fine to be fit to move from place to place, from continent to continent together. Even now, that our children are grown ups, we are in a good communication with each other. Our children grew into a tolerant dealing with people of different cultures and are in their ways bridges in whatever they do professionally: the daughter – Arabic speaking - working at the Head Office of the German Academic Exchange Service / DAAD in Bonn (coordinating the exchange of scientists between Egypt and Germany). Our son: a Lufthansa pilot (doing his announcements from the flight deck in Arabic when flying into Cairo). – And my wife at each posting engaging herself in school matters, international cultural matters (even learning Russian during our 6 years in Kazakhstan), a brilliant cook and passionate photographer – singing in the Choir of the Union Church of Manila – taking singing lessons from an Ifugao musician (who studied church music in Berlin).

VN: Please tell us about your books on night trains and wrote essays on travelling in Central Asia.
RK: The sleeping-car stories are made of the stuff I filled my diary with. Specially the charmful side of night life on rails, about the day dreams of sleeping-car attendants. “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie were always on stand-by when my fantasy circled around the rails that go beyond the end of the world, the spies that escape from the police by using the Orient Express to Baku (which in reality never went there). As a student I never made it to Baku. But later, as a director of the Goethe-Institut in Almaty / Kazakhstan I fulfilled my former dream and did my service trip to Tbilissi / Gerogia by train via Baku and Yerevan / Armenia; I was in heaven! And the staff was born my essays are made of. However, writing essays on extreme railway themes did not start in Central Asia. It started during my 8 years at the Goethe-Institut in Cairo, when I also was Vice-President of the “Friends of the Railways of Egypt and the Arab World (FREA)”. I’m attaching my shortest essay from there.

VN: What is your most unforgettable experience as a sleeping-car attendant on night trains from Germany to Istanbul, Athens, Rome, and Northern Europe?
RK: When a Serbian passenger said to me in excitement: “Compatriot, you saved my life.” (By my own fault I had locked the rear door of my sleeping-car; when the train began to move, this Serb stood at the small platform outside the door and could not get in… Hearing his cries, I rushed to the door and opened from inside.

VN: Why did you take up philology?
RK: For reasons of adventure. I loved roaming with my bike strange areas and countries on the Balkans where strange (not simply “foreign”) languages were spoken. I was proud to learn jokes, dirty words and songs of villagers in houses and pubs next to dirty roads on countrysides in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro. And next day rehears what I learnt while floating on my bike downhill to the Adriatic Sea, or pushing my bike uphill under the observing eyes of bulls or cows. Strange languages, the smell of sweet night air, the chatting of voices in the dark – these are the ingredients of the charm of foreign languages and insomnia.

VN: Any particular acting experience? Why theater?
RK: When verbal and non-verbal expression of life come together, humans discover themselves faster and better. I was never an actor. But when speaking to people, and noticing that they were banned, I felt encouraged to speak – or to read - as an actor. Especially adults love to listen to a narrating voice before they fall asleep (wisdom of a trekking guide)

VN: And history?
RK: History interested me only as much as I could taste it. I tasted history especially during the time of the Cold War in Europe, when I travelled in trains crossing the Iron Curtain, feeling the “angst” of those smuggling goods, themselves or others across “hot” boarders. I smelled history, when a person I wanted to speak to, first turned his/her head to check whether it was “safe” to speak (1) in public and (2) to a stranger. History became a delicacy, when all of a sudden in 1989 the wall fell – not only in Berlin, but in the whole of Eastern Europe. Freude schoener Goetterfunken…

VN: Why the interest in Russian interpreting?
RK: During the time of the Cold War, when I took up “Slavistics” at the Munich university, I had been traveling already a lot to easily accessible Yougoslavia and could could read and write their languages. However, it was expensive and difficult to travel into and through the Sovjet Union – the territory where the main Slavic language, Russian, was spoken. In order to compensate this lack of exposure to Russian, I decided for a rather school-like learning of Russian at the Munich School of Interpreters.

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