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It Takes a Villa: Literarisches Colloquium Berlin on building a lively literary location

Director Florian Höllerer and literary programmer Thorston Dönges talk about what's on store this summer at the Literarisches Colloquim Berlin.

Photo: Makar Artemev

Since its founding in 1963, the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin (LCB) has endured as one of the city’s most dynamic and prestigious literary locales. In addition to offering residencies for authors and translators and running a lively programme of workshops, readings, and festivals, the LCB also hosts a wide array of digital offerings.

We met with director Florian Höllerer and literary programme curator Thorsten Dönges at the magisterial LCB villa on Großer Wannsee to see what’s on their literary calendar for the summer. 

You’ve both worked at LCB for over a decade. What’s changed here in that time?

Florian Höllerer: Last year was our 60th anniversary, which gave us the opportunity to look back – but also to lay some tracks into the future. First, towards the digital. We founded Villa of One’s Own (VOOO), a platform for presenting work but also connection-building: it brings our guests into a virtual network and gives them visibility among local readers. It was during the pandemic that we began setting out into the digital world a bit more, in order to attract more analog visitors.

Second, we have started offering our ateliers – which were previously used for film, and were very important in the experimental film scene in the 1970s – as working space for Berlin writers. We have always hosted out-of-town authors and translators, but we also want to make an offering to those here. 

The LCB runs all kinds of projects. How would you summarise its mission? 

Thorsten Dönges: On one hand, it’s about promoting and publicising literature. At our open events, the public comes to discover new books and see authors in conversation. We are trying a lot of things out here – new formats, surprising constellations, less of just one author lecturing to a room. On the other hand – and this usually happens behind the scenes – is supporting literature. We hold many workshops for texts in progress, programmes with translators, seminars and more.


It seems there are a lot of new ideas flying around. Do they all arise inside the villa, or do they come from outside?

FH: A very good example is our new format ‘Casino’. Here, we try to facilitate smaller groups – because we have observed that, with smaller groups, things get much more interactive, with different questions and different conversations – by having the audience move from stage to stage, using different rooms in our building. This format was originally our idea.

But we also usually invite an external curator, who brings new ideas and curates things and ultimately ends up surprising us. I think it is very important that we alternate between being hosts and being guests. We also like to be guests, sometimes, and to give our guests the role of host – and that is reflected in all areas of the LCB.

What is there for our English-speaking readers to get involved with?

TD: We always have individual events in English and other languages, which you can see on our programme online. Most recently we had an event with Adania Shibli and Arnon Grünberg, entirely in English. There are special dedicated English-language events and series. And then, whenever we have festivals, we try to make sure that at least part is taking place in English.

We are always excited for summer.

FH: We are the hub for a series of Irish literature events taking place throughout the year. We’re hosting a James Baldwin festival in September; there is a queer literature festival in August, some of which is in English. I also think our online portals will be particularly appealing for English speakers – like VOOO, or LCB Diplomatique, which is all about the political dimension of everyday life for authors worldwide. The pieces we publish there are always in the original language and in English. So if it was written in Vietnamese or Kurdish, say, we also have an English translation. 

Photo: IMAGO / Schöning

What are you personally most excited about coming up?

TD: We are always excited for summer. Others, especially in the theatre world, take a summer break. But we do things differently: we do extra programming over the summer, because it is so beautiful here at Wannsee. There is our festival for small publishers, the queer literature festival, the Baldwin festival– all summer highlights for us. 

  • More info and events calendar on their website.