Holly Dawson

Holly Dawson is a British writer. Before Berlin, she thought she only wrote short fiction; but, like her competitive eating protagonist, the story she came here to work on has grown and grown and she is now grappling with her first novel and screenplay.Me-in-Berlin_interview_small

When did you come?
Four very hot days at the end of March 2012.

Why did you apply?
I was looking for foreign residencies for my StoryMaps project – a series of short stories in which the setting becomes a protagonist, presented on a map of the area. Berlin was top of my wish list.


What did you work on whilst in Berlin?
A story called Berlin’s Digestion of Joe ‘Python’ Leach.  Joe is an American professional eater who arrives in Berlin for the World Currywurst Championships. He spends three days walking the length of the city, as part of his training. 

What did you do in Berlin?
I basically did what Joe did: walked ten hours a day, all over the city, making the observations he would make, thinking his thoughts. He is documenting his life on the pro-eating circuit for a memoir, taking photos and collecting food-related memorabilia, so I did that too. It was like ‘method’ writing – except I didn’t eat 55 sausages in 12 minutes at the end of it.


What did you think of the project?
It was an extraordinary opportunity for a level of focus and creative self-absorption that I could never experience in my home environment. It granted my story a verisimilitude I could never attain with imagination and research alone. And it gave me the chance to fall in love with a city I just want to return to again and again.

Best/worst moments
I had the gorgeous luxury of four days’ pure writing and adventuring, in an enviable apartment, in bright sunshine. I ate the best vegetarian meal of my life (at Lucky Leek). What’s not to like? I wish I had known about the Currywurst Museum, though. Would have really helped my story.

Berlin is… 
…big enough to lose yourself, small enough to find yourself.


The Hemingway room Berlin is back! After a few month pause we were happy to welcome our first fellow in 2013 ELEY WILLIAMS

78_519403629170_2417_n Eley Williams is a british writer, currently undertaking a PhD in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway, University of London. Not only did she read a wonderful story at our PenTales Berlin Salon Night (will be posted here and on facebook soon). She also amazed us by getting a real Berlin Curry Wurst at the Currywurstbude next door at 2 o’clock at night – in her jammies! We loved your spontaneous way and having you here. Thanks Eley!

Why did you apply? I had become aware of PenTales through its online incarnation; the idea I could pop up and take advantage of the offer of time in Berlin and the room’s breathing-space to write was too good an opportunity to miss.

When did you come? 19-22nd February, mild-snowy season.

What did you do in Berlin? I spent a lot of time in arrant toddle mode with my eyes open, falling into scenes, cafes and galleries as I found them. I also visited the Grimm brothers’ graves in Alte St.-Matthäus-Kirchhof for a project I’m working upon, as well as the city’s Spinnboden and various places related to Vladmir Nabakov’s stay in Berlin.

What did you think of the project? It was a great privilege to be granted the time at the flat as well as such great, interesting company. Being in unfamiliar surrounds but where one is made to feel quite so comfortable is a rare treat; an incomparable place and opportunity.

IMG_2784What did you work on whilst in Berlin? I was exploring any links that could be made between the Grimms’ Deutsches Wörterbuch (1854) and their collection of Fairytales, hopefully to create a short work of fiction.

Best/worst moments: Not one single bad moment and many excellent; the people and stories that attended at the PenTales ‘Dreams and Illusions’ reading event on the Thursday was a sure highlight!

‘Berlin is — : Great! And I can’t imagine a more bonny introduction to it.’

Philip Hodges Fellow # 1

Philip is a German / American film director with a heart for the fantastic and true. It was truly fantastic having you stay in Berlin, watching you be creative and listening to your song/story at our PenTales Salon Night!

Why did you apply?

I cannot help but create, and with the support of this generous fellowship I was free to explore Berlin and let my imagination and camera run free.

Why did I accept?
I am impressed that Louisa saw a glimmer of potential in an artist rough around the edges and am flattered to have kicked off this ongoing tradition.

