At the beginning of June, I was fortunate enough to be invited by the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia to attend the 41st Solothurner Literaturtage (Solothurn Literature Days). This literary festival takes place in the beautiful Swiss town of Solothurn, about an hour away from Zurich by train. Although I’ve been to Zurich several times, I had never been to Solothurn before. I knew it would be stunning (how could it not be with those mountains?) but I wasn’t quite prepared for how much I would fall in love with this wonderful place.
My hotel (the H4) had a lovely terrace restaurant, where guests could enjoy meals or a drink looking out over the river. On my first evening I had dinner there, making the most of the asparagus season to have a delicious Spargel ravioli dish. If you ever find yourself in a German-speaking country with a dedicated asparagus menu, you absolutely must order something from it – they really know what they’re doing!
Throughout my time in Solothurn, I was most struck by two things: Firstly, how friendly the people were. Perhaps it helped that we were there for a literary festival and the local people are used to having hordes of book lovers descend on them for this summer weekend. But in any case, I felt so comfortable and so relaxed! Of course, the stunning weather might have had something to do with that, but I just felt very happy there. The wonderful staff at Pro Helvetia are amazing too, of course, and they made me feel very welcome. There were some lovely other bookish people in our group too who were more than happy to meet for breakfast or go to the different events together.
The second thing that I found really interesting was the complete absence of English throughout the weekend. I had a couple of conversations in English, but otherwise I only spoke German. I heard no English in the street (until I got back to Zurich) though there were a mixture of languages being used at the festival, as Switzerland is so multilingual. The events were held in various combinations of German, French and Italian, and of course lots of people were speaking Swiss German too (which I cannot understand at all!). Although I haven’t used my French for a few years now, it was actually quite fun to go to some bilingual French and German events (such as the introduction to the Swiss publishing industry, which was fascinating) where the panellists switched between the two as though it were the most natural thing in the world. As a linguist, and as someone who often bemoans the relative monolingualism of England, at least since I moved out of London, I absolutely loved being in this environment and I could have happily stayed there for a lot longer than a weekend.
The festival had a huge variety of events – I went to see some fantastic writers read from and discuss their works, including Julia von Lucadou, Gianna Molinari, Ferdinand von Schirach and Judith Schalansky. They were all brilliant speakers and the audiences were absolutely captivated. Gianna Molinari and Julia von Lucadou were particularly impressive, as debut novelists, as they were speaking to packed-out halls and (in Molinari’s case) with people standing and sitting in the aisles!
I came home from Solothurn extremely content, and feeling as though I had been somewhere really special. The events organised by Pro Helvetia – from drinks receptions to a lovely long lunch in the sunshine and discussions with Swiss publishers – helped make me feel very welcome and overall I had a fantastic weekend. I would love to go again, and I would absolutely recommend it to any translators or others interested in Swiss literature!
With enormous thanks to everyone at Pro Helvetia (and Literally Swiss) for giving me the opportunity to go to Solothurn.