The Max Goldt Treasury, Reloaded

As time permits, I've translated the odd column by Max Goldt. In honor of his recent receipt of the Kleist Prize, I decided to increase the pace of translations as part of "Max Goldt Weeks". As part of MGW, I'm pleased to announce the latest translation, The Masses and the Maidens.

I've also decided to set up an independent section of this website just for Max Goldt translations, so they don't get lost amid all the nonsense and bloviation. If you look to the right, the sidebar now features an widget entitled The Max Goldt Treasury, with an introduction and table of contents, as well as links to all of my translations of Goldt's essays. From now on, the latest translations will always appear there.


Max Goldt: On the Magic of Walking Past Sideways

It's time for part two of Max Goldt Weeks here at German Joys. Just in time for the annual opening of Christmas markets all across Germany! Which, for at least one German, is an occasion for gnashing of teeth...

On the Magic of Walking Past Sideways

by Max Goldt

translated by Andrew Hammel

How delightful it would be to receive a letter which said: “Please never write a satirical Christmas story. Writers who do that are really, truly crap.” Instead, every year there’s the following message: “We’d love to have a wonderful satirical Christmas story from you!”

To hell with that. The worst thing about Christmas is the yearly deluge of satirical Christmas commentaries in written, musical, and dramatic form. With the onset of winter, hordes of writers who preside over meager talents – and understand and profit from capitalism the whole year through – suddenly detect an onset of “consumer terror” which may trigger an intoxicating rush of spending in its supposed victims. But doesn’t terror generally provoke fear and mourning? If it were known to get you high, it would probably have some quite respectable admirers. Anyone who gets a rush from carrying home plastic bags full of toys would be well-advised to ask certain people who seem to hang around for an awfully long time in front of disco bathrooms if they perchance have something that might clear up any mistake about what it means to get high.  

Continue reading "Max Goldt: On the Magic of Walking Past Sideways" »

Max Goldt: May the Diva Ascend from the Rubbish


Ahh, Diana Ross. How the occult eroticism of her exotropic strabismus haunted my teenage pysche! 

Which brings us to the first installment of several Max Goldt translations, in honor of his upcoming receipt of the Kleist Prize (g). The column originally appeared in Titanic (g) in May 2007 and, I have it on good authority, won't be included (at least in its present form) in any upcoming Max Goldt books.

Therefore, this is a web-only, English-language German Joys exclusive. More translations coming in Week Two of Max Goldt Weeks. Enjoy!

May the Diva Ascend from the Rubbish (Report on a Current National Flaw)

By Max Goldt

(translated from the German by Andrew Hammel)

The Scandinavia correspondent of the FAZ recently reported that a German church-organ repairman had emigrated to Sweden. Not for the better working conditions, but because his own people's indiscretion and chattiness had gotten on his nerves. As I read that, I thought, 'well, if you have to talk about national stereotypes, they might as well be accurate, for a change.' Indiscretion and chattiness – indeed, those are the most objectionable traits nowadays. To be sure, Germans are normally accused of humorlessness. And since the German middle classes, the “mainstream,” have lately become accustomed to pre-empt and amplify every criticism from outsiders, they have, for quite a while now, been the loudest in denouncing their own humorlessness. However, nobody really puts enough thought into the matter. Humor – that is, the talent for regarding your own destiny from  outside, for extorting some consolation from the daily grind of misery – why should this gift, which is something utterly individual, differ from region to region? Perhaps this cultural error is explained by the fact that humor is often confused with wit – even with the telling of jokes and the reaction of the listeners to them. After all such charm, esprit, and friskiness is regarded as unchaste and suspect in social systems known for piety or other forms of rigidity. One has a sense of humor, however, not primarily among companions, but alone. Why should the representatives of one people have more of this quality than others? There is no reason to believe this is.


Europe’s national clichés are probably about 200 to 300 years old.  What‘s amazing is that the nations of Europe seem to have so little desire to update them. We can only speculate where they came from – but only a fool, while speculating, would leave wars out of the picture. The Seven Years’ War, for instance. In that conflict, many a young European got mixed up with soldiers, or was forced to make a living as mercenary in foreign armies, or was taken prisoner by the Prussians, let’s say. Now, it’s true that the Prussians tended to be rather grim customers. You wouldn't want to tangle with them. After the war, survivors dispersed all over Europe with tales of the not-to-be-tangled-with Prussians.  Since even back then people tended to confuse a lot of things with a lot of other things – such as a disciplined regiment with humorlessness on a state and individual level – soon everyone was talking about the humorless Prussians.