298854_975626913681_2636135_nWhen was your stay in Berlin?
I came during the rainy month of August and stayed until the sun would let me play outside again.

What did you do in Berlin?
I was uncertain what project I would pursue until the end of my tenure, and while this can be limiting at times, I find it exhilarating to work under pressure; I shot a video about street life in Berlin that was projected onto a museum in Washington D.C.

IMG_2804What did you think of the project?
I loved and still do love my project.

What did you work on whilst in berlin?
Meeting and making friends was a very memorable part of my stay, while snapping pictures throughout.

408522_10100633035468641_1410689002_nBest/worst moments
My best moment was meeting Louisa for the first time.
My worst moment was waking up late on my last day of filming and thereby missing out on valuable daylight, hence my projects title “Art After Dark”.

conclusion- Berlin is:
My homebase!

Check out Philip’s Website: http://philiphodges.com/

Carmen James: “Berlin is a ferocious and elegant metropolis that will hold any poet in her embrace”

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Carmen James is a Ph.D. student in the Philosophy and Education program at Teachers College, Columbia.  Her Masters thesis, titled “Imagination: A Practice of Attentiveness for Building Understanding,” was completed in May 2011 when she graduated from the same program. She is interested in strategies for incorporating a curriculum of aesthetics and ethics into schools, such as the way aesthetic experiences, particularly poetry and cultural centers like museums, can be morally and philosophically educative and how these types of experiences are critical for identity formation and for developing flexible and open modes of understanding. She has explored questions of culture, education and urban identity abroad, most recently in 2011 working with a grant in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She graduated with an A.B. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University where her Senior Thesis was titled “The Poet and the City.”

Why did you apply?

The opportunity connected to be deep seated and long held interest in the way people carve out space for aesthetic experiences in cities and how poets capture that experience. It was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. Its a gift, as Virginia Woolf writes, to have a room of one’s own.

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When did you come?
June 2012
What did you do in Berlin?

I wrote poetry, walked, enjoyed Berlin culture. I designed daily walking tours through the city. I photographed and took writing breaks.

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What did you think of the project?

It was a gift to have the time to breathe and be to write and dream, housed in safe quarters and well fed with currywurst and other treats. 

What did you work on whilst in berlin?

Poetry. I read Rilke’s poetry and wrote a series of responses to his poems

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Best/worst moments

Walking through the city. Worst, none really. perhaps the very brief wait for my lost luggage.

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conclusion- Berlin is:
a ferocious and elegant metropolis that will hold any poet in her embrace.

Carrie King – Fellow # 8

There I am (taking the photo)!

Who are you?
My name is Carrie, or so they tell me. I come from Ireland and am a sometime journalist, oftentime poet and mosttime wanderer.

Why did you apply?
Because I fell in love with Berlin a long time ago and have been itching to be back. This seemed like a perfect way to combine two loves. Writing and Wandering in Berlin

IMG_2771When did you come?

In a very chilly week in February.

What did you do in Berlin?

Coffee, wandering, writing, coffee, wine, coffee, gallery-mooching, film-watching, poetry-reading, poetry-writing, meeting old friends, coffee, making new ones, coffee, walking, freezing, speaking broken German, feeling guilty for making others have to speak English, coffee, drawing (badly), being amazed at how cool everyone is, taking photos, reading maps, oohing and aahing at art. Coffee.
What did you think of the program?
Before I came, I was more-than-slightly convinced that it would all be one big hoax as it seemed far too good to be true. Turns out, some things are just amazing. It’s an unbelieveably generous undertaking for Louisa and it’s an incredible luxury just to take a step out of your own life for a little while, to jolt the old creativity. It’s a wonderful programme.

What did you work on whilst in berlin?

You mean other than my tan? 😉 I wrote mostly. I always find thinking easiest when on the move, so while walking around the city, I composed some poems in my head and then stopped for coffee to write down the swirling ideas and write them down. I sketched quite a bit as well, which was wonderful to get back to.

