Tonight, Herbert Feuerstein was in Göttingen and gave a reading from his travel books at the Literarisches Zentrum which I went to with Carola and Leif. Feuerstein is a small man with a brilliantly evil sense of humour. He is mainly known from telly theses days but has also been the German editor of MAD magazine for two decades (and lived as a journalist in New York before that).
His travel books started off with travel films he made for public television. I've only seen about half an hour of the nine films, but they are said to be ver humourous. As he reported they were also much better funded than most of such films are funded today, allowing them to do fancy or funny shoots. His travel destinations in the films were places like Alaska (where he shows off the midnight sun), Thailand, Myanmar and others. As a spin off he also wrote books about his travels which also seem to treat the whole 'making a documentary' experience.
While he said that he doesn't like TV too much, he has quite a history on telly and was involved in a quiz show (where a team of minor celebrities had to guess the guest's job) for ages as well as being the sidekick for Harald Schmidt, Germany's most popular (and now retired) late-night talkmaster, before he got his late night show. This was inspired a lot by his time in the US, where he learned about the new media formats. That also helped him being editor of German MAD magazine, which was very popular in its heyday at the beginning of the 1980s.
Despite his success on TV – which, he said, has the advantage that publishers are much more eager to sell his books – he said he still enjoys writing most and that's the reason for doing those books. Seeing that he first was a journalist (despite being a classical musician by training) this makes sense.
During the reading he read a section from each of his three travel books, with short clips of the films being shown in between. This was very entertaining travel reporting. Then there was a break and afterwards an interview. The interview was done by the same guy who interviewed Sten Nadolny last week – and whom I didn't like back then already. While he was quite well prepared, having little cards with questions, and even bringing an issue of MAD for the occasion – I had the impression, on both occasions, that he focused more on asking questions that sound good and make him look clever rather than asking questions that gave a vivid discussion.
For example, Feuerstein mentioned many times throughout the evening that it's important to know your trade and how getting the technical aspects right is important. Yet, despite volunteering this in many remarks, there was no question asking him to elaborate. Rather the topic was changed – sometimes to silly subjects such as how to make funny jokes/puns ("Kalauer"), which isn't a good question to ask.
Nonetheless the discussion was quite interesting and was over by far too early. Most likely because Feuerstein is a great but subtle entertainer as well. He'd start talking about topics and go on for a while. When discussing the topic of comedy or late night talkshows on German telly, he made an honourable mention for the show of Sarah Kuttner who actually is doing a great evening show (with a sidekick going by the tasteful name of Sven – Feuerstein said that sidekicks are essential for good shows). Ironically his reading clashed with the show tonight...
Afterwards I bought a copy of his latest book, Feuersteins Drittes and even got it autographed.
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