Two Chairs – A Creative Writing Competition

If you’re itching to give your creative writing skills a go, look no further – we’ve got a competition for you! Organised by the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at the University of Warwick, entries to the competition can be submitted in English or German. For more, read on…

This creative writing competition is open to everyone. It asks you to consider the pictures of the two stone chairs above. The chairs make up the ‘Hafez-Goethe Monument‘ in Weimar, Germany. This commemorate the work of the German poet Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832), whose collection of poems the West-Eastern Divan (1819) not only imagined a dialogue between the Christian European and Islamic worlds, but also sought to break down of rigid cultural divisions between them. The chairs, though, were left empty by the sculptors in 2001. They do not only represent Goethe and his Muslim counterpart, but allow anyone to occupy them, or even to ‘swap’ chairs and see the world from the ‘other’ perspective.

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Artists and commentators alike continue to be drawn to the monument and respond to it with their own creative works. The two chairs are separate, solid structures, implying two distinct individuals, cultures, or perspectives – and yet they are both cut from the same piece of stone. The key idea seems to be that we can be connected to people of other cultures, mixing and intertwining with them, without losing our own identity.

In entering, you don’t have to write literally about Goethe and the monument. Try, instead, to run with the key idea. What do the chairs say to you? What personal experiences of encountering or crossing different cultures can you draw upon to inspire you?

Some basic points to note are:

  • You can write in English or in German;
  • Your piece can be a poem, short story or piece of prose no more than 1000 words in length;
  • The entry categories will be under 18s and over 18s, with a piece in English and in German picked from each (four winners in total); prizes will be £250 each.
  • The competition launches on Monday 25 September 2017. The final date for entries is 2 March 2018, 5pm.
  • Entires should be sent electronically (see particulars) to Dr Carly Hegenbarth: C.Hegenbarth@warwick.ac.uk

More detailed particulars, including conditions of entry,and more details about the themes and what judges are looking for, can be downloaded on the project website: warwick.ac.uk/twochairswriting 

We encourage you, please, to read these carefully before you begin, to avoid misunderstandings and disappointment!

Competition entrants and winners will also be invited to attend a prize giving ceremony and live performance at the amazing Holywell Music Rooms, Oxford, on Wed 9th May 2018 (please save the date!) and the winners in each category will attend writing workshops with our panel of renowned judges.

We will certainly undertake to pay economy-level UK travel costs for the four winners, and hope to be able to offer further financial assistance to allow unwaged and school entrants to attend in greater numbers. More details on this will follow.

Good luck – and we look forward to your entries!

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Competition Organiser, Dr James Hodkinson.

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Eines Freundes Freund zu sein – Friendship & The Oxford German Olympiad

This year’s Oxford German Olympiad celebrates friendship in all its forms: between people, nations and cultures. So in the next few posts we’ll be taking a look at what ‘friendship’ encompasses, especially in the German-speaking context – you might even get a few ideas for your entry to the Olympiad! This week, we focus on political friendships…

‘Wem der große Wurf gelungen, eines Freundes Freund zu sein’

(Who the noble prize achieveth, good friend of a friend to be)

These lines are taken from Friedrich Schiller’s An die Freude/Ode to Joy, a very famous poem about friendship that was later set to music by Beethoven – and it was chosen as the Anthem of Europe in 1972. It expresses powerful ideas about the common humanity of all mankind, based on the Enlightenment philosophy of the time. According to the poem, shared experience unites people all over the world, including those separated by different languages, traditions and social classes. While this speaks to the basis of friendship between peoples and nations, John le Carré, a former German teacher and passionate advocate for the German language and German culture, has described learning a foreign language as ‘an act of friendship’ that can be performed by each of us. At an individual level, learning another person’s language means learning to communicate with them, listen to them and learn from them – and this can foster mutual understanding at the level of cultures, communities and societies.

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Statue of Marx and Engels in the Marx-Engels Forum in Berlin

History is full of examples of famous friendships and collaborations – between men, women and across genders – which have shaped culture, literature, politics and science. One of the most famous in the history of German culture is the collaboration between Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who got to know each other in Paris in 1842 and subsequently  became lifelong friends who collaborated on important works, such as The Communist Manifesto (1847), which have formed the basis for much political thought in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Friendships are also common in other areas of public life, whether genuine or not: the former German chancellor Helmut Kohl was famously close friends with French President François Mitterand during the 1980s, and the two were jointly awarded a Charlemagne Prize in 1988 for promoting Franco-German friendship, thereby echoing the peace efforts that took place after the First World War. Kohl, of course, was also a key political figure in the unification of the two Germanies – the GDR (German Democratic Republic) in the east and the FRG (Federal Republic of Germany) in the west – in 1990, an event that is celebrated every year in October. More recently, Angela Merkel and Barack Obama have discussed their close working relationship. Although this has also had its ups and downs, at the end of Obama’s presidency, Merkel could describe Obama as her ‘partner and friend’.

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Obama and Merkel – a close working relationship in international politics

Of course, the UK and the German-speaking countries haven’t always been friends – relations between Britain and Germany in the twentieth century were marked by the two World Wars (1914-18 and 1939-45). Hostile sentiments on both sides have lingered on the in the post-war years, and many British people continued to hold xenophobic anti-German views that, for many years, found particular expression in sporting events.

Nevertheless, long held bitterness resulting from the wars has also been countered by movements that have built on political peace to foster symbolic friendships. The most extensive of these is the movement of town-twinning (Partnerstädte in German). It has long been one of the clearest expressions of international friendship, particularly after the experiences of the Second World War. After the Second World War, the cities of Coventry and Dresden established formal links as a way of promoting peace and reconciliation following the devastation both suffered during the conflict. The city of Reading celebrated 70 years of association with Düsseldorf in 2017. Oxford’s own link with Bonn is also one of those created during this early wave of Anglo-German twinning arrangements and each town marks the connection every few years with a programme of celebratory events. Nowadays, most UK towns and cities have a twin town in France and Germany, at least – and many in other places like the USA, Russia or even China.

Entries to the Oxford German Olympiad 2018 will close at 12 noon on 16 March 2018. You can view the full entry guidelines and competition categories here and submit your entry online here. Next week, we’ll take a look at literary friendships…