Rayk Wieland: I Suggest We Kiss – Ich schlage vor, dass wir uns küssen (2009)

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In this humorous book on the former East German state (GDR), the author has his tongue placed firmly in his cheek. He retells Proust’s famous Madeleine moment in detail, only to depict how an old bottle of Eastern Bloc red wine caused him to spew it out in an arc.

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This book has you wondering whether the author is inventing something or telling an absurd historical fact. Far more than one may imagine is actually based on fact, the author’s own experiences serving as the starting point. This book is full of absurd ideas while still portraying everyday life. This is not the world of artists being surveilled, oppressed, and blackmailed all day long as in movies like “The Lives of Others”. The charm of the book is to portray everyday life and ordinary people. Even a small time crook involved in illegal gambling.

The protagonist receives an invitation to The Society of Unknown Underground German Authors. He isn’t a writer so he thinks they have the wrong person, or it’s some kind of joke. It turns out the East German secret police, the Stasi, intercepted his adolescent love poems to Liane, a girl in the West. Fraternizing with the enemy by letter was obviously highly suspicious.

“I Suggest We Kiss” by Rayk Wieland is in many ways a modern picaresque novel, known in German as a Schelmenroman. A genre name, derived from the Spanish word picaro (German: Schelm), meaning rogue or rascal, which began in the 16th Century. From what I can tell, German literature was early to pick up the genre from Spain. This might explain why the novel has been translated and published in Spain and Argentina.

Parody and biting political satire are firmly rooted in German speaking culture. Here, even the Kafkaesque use of W. is both playful and authentic since the Stasi reports refer to him only via “der/des W.”. The book may have you wondering why you are smiling so often in such a serious context. It’s not laugh-out-loud humor very often. It’s mainly subtle, absurd humor that creeps up on you as you realise the underlying references.

Some of the most hilarious dark humour is to be found in the novel’s appendix. This contains all W.’s poems to Liane which were intercepted by the Stasi. Each poem is commented by the officer scrutinizing every word for signs of enemy activity. Utterly banal things are totally misinterpreted by the paranoid police state.

Here’s an excerpt of one of W.’s adolescent love poems to Liane. The translation is mine and not very good. Translating poetry, even something simple like this, is tricky and requires a lot of time, but you’ll get the gist:


Und nicht nur küssen, meine Liebe.
Ich denke auch an andre Triebe,
Die, weißt du, weiter südlich liegen.
Ich dichte nur. Um dich zu kriegen.


And not only kisses, my Love.
I also think of other passions,
Ones which, you know, lie farther south**.
Poetry I only write. That I may get you.

** “farther south” is interpreted by the Stasi to mean possible escape with Western girlfriend to Portugal 🙂

Making light of a dictatorship may not be to everyone’s liking, but the author has a Stasi file himself and people deal with difficult times in different ways. In bad times, we often say “One day we’ll laugh about this.” Rayk Wieland does just that in this novel.

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The Genesis of Podcasting

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How Finnish inventor Ville Jäätölö, aka “Chilly Willy”, stumbled upon the sport of podcasting.

Interviewer: “Willy, how did a normal fishing trip lead to podcasting?”

Willy: “I was ice-fishing with a friend, enjoying bottle of Koskenkorva. Most popular Finnish schnapps. Fish were not biting and we got bored. We started casting, trying to hit a hole in the ice with our fishing hooks. I guess Koskenkorva was going to my head. I took big swing and we heard horrible scraping noise. I looked at chair and iPod was gone! It was sliding across ice.”

Interviewer: “Woah! But that was not the birth of podcasting, was it.”

Willy: “Five years later, I saw presentation of new iPhone and felt totally depressed.”

Interviewer: “Wait! You’re the first person I have ever heard say the iPhone was depressing.”

Willy: “That’s easy to explain. I was working for Finnish mobile phone company…”

Interviewer: “Okay, now I’m beginning to understand.”

Willy: “I saw amazing new design and just thought, oh sh**, we’re f*#!%$. Our phones seemed like from Stone Age now. After sharing bottle of Koskenkorva with my friend, we remembered iPod casting accident…”

Interviewer: “Rods, hooks, and iPods were soon flying through the air, I take it.”

Willy: “Then colleague made video. He emailed it to friends and somebody called it ‘iPod-casting’. Later, we changed name to pod-casting because of trademark.”

Interviewer: “When did other people start podcasting?”

Willy: “Videos were passed around in the company and other people began podcasting.”

Interviewer: “It’s now a very popular sport with international championships. For anyone wanting to try this at home, you don’t use a real hole in the ice. Just mark a round area on the ground. You also don’t need to use real classic iPods. Podcasters use dummies, simply known as ‘pods’, which have the same weight and size as a classic iPod. Willy, it must be a very strange sight, people competing to cast iPods through the air.”

Willy: “Hey, we have wife carrying and rubber boot throwing. Casting iPods is not strange idea at all. Drink some Koskenkorva and you will soon understand.”

* Note, Finnish language contains no articles.


Remixes welcome.

License: CC-NC-SA, Creative Commons Non-Commercial Share-A-Like License. Give credit to the original author when distributing.

Unless you have been living under the proverbial rock, you will be aware that: iPod and iPhone are registered trademarks of Apple Incorporated.