NEWS FROM THE GERMAN LANGUAGE 2026 AD
Berlin. if it works I’ll be a field full of
rapeseed, give cover to deer and shine like
thirteen oil-paintings laid one on top of the
other. if it works right now, I’ll be foam on the
syrup of iraqi dates, cubes of turkish honey,
syrian poetry, a geometric form worn smooth
and round like a pebble, meadow flowers,
bonbon-mouth, spit it out: I am the pidgin of
the heavy lads with the glossy, black locks,
that deal out their rhymes in delicate bombs,
what’ya gawping at: no one here will go to the
dogs, but the doves. (if it doesn’t work, let me
forget my language. je suis a field full of
monoculture, give bother to steer and turn my
back. though, then je suis no longer my own
Heimatland). but if it works we, that’s all of
you and me, will sing a lullaby, rhyme in
unison as if a single mouth full of rapeseed,
we’ll be liquid glue on white paper. we’ll be
light and heavy. but more than that, we will be.
ALMOST THIRTEEN QUESTIONS ABOUT
and what if love’s not the answer after al
and what if that dove doesn’t go out and
fetch the first leaf it finds and bring it
back as a sign: land in sight? and what if
there’s no clear daylight visible on the
waters ahead but instead just women and
children sinking? and what if there’s not
a single jot of good Deutsch to be found
in this Land of mine but tarred and
feathered pity as a hyperlink, until I go
and forget my own language too? and
what are you up to? I’m drowning. I
don’t mean that ironically either. my
conscience and me, we are rarely at one.
we find rhymes for our moral dismay
and do sweet FA. what is the right
question anyway? and what if Idomeni is
the only answer and a new way of
siking between stools? do you trust me
or not, the Chancellor retorted falling
between tables and waited for question
number nine: what makes for a plausible
case so that a man, woman and child are
not sent back home? I don’t know right
from wrong. I’m talking about flailing in
icy water as a new form of sport. what
was the question again? and what if dove
weren’t a brand you can use to wash
your hands and forget in all innocence?
coocoo, coocoo, Idomeni, there’s blood
in the shoe. I wash my hands in the rain.
By Ulrike Almut Sandig
Translated by Karen Leeder
*Note: After an article by Daniel Bax, ‘Die Alternative heißt Idomeni’ taz am Wochenende 12/13 March 2016, and referring to the Idomeni refugee camp. From 2014, refugees from Syria, but also from Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries of the Middle East, began to flock to Idomeni in order to cross the Greek borders and enter the Schengen area, often en route to Germany and Sweden. After the Republic of Macedonia and Serbia closed their borders the transit camp at Idomeni rapidly became a huge long-term residential camp.
Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.
Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.
Ulrike Almut Sandig was born in the GDR and now lives in Berlin. She started publishing her poetry by pasting poems onto lampposts in Leipzig and spreading them on flyers and free postcards. She also writes radio pieces and language performances, for which she collaborates closely with musicians and composers.
Karen Leeder is a writer, translator and academic, and teaches German at New College, Oxford University. She also translates contemporary German literature into English, and her most recent translations include Michael Krüger’s The God Behind the Window (2019) and Evelyn Schlag’s All Under One Roof (2018).