Continue reading "Max Goldt: May the Diva Ascend from the Rubbish" »

Goldt Weeks at German Joys


Max Goldt, the Wotan of German-language satirical prose, will be presented with the Kleist Prize on November 23rd of this year. Congratulations, Herr Goldt.

In honor of this festive occasion, I will be posting several translations of Max Goldt columns in the coming days -- including, by special arrangement, a web-only exclusive English translation of a Max Goldt column that won't be printed in any future book!

The first translation will be posted tomorrow, the next later this week, and one more the week after that.

[photo: Timo Timpe, Max Goldt fan.]

Max Goldt: Test-Driving Misery

It's been a long time since I last translated some Max Goldt. That long time is now officially over.  Presenting my translation of Dem Elend Probesitzen.

Test-Driving Misery

[by Max Goldt; translated by Andrew Hammel]

I always wanted to visit Malta, even though everyone assured me that this island was more built-up than the Ruhr Valley – primarily with majestic, towering churches which resemble each other to a painful degree.  They also said that there was almost nothing to eat except chips and, at the beginning of the day, burned English toast with butter that runs down your shirt-sleeve.  And that there was nothing to do outside of swimming season except ride Malta’s legendary yellow buses from one storm-drenched village to the next, very similar, storm-drenched village. 

Unwilling to let my New Years’ plans be spoiled by the carping of these haughty globetrotters, I decided to just fly there. I must say, the warnings weren’t exactly wrong, aside from the point about the butter. What flew into my shirt-sleeve during breakfast was, namely, not butter, but rather a substance located in the domain of the substitute fats, and which was called “I can't believe it's not BUTTER." Should that have put me in hypercritical-consumer mood? Or should it have bothered me that on the very first morning, a slice of mortadella lay under our table? “Look! There’s cheap, ugly sausage under our table,” I said. To my satisfaction, my companion responded: “So? There’s also cheap, ugly sausage on the table, and that's what we're about to eat, my good man!”

Continue reading "Max Goldt: Test-Driving Misery" »

In Which I Rocket to Superstardom

Those of my readers who are subscribers to Titanic, the essential accessory for positive-plus top-lifestyle hyperachievers like us (you are Titanic subscribers, aren't you?) may already have seen that Max Goldt has seen fit to mention GJ in his piece of the real estate.  Indeed, he's paid this blog the ultimate compliment of taking a few weak, half-baked meanderings spewed out here and turning them into something actually worth reading.  Many thanks.

To welcome the shiny new reader(s) that will stop by in the next few days, I've planned a very special series of ultra-accessible posts.  Stay tuned for selections from dictionaries of German prison slang and obscene words, and uncensored pictures of an actual unopened book about a French Catholic reactionary!  Can you feel the Germanjoysmentum?

P.S.  For the worthless parasites out there who have not yet subscribed to Titanic, you may -- nay, must -- repent, posthaste.

Max Goldt Treasury: Stubble Envy

And now, another in an occasional series of translations of essays by Max Goldt! A short introduction to the man's work can be found here.

Stubble Envy

by Max Goldt (translation by Andrew Hammel)

Two phenomena are commonly described as five-o’clock shadow. A man runs warm water to thumb-depth in the sink, plugs it, wets the shaving-brush, and washes the stubble off in the water. After the shave, he unplugs the sink, and a film of soap and stubble remains in the sink. This is the sink’s five-o’clock shadow. It’s unpopular. What more can be said?

Perhaps that some men “shed needles.” Women who have hairy men sometimes sigh as they glance at the shower or the sheets: “He’s a nice guy, but he really sheds. A Christmas tree has nothing on him.”

Shaving-brushes also lose hairs. Those are badger hairs which lay this way and that in the five-o’clock shadow. You’ll only believe this if you know that, for a modest wage, people in workshops for the blind bundle the badger hairs together to make shaving brushes. There are also some brushes with synthetic hair, but you don’t help blind people if you buy those; and there are also some made from chamois hair, but they are so expensive it seems a shame to get them wet.  For eight hours, man lies around in blankets made of goose-plumage – then, two minutes later, grooms himself with badger-coat. Horst Tappert actually sleeps nine hours, as one can read in the papers.