Best/worst moments
Best? Well, it was all pretty damn snazzy. I think the best moment was the PENTales Night, and being part of a creative collective. It was just such a great time.

Thanks everyone!

Lyn Bleiler Fellow #5

Who are you?
I’m a freelance writer, poet, mixed media artist, and assistant director for a non-profit literary organization called SOMOS (Society of the Muse of the Southwest) in Taos, New Mexico.

Why did you apply?
Mainly because I love new adventures and have been interested in seeing Berlin for a long time. I knew I’d be in Europe for two months as an Emily Harvey Foundation fellow, so I decided to apply.

When did you come?
I was there from January 9-12, 2012.

What did you do in Berlin?

Initially I intended to stay in the Hemingway room and work on poetry. But since I’d never been to Berlin and Prenzlauerberg is so fascinating, instead I did a lot of exploring on foot. I found a memorial and segments of the wall (truly amazing) and visited a museum in what had been a school before the war. There were several videos on exhibit – one in particular that really intrigued me of a female artist filmed in her East Berlin apartment, the interior of which had not been updated. The apartment showed evidence of neglect and hard times, and gave the sense of how bleak residents’ existences were during the occupation. Also in the exhibit was a very powerful assemblage art piece – an old rusted birdcage with two female figures inside. Both, wearing torn and faded clothing, stare straight at the viewer. One sits in a broken chair, while the other is splayed out on the floor of the birdcage. For ‘doll’ figures, their expressions were surprisingly authentic and tragic. I’d love to know more about the piece and who the artist is/was.

IMG_2773On a much lighter note, I sat for a long time one morning in a cafe around the corner from the Hemingway room/apartment and watched as pram after pram rolled by, as well as many young parents with bundled-up toddlers on bicycles. Everywhere it seemed there were young parents and healthy, happy children. A youngish father in the cafe had his little one propped up on the table facing him. They seemed truly engaged in an interesting conversation. The kind you might have with a peer. I noticed a similar situation in a corner pub one evening. A mother came in with an adorable little girl of maybe ten who was all dressed up. They sat next to each other on bar stools having what seemed to be a fascinating conversation. The mother looked sincerely interested in what her daughter was saying. These encounters struck me as being indicative of the kind of wonderfully responsible, optimistic and committed young people are living in East Berlin. In that neighborhood, I also noticed a conspicuous lack of middle-aged and older folks, and it occurred to me that perhaps living there is too hard for those with firsthand memories of earlier times.

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What did you think of the program?
The program is fabulous. The generosity of time and space in Berlin is a gift. I doubt I’d have been able to spend time there otherwise, and what I saw of Berlin has left a lasting impression. I’ve been thinking of ways to offer a similar short term residency in Taos. The exchange of ideas and broadening of views that come with these kinds of programs is immeasurable.

What did you work on whilst in berlin?

While walking the streets, I took over a hundred photos, and afterward realized that many of these were of old wooden doors leading to apartments. So in the end, this is what I chose to make my project about.

IMG_2801Best/worst moments
Truly, I enjoyed every minute of being in Berlin. It was a rare treat to spend time in your beautiful apartment, and I thoroughly enjoyed the stimulating conversation at the dinner party. In talking to your friends, it became clear that there is an energy and commitment among the young residents in restoring Prenzlauerberg’s reputation as a mecca for artists, thinkers and intellectuals. It was a privilege to witness this.

conclusion- Berlin (or at least Prenzlauerberg) is: undergoing an exciting transformation, and is a city that belongs to the young.


Nick Atkins Fellow # 3

Our third Fellow Nick Atkins is a performance Artist from Sydney. He came to Berlin to work on his writing.

Why did you apply?

My creative practice so far has been focused on working as a performer specialising in the area of physical theatre. Over 3 months at the end of last year I went on a working tour to try and test myself as a writer. I’m trying to convert the storytelling I have traditionally gesture to the written word.

When did you stay Berlin?

It was late september early november.

