Volker Surmann: Harry Rowohlt and the appearance of the Volker

Some contemporaries may sigh: „Oh, this Harry Rowohlt. One day he’ll booze his head off.“ There are others who sigh: „That would be a fine thang.“ But cheap Irish Uisge and Guiness from the keg can’t drink Harry Rowohlt’s memory under the table: Harry Rowohlt remembers everything, and more than that: He won’t keep his experience in his beard.

A collective reading for the radio. When I enter the wardrobe I see the colleagues hanging on Harry Rowohlts lips; soon I see that they’re desperately waiting for’em to close for an instant. Because Harry Rowohlt’s brain is going for clearance sale: Everything must go off!

Names and stories blow into our faces, Hermes Phettberg, Eckhard Henscheid, Paul Auster, women, sado-masochism, cartoons, performance. Harry Rowohlt grabs a cup of coffee but forgets to stop speaking. Dull it bubbles from the porcelain while he tries to pronounce the name Phettberg. We take cover.

“And then I say: ‚You, Hermes.‘ I adress myself to Hermes Phettberg, ‚this idea for a school of pornography and prostitution is not that bad, but don’t go wrong.‘ This Hermes Phettberg was quite better when he didn’t go for saso-maso.” 

Stories, anecdotes, jokes lift from his mouth, fuzz together and curdle into a black beardy thicket. Like a ball machine Harry Rowohlt is sitting in his corner of the wardrobe and shoots off anecdotes one to another. „ … and lately I was in Nürnberg and after reading a women came and said, once we were in bed together. So I said: ‚I never hauled off with a woman in Nürnberg, but I think, that might have been wrong.“

“Ha, ha,” says a colleague and escapes to the toilet cabin. Through the thin plywood we can hear him pee, it expresses onomatopoetically what we can hear: a long lasting, vital squirt into the toilet bowl. Man consists to 63% of water and it sounds like the colleague intended to leave the toilet as a dustcloud.

Harry Rowohlt pulls on his beard. That means his anecdote generator is loading: „If only Ronald Pofalla from Titanic could hear that! He might get pale and weep. He burbles only a little bit because of his phimosis.”

„Aha, I see …“ One of the colleagues peers a little fearfully: “I strongly need to go and … er … count the chairs in the hall.” Says it and dashes out of the room.

Again Harry Rowohlt pulls on his beard: „By the way, I remember havin‘ once been to Dobblm …“ Harry Rowohlt looks at me while the peeing in the cabin merges into a silent sigh.

“In Dobblm …” When Harry Rowohlt pronounces “Dublin”, he says “Dobblm“ because it was rather genuine. It sounds more like a mythical creature with ugly ears from a Harry-Potter-novel, whom Hermine just conjured some hot potatoes into the nose, but never mind. Irishmen from Dubblm say: “Dobblm!”

I don’t know what happened in Dobblm. I think one night Harry saw a man pee from a bridge. I didn’t catch the end of the story because I strongly had to go and count chairs, too.

Soon all the other writers are counting chairs together, from the beginning, then from the end, then each for himself. Just occasionally, when we fetch some new beer from the fridge, we enter the wardrobe, where Harry Rowohlt is sitting lonely in the corner, telling stories. Ball machines can be put off. Harry Rowohlt remains himself. Quick we open the beer with our lighters, cheer gently on the old man and leave the room hastily.

This evening again Harry Rowohlt is being celebrated. He starts his lecture with the observation that he’s just a translator. He wouldn’t write something of his own and had nothing to tell. I don’t believe him. Probably he’s got a complete autobiography lying at home that can’t be published because it doesn’t suit through the door any more.


Whilst his contribution for a quarter of an hour, the floor manager behind the curtain looks anxiously at his watch again and again and then exerts into the room. “288,” I shout quietly to him.

After the show we are sitting in a spanish restaurant in front of a plate full of tapas. Harry Rowohlt looks hungrily to the figs wrapped in bacon and all the other towering delicacies, but to eat he would mean to stop … – Full of joy I slide one fig after the other under my tongue, chew ecstasized and after each comment : “Mmh, delicious, that’s interesting, Harry,” while Harry Rowohlt googles all stories with the keywords ‚fig‘, ‚Bacon‘, and ‚wrapped‘ in his brain: “At that time ’89 in Dresden, when the gutless (ger: feige=fig (n.)) Carsten Speck (=some sort of german Kevin Bacon) stole my cloak (=wrap).”

Once the plate with the tapas is empty all the others stand up and go collectively to the toilet. Suddenly I am sitting alone at the table with Harry Rowohlt.

“You are gay, aren’t you!” he asks immediately.

“Ye-ah.” I answer hesitantly. It’s too late for escape and there might be no more space left in the toilet.„Yesterday I heard a joke about gays, you know it?” And then Harry Rowohlt told me gay joke. Only as much: A gay, a doctor and a Mon Chéri appear in the joke, and its beard was almost as long as Harry Rowohlt’s own one.

Then Harry Rowohlt disappeared to the toilet, cart off the Guinness or look for his disappeared audience and I wonder: If Harry Rowohlt tells me gay jokes with a beard in a Cologne pub at night around 3 a.m.; does that mean I belong to the literary establishment now? And how long will it take until I start whistle-blowing stories about colleagues in public?

English by Thorsten Ramin

Copyright: Volker Surmann

Quelle: http://www.salbader.de/heft/nummer38/012.html/index.html