Here’s my advice to a Vegan who can no longer rock the house by declaring that he doesn’t wear leather shoes and or even eat honey (since these examples are too well-known). Next time, announce: “I don’t even use a shaving brush made from badger hair.” Nobody’s ever said that in a talk show before. Whoever says it for the first time will rock the house just like way back when, when everyone said: “Wha-a-t? Not even eggs?”

Continue reading "Max Goldt Treasury: Stubble Envy" »

Max Goldt Treasury: Weapons for El Salvador

Well, Max Goldt is visiting Duesseldorf on his barnstorming tour of Germany and has sold out zakk. What better time for the next installment of our occasional series 'The Max Goldt Treasury'? First installment (and short intro) here, second installment here.

Weapons for El Salvador

Sometime’s life’s a bitch. You come back home late at night and put your bag down where you always put it, but then realize that this isn’t possible, because the bag is gone. That’s like getting hit by a bear’s paw. You open the door and, to exaggerate a bit, a brown bear in your apartment roars: “Where the hell is your bag?” You get a sudden hot flash, like a woman in menopause, and you begin feeling your own body to see whether your bag might be hanging from one or another of its parts. But it’s gone, it’s somewhere else – where? In the bar? In the taxi? And what was in the bag? This is bad. Loss researchers from 16 countries compare the loss of a bag with the loss of hair, honor, watch, and homeland – in fact, all of them at the same time. Other researchers compare the loss of a bag to the extinction of the eagle owl, but these scientists are considered lightweights in the loss-research scene. Hair grows back, you can admire eagle owls in the zoo, and you can restore your honor by scraping pigeon droppings from the balconies of manic-depressive women. And plenty of people found a new homeland right there in the country they’d been abducted into. A bag, however, stays gone, and never comes back.

I lived through something just as awful: the loss of an almost completely full notebook. When you’ve got two seats free in a train, you naturally tend to spread all your junk around in the free seat. Recently, as I reached my destination, I had forgot that at the start of my journey, I’d written something in my small notebook and then laid it on the neighboring seat. I then proceeded to pile the seat high with newspapers, orange peels, and chocolate-drink packages. Later, they all ended up in the janitor's garbage bag along with my notebook. A shame, because this book contained the sketch of a wonderful story that I’ll never be able to recapture. Roughly, it goes a bit like this: John Lennon, four weeks before his death, happened to be filmed by a Japanese television crew at the post office, withdrawing $15 million from his savings account.  He wanted to buy weapons for El Salvador, which was very much the done thing in 1980. I still remember discussions with a left-wing friend, who wasn’t rich at all, but who had given 1000 Deutschmarks to the “Weapons for El Salvador” campaign. This completely puzzled me. Remember that in 1980, I paid only 179 Deutschmarks in rent. People assured me El Salvador could be helped only with weapons, and they accused me of political ignorance.

Continue reading "Max Goldt Treasury: Weapons for El Salvador" »

Max Goldt Treasury: Intact Abdomen Thanks to Cool Behavior

A few months ago, I translated an essay by Max Goldt, a German writer of prose pieces and comic strips. (The link above also contains a bit more of an introduction.) The response was encouraging, so here's another short essay.

I hope I don't need to remind readers that the original is funnier, nuances have been lost in translation, etc. (If you lot would just hurry up and learn German, I could go back to cultivating my beloved shelf fungi).

Without further ado, I give you:

Intact Abdomen thanks to Cool Behavior

by Max Goldt (translation by Andrew Hammel)

As a supporter of the environment, I am also a great friend of animals. If I see a fellow citizen approaching a kitten with a hedge-trimmer or saxophone, I call out: “No, my good man!” We all understand this. However, on the whole, animals are not as popular as animal shows on television. When you crack open a hazelnut and sees a maggot’s sickly grimace instead of the hoped-for nature-snack, joie de vivre takes a short break. Don’t start yelling at the maggot right then -- as we all know, it will one day develop into one of those precious and irreplaceable fellow-creatures which circle around idiotically in front of your mouth. It is unnecessary to treat lowly worms and the like with kid-gloves. The ecological balance is not a house of cards that will collapse if you squash a fly sitting on top of it. The beasts just love to sit on houses of cards anyway. So, I routinely squash unwanted flies, and hear nary a peep from my conscience. (Invited flies, of course, receive different treatment.)

We humans are just that way. If a million mites are going lip-smackingly about their daily business in our carpets, we would hardly be demoralized to find out that their population had been halved by a mite-world natural disaster. It doesn’t matter how “whole-earth” a nature-lover thinks – the tears that run down his cheeks after he squashes a silverfish in the bathroom will dry faster than those he cries after accidentally shooting a Siberian tiger in the bathtub.