What did you do in Berlin?

i walked the streets and fell in love with the buildings! I also spent a lot of time reading placards and memorial descriptions . i discovered an interest in the “weightiness” of the writing and the deep respect that was demonstrated through this. I’ve been trying to integrate this into some of my work currently.

What did you think of the project?

I think it’s a wonderful opportunity and brilliant method for building a creative node through which people of all paths can move through. Those few days in Berlin were a wonderful chance to consolidate much of the writing I had been doing at my residency previously.

What did you work on whilst being in Berlin?

I worked on the first two chapters on an extended creative writing piece. (This is a first for me!) See above!

conclusion- Berlin is: a place where things can begin.

Fellow # 2 Brendan Sullivan

Our First Berlin Fellow Brendan Jay Sullivan is a writer and DJ from New York

Who are you? My name is Brendan Jay Sullivan. My writing appears in Esquire in the states and L’Optimum in France. My first book TEXTS, DRUGS & ROCKNROLL will be out next year. I live in Brooklyn, New York and tour under the name DJVH1.
Why did you apply? I was lucky enough to be the first Pentales Hemingway Fellow.  A friend of mine encouraged me to apply.  But I wasn’t sure when I would have time to be in Berlin for four days anytime soon.
Why did I accept?  That same friend went on book tour a week later in East Germany and got really homesick.  So I flew out to see her and on my way to the airport I called Louisa and asked if the Hemingway Room was still available.
My,’ she said. ‘We’re lucky that you found the place.”

“We’re always lucky,’ I said and like a fool I did not knock on wood. There was wood everywhere in that apartment to knock on too.”
-Hemingway, A Moveable Feast
When did you come?  The next night!  It worked out perfectly.
What did you do in Berlin?  I ate so much currywurst.  Breakfast, afternoon snack.  Every morning I got up with the city and wrot
e in perfect peace in the apartment.  Getting a change of scene really helps your writing.  You see minor differences and then when you sit down to write you think, “What if I had never seen this street before, how would I describe it to someone else who’d also never seen it?” Or, “What would I see on this street that someone who grew up on it might not notice?”  Then I had a perfect Berlin weekend at the clubs and I made some great friends and heard some great music.
What did you think of the project?  I just wish there were people like Louisa with big hearts and insatiable curiosity all over the world.
What did you work on whilst in berlin?  My new manuscript is titled DON’T LOOK DOWN.  It’s about a kid who works in an art museum.  He’s trying to learn Kurt Vonnegut’s famous “Eight Rules of Creative Writing” by applying them to his life.  Each chapter is him learning or failing to learn one of the rules:
  • Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  • Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  • Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  • Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.
  • Start as close to the end as possible.
  • Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  • Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  • Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
-Kurt Vonnegut, introduction to Bamgombo Snuffbox: Uncollected Short Fiction
Best moments: There was a dinner in the house my second night there.  Great food and such nice people.  Some of them I had met out the night before through friends and it was just such a wonderful way to feel at home in Berlin.  When I think about that night, I just have this warm, candlelit glow of us all having a nice spaghetti dinner together.
Worst moments: None!  Remember what I said? CURRYWURST!  I’ll use this space to list even more best moments: I crashed Anna Borowy’s art
opening and she signed a print for me.  Thai food at Goodtime, beers at Ankerklause on t
he river, picking broken glass out of my drink at King Size in Mitte, dancing at Watergate with my new friend Kika.
Conclusion- Berlin is: Awesome!  Anyone who is lucky enough to see it from the warmth of the Pentales Hemingway Room should knock on wood.  I felt as lucky as Hemingway did when he came home that cold day and first told his wife that he’d met Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Co:

Sebastian Michael Fellow #4

7079672Who are you? 

i’m sebastian michael, i work in theatre, film and across media as a writer, director and producer. i live in london.

