I wrote my last post on Elstercon in my last moment of free time on my trip. On that last Saturday afternoon, I grabbed some lunch, did a few errands, and then wrote the blog post. Afterwards, I headed back to the convention and didn’t leave until late.
I spent the rest of the afternoon and the early evening talking with people. I had the help of my wonderful translator, Britta C. Wilmsmeier. (See why I didn’t trust myself to type this without her business card in front of me?)
In addition to translating, Britta is a storyteller. Not the kind that I am, but a verbal storyteller who stands in front of an audience and weaves tales. She’s also a writer. She put up with my quirks and foibles—as the weekend went on, I understood a lot more German than I expected, but I couldn’t answer questions very well. So she helped.
She also took a break in the middle of the afternoon and went out into the garden to tell a story to the smokers. Hard work, that.
I wish I could convey how wonderful this convention was. Maybe this will do: A few years back, Tim Powers was the Guest of Honor. He came back on his own dime to see everyone again. I can imagine doing that as well—and I’m still tired from traveling.
The conversations were about the state of science fiction, not fantasy. I don’t know what Greg Bear’s conversations were like, but mine were mostly about fiction, not writing, not how to break into the field, not the problems with editors. But on the importance of fiction, how life-saving it is, how it grows, and how it influences readers.
I loved that.
I also learned a lot about German science fiction and East German science fiction in particular. It thrived in the past few decades, and it developed differently than West German science fiction. In my history of sf panel, I didn’t realize how important utopian sf was to my audience. (Fortunately, my history and college lit classes enabled me to answer the utopian questions, because utopian sf isn’t that important in America.)
Several former members of the GDR told me how important bookstores and libraries were, how going into a bookstore back then was a true adventure. In each town, the bookstores would have different books. Some books were so precious that people would trade services for the right to read them.
As these conversations went on, I had a lightbulb moment. The members of this German science fiction club, the one that sponsored Elstercon, formed their group before the wall came down. And one of the first things they did—three years after the wall came down—was organize Elstercon so that they could meet their favorite writers from the West.
I’m hugely impressed. No wonder everyone wanted to talk about books. Books are at the heart of this convention, in more ways than one.
Saturday night, the convention sponsored a buffet for everyone who attended—and honestly, that buffet was the second best meal I had in Germany (the best being at the Braatz household). We had a choice of traditional German fare, and I ate spetzel (which I haven’t had since my mother died), boiled ham, sauerkraut (which was delicious), and a lot of other wonderful stuff, including an assemble-your-own dessert that Christine Berger recommended (and it was as good as advertised).
We spent the evening post-meal, talking more sf, and looking at Dirk Berger’s incredible artwork. Finally, I had to leave or I would’ve been dead at the kaffeeklatch the next morning.
The kaffeeklatch—more sf discussion!—was fun (and there was a lot of good food). The convention followed it with a tour of sites important to East German sf, but Dirk and Christine were sensitive enough to realize the Bears and I didn’t know much about East German sf. So they gave us a tour of one of the oldest Russian churches in Germany. It was lovely, and we had more good discussions, these about the recent history of Leipzig.
We got back in time for the closing ceremonies. Greg and I signed books from the bookstore owners who had come from all over Germany, then we went inside. The convention organizers wanted recommendations for other writers who would be willing to take the trip, and I made sure to recommend folks who would be fun and interested in talking about sf, not just themselves.
I hope they get invited. Elstercon—and Leipzig—are worth the time.