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The World Lit Reading Tour

In 1978 Weissner convinced Bukowski to capitalize on his popularity in Germany with a reading tour. Ferlinghetti commissioned Bukowski to write a book about this trip—Shakespeare Never Did This. With photos by Michael Montfort, it reads almost like a commissioned travel article. But as Gay Brewer has detailed, it actually cobbles together two separate trips. The second one was to France a year later (covered below). Brewer notes that this is a book about a business trip that “offers a deceptive and typically pragmatic reason” for combining the two excursions. Said Bukowski “I do get them mixed up because of all the heavy drinking.”79 It was nonetheless a new type of gatekeeping.

Bukowski, his girlfriend, and the photographer arrived in Frankfurt on May 7, 1978. They went to Mannheim to see Weissner and spent ten days with him visiting such tourist sites as Heidelberg. Monfort snapped photos every day. On the way to Mannheim’s castle, Bukowski writes that he “was led to a book store there that had almost all of my books.” He felt a bit embarrassed, especially when the “old gal” who was clerking “ran out and told me ‘You are the man I always love!’ ”80

We may assume that Weissner understood the cultural significance of Hamburg for a prodigal son’s return. The city had been bombed severely in World War II and, like Berlin and Dresden, had a conflicted collective sense of PTSD and deserved punishment. As Susanne Vees-Gulani has detailed, there was a substantial literature on the subject by the time Bukowski appeared.81 Gunter Grass, Hans Eric Nossack, and Gerd Ledig were among the German writers who had weighed the crimes committed against the punishment inflicted. Could such trauma be tamed through mere words, by testimony? Was Bukowski complicit in this somehow? Nothing is entirely clear except the aptness of Weissner’s promotional instincts.

When they arrived in Hamburg, Bukowski got very nervous, because he believed the crowd would not understand English. It was clearly not going to be an ordinary reading—there was a sense of his “return.” As he approached the Markthall, Bukowski saw hundreds of people lined up for tickets, which cost ten deutschmarks each. By that evening his talk was a sell-out, with 1,200 tickets sold and 300 people turned away. When Bukowski walked in, people tried to touch him and chanted his name.82

Bukowski drank away his stage fright and survived a very loud heckler. He thought they understood his English, because “when I read them a laugher- poem they laughed but when I read them a serious poem they applauded strongly.”83 He appears to have had little idea what moved his audience: “A different culture indeed. Perhaps it was losing two major wars in succession, perhaps it was having their cities bombed flat like that, their parents’ cities.”84

 
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