Why did you apply? 

an old friend of mine from switzerland who now lives in new york (and who had first got me onto pen tales) told me about the hemingway room and i thought this would be an ideal opportunity to go and spend a few days there and use the visit to write something, inspired by my stay. i’d been to berlin before, but never with an ‘artistic brief’, as it were. i love berlin and i’ve always felt a particular connection to it because my grandmother was from berlin but left for switzerland as a very young woman. my dad was born in berlin but he never lived there and my grandmother never went back after the war – for her the city had been ruined by first the nazis and then by the separation into east and west. at the time of her death, in the early 1980s, the thought of a german reunification was virtually inconceivable. so berlin, especially what used to be east berlin, has many poignant facets for me, and while i also never lived there, i feel at least one branch of my roots reaches to this city, and right to the beginning of its most troubled period in history.

When did you come to Berlin?

on the 1st december 2011, staying for four nights.

What did you do in Berlin?

i decided to come with no agenda and just see what happens. one of the first things that happened, while i was still on my way, was that a friend who by coincidence was also in berlin, and my niece who was doing a practice placement near dresden, both got in touch, wanting to hook up. also in berlin was the friend from new york who had told me about pen tales and the hemingway room. so in no time did i have a social schedule. and then there was the magnificent party i and my friend and two of his friends were allowed to gatecrash. the rest of the time i spent having breakfast (at the november café, just round the corner from the hemingway room, recommended), going to the theatre (the bat studio, also recommended: a drama school with a great performance space and a very inexpensive bar), strolling around the kulturbrauerei (directly opposite the hemingway room), where i discovered elk sausages, and writing.

What did you work on whilst being in Berlin?

much in the spirit of not setting an agenda, i also didn’t think about, or let alone decide on, what i was going to write in advance. i considered this my chance to literally just go somewhere with an open mind and, metaphorically, with a ‘blank sheet of paper’. the only parameters i had set myself, and that i had promised louisa and the hemingway room, was to write three short texts. 

it then so happened that on the day i arrived, christa wolf died. i had never heard of her before, but that changed rapidly, as she was front-page news in berlin and the berliner zeitung ran a two-page tribute to her. i spent my first morning in berlin reading up about her and as i did so it became very clear very quickly that berlin itself was going to be the subject of my three texts. the themes of the city’s past, present and future, of its significance for me and my family, of the stories i’d heard about it and that i felt i almost remembered myself, even though they were pure evocations by someone else, the curious and really quite unique position it holds in europe, in the world even, and certainly in my heart, all these came rushing to the fore as i was learning about this most influential of german writers. this also prompted my decision to write both in german and in english. i hardly ever write in german these days. i was interested now in also taking this opportunity to ‘reconnect’ with the language i’d more or less grown up with (my actual mother tongue is swiss german) and that i’d written my first plays, my first novella and of course my first poetry in. so what emerged, over the duration of my stay at the hemingway room, was what is now call the berlin triptych, which consists of three short texts about berlin, one in german, one in english and one with both languages melding together. 


What did you think of the project?

i loved it. it combines an almost old-fashioned concept of arts patronage with a very contemporary informality and it provided me with a genuine moment of creative freedom: a simple window in time and space where i was able to open myself up to inspiration and follow through on it.

Best/worst moments:

best moments: talking to a man who has been working on his dissertation here for six years, during which he has so far produced some 30 pages (he reckons he’s got about another 100 pages to go…). buying a theatre ticket, two ‘salamibrötchen’ (continental half sandwiches, with the upper slice missing) and a glass of pinot grigio, and still getting change from a tenner in euros. arriving at a berlin house party at 2:30 in the morning and finding it buzzing with friendly people. 

worst moment: waking up a shortly after 1pm on sunday to find a text message from my hostess saying ‘brunch at 1?’ and thinking: ‘my head hurts, i need a shower, i can’t eat anything for at least another four hours and what i hear in the hall out there are the guests arriving…’

conclusion- Berlin is: 

still a quarter home to me.

whatever you’d like to get off your chest:

queueing, my friends: if there’s one thing i wish the germans would learn from the british it is how to queue…