How would the animal shelter employee look if you brought her a huge family of maggots milling about in a piece of liverwurst? I think she’d throw a fine fit! Thus, it would be an appropriate sign of sincerity if the local SPCA changed its name to “Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Generally Regarded as Nice.” Furry, cute, feathered, or at least rare – that’s how animals have to be if they wish to enjoy the undivided favor of us humans. There’s also a minimum-size requirement – you can’t really sympathize through a magnifying-glass.

Continue reading "Max Goldt Treasury: Intact Abdomen Thanks to Cool Behavior" »

German Joys Uncut: On Film Music

And now for something very special. A project I've been working on for the past month or so. An entire, uncut essay by Max Goldt.

English-speakers are asking: 'Who is Max Goldt?'

He is a respectable-looking young man in his early 40s. Judging from the readings I've been to, he's partial to cordury jackets. You could call him the poet laureate of young, hip, well-educated, marginally-employed Germans, but he'd probably find that descrition pompous and trite. He writes essays and, in cooperation with comic-strip designer Katz, forms the 'comic-duo' Katz und Goldt (G). Here are a few of their T-shirts (G), which bear slogans like "Wasps - Your Reliable Partner When It Comes to Wasp-Stings"; "Hay Fever is like Rock 'n Roll for the Nose",  and "At a certain age, the only option left for meeting new people is to give birth to some."

There's no real way to convey Goldt's peculiar genius; but you might say he lives in a German-speaking neighborhood a few exits down from S.J. Perelman and Glenn O'Brien, where there are strange murals on the walls and bohemian-looking beggars. Better to just read a bit of Goldt and craft your own analogies. That's hard for non-German speakers to do, because I don't believe anything of his has been translated into English, more's the pity. So I translated* this essay, from the July Titanic (G) magazine:

On Film Music: Or more Precisely, on Television Music

It is the year of our Lord 900, or, as it was called in East Germany, “according to our calendar.” On an island off the Welsh coast live two wise, holy women who are bound to each other by two things, namely: a) a life-long enmity; and b) blazing physical desire. On an autumn night which is stormy even by Irish Sea standards, the two women completely independently search out an ancient Celtic grave-site, to solve a folk-mystery whose origins – even back then – were lost in the mists of time. A fearful battle ensues under an oak whose trunk splits at 30 feet. During the battle, deep, probing kisses alternate with millimeter-precise fist-blows. After both achieve a simultaneous sexual climax, one tries to wall the other into a dungeon, so that she will wither away gruesomely. The other, however, happens to have exactly the same idea. Something happens which never happened before in the entire early middle ages: Two women wall each other into the exact same tower. They die slowly of thirst, hideously cursing their fate from within their respective chambers. Moss and owls, but also spiders, as well as greedy Time, Space’s sometimes-unfriendly colleague, do their worst.

1104 years later, the Hamburg journalist, moderator, cat-raiser, bar-owner, foot-jewelry designer and, of course, author Heidi Würsel spreads the just-described dramatic material over 800 pages, to “float a few toads.” “Floating toads” – in her private jargon, this is how she refers to the profits from the activity that, in interviews, she calls “writing really exciting and, most importantly, historically credible entertainment”, but which, among friends, she calls her “bread job.” That is, that’s what she calls it when she’s in command of her senses, which, thank God, she usually is. However, when she’s among her very innermost circle of friends and the partying’s been serious, and lasts not just “a little longer” but into the wee hours, it can happen that she calls the bread job “throwing together a bunch of literary garbage for fat women,” but that doesn’t happen so often, so the other members of her posse say nothing more than that she can be “deliciously incorrect,” which of course is really the most ‘super-refreshing’ thing about Heidi. She sticks the dough from the “nicely lesbianized Middle-Ages plot” into the restyling of the Bali-Lounge of her restaurant “Schinkenkeller” on the island of Sylt, whose regulars include her half sister, the not-yet-very renowned sports car restorer, but already internationally renowned rock-garden expert – and, of course author – Eileen Würsel-Ahmadenijad, and the film and television composer – but recently almost completely television composer – Henner Larsfeld.

Everyone knows each other in this small circle, so it shouldn’t surprise anyone, at least insiders, that Larsfeld got the commission to deliver the music for the multi-million dollar TV film of the Würsel material.

Continue reading "German Joys Uncut: On Film Music" »