Karin Linhart, Wörterbuch Recht 2nd edition

This is not a review, and I think dictionary reviews are difficult anyway. But I’d like to say that I’ve had a look at the second edition of Karin Linhart’s law dictionary (DE>EN, EN>DE, 2017) and it really does look greatly changed and improved from the first edition (2010).

I wrote about the first edition here.

Karin Linhart is German, which I hadn’t realized. She has a page in the German Wikipedia, Karin Linhart, with links to other sources and a list of publications. Meet Karin Linhart: A Law Library of Congress Patron has a photo of her with three Library of Congress librarians.

Here are the publisher’s details for the new edition.

One feature of this dictionary remains that its strongest point is the EN>DE part, with a preference (I still feel) for AmE. There are boxouts (those little additional glossary boxes), which Beck Verlag seems to love – I’m not sure who reads them – mainly in that section, but in the DE>EN section too. Their number has decreased. There are definitely English as well as US terms.

The foreword states that the dictionary has been newly designed, expanded and updated, and it is oriented mainly towards foreign students at German, Austrian and Swiss universities, but it is also for German students studying abroad, for lawyers, judges, and although it is written more from a lawyer’s point of view than a translator’s (what on earth does this mean?) it may be of use for translators and interpreters too.

A lot of the end materials have gone. including the amusing advice for German lawyers speaking English abroad and the US and South African constitutions. There is now only a specimen letter of application and CV for Germans applying in the USA.

The new edition is said to have Austrian and Swiss terms in it. So I checked the term HerabsetzungsklageHerabsetzungsurteil came up as a query on a mailing list this week. And it is in there:

Herabsetzungsklage (CH) ErbR
“(in Fällen, in denen die Anordnungen in der letztwilligen Verfügung den Wert übersteigen, über den nach Berücksichtigung der Pflichtteile noch verfügt werden kann) action in abatement – Art. 475 chZGB.”

This is excellent. The term is also in Tom West’s Trilingual Swiss Dictionary, of course, there citing Art. 522, which is equally appropriate, but without the definition.

One thing that strikes me on my cursory review is that there is an emphasis on terminology, especially nouns, from statutes, rather than, for example, conjunctions and turns of phrase – this is not surprising in a small dictionary, and it is what I would go to Romain for. But my Romain is falling apart and there is no help on the horizon – this might be what is meant by saying it is a dictionary conceived for lawyers rather than translators.

There are a large number of cross-references, necessary to save space in a small dictionary.

Noted in flicking through:
lucidum intervallum is translated as clear moment, rather than the usual lucid interval.

Lockvogel Strafr. agent provocateur (stool pigeon? decoy? not a very common word)

Arglistige Täuschung is followed by = List (A), that is, the Austrian equivalent is introduced after the German term – very useful. Other examples are Sorgerecht, (A) Obsorge

The English claimant for Kläger is there, but other new terms like statement of case are not.

mens rea is cross-referenced to criminal state of mind, which is the main headword and a very oddly phrased one, but I suppose it is hard to give a brief definition.

Anyway, this is just a brief reference. I will probably come back to the dictionary. I wish I had made a list of words to check all legal dictionaries for.

Einführung in das luxemburgische Recht

Beck Verlag has a number of introductions to foreign legal systems, and it has now added one to Luxembourg law, by João Nuno Pereira und Dr. Jochen Zenthöfer. There’s an interview with the authors (in German) here: “Ein vorbildlicher Rechtsstaat”.

João Nuno Pereira Es ist das erste Buch in deutscher Sprache, das einen Überblick gibt über die Juristerei in Luxemburg. Für Luxemburger, die lieber auf Deutsch lesen, kann es auch ein Gewinn sein. Wir haben so verständlich wie möglich geschrieben, und übersetzen auch alle französischen Begriffe.

Jochen Zenthöfer Diese Übersetzungsarbeit ist nicht einfach gewesen. Teilweise konnten wir gängige deutsche Fachbegriffe nicht verwenden, weil sie nicht das aussagen, was in Luxemburg damit gemeint ist. Den Begriff „autorité parentale“ konnten wir auch nach langen Gesprächen mit luxemburgischen Experten zum Familienrecht nicht übersetzen, weil jeder Begriff falsch gewesen wäre. „Sorgerecht“ etwa ist ein Unterfall der „autorité“ und meint im deutschen Recht etwas anderes. Es war manchmal schon echt schwer.

Luxembourg has three official languages: German, French and Luxembourgish. This is the first account of Luxembourg law in German and it will be useful for those of the Luxembourgers (of whom there are somewhat over 570,000) who prefer to read German.

Thanks to Christine Schmit on Twitter (her website can also be read in Luxembourgish).

Trilingual Swiss Law Dictionary by Tom West

I am pleased to announce that Tom West has published the Trilingual Swiss Law Dictionary he has been working on.
You can find details and sample pages on Tom’s website. While you’re there, take a look at his blog (I’ve never succeeded in entering the feed for this in Feedly).
The dictionary can only be ordered from the USA at the moment, at createspace, but this may change in future.

The dictionary is a kind of three-column glossary, but with some explanations in the English column. The first column is either German or French. There is a useful introduction with remarks about the problems of researching Swiss legal lanague.

German-English legal translators sometimes have to research terms from Austria, Switzerland (several cantons) and Liechtenstein – I have translated German stuff from Alto Adige but not yet from Belgium. There are fewer reference materials available for these than for Germany. French translators must have the same problem. I know one translator who poses queries on mailing lists and whenever he or she doesn’t understand the text describes it as Swiss, which suggests the kinds of problems we face.

A few links

Interesting interview (in German) with Katy Derbyshire on translating Clemens Meyer Im Stein (Bricks and Mortar) Ich würde mir wünschen, dass die Literatur die Welt verbessern kann. The novel is actually on my bookshelves but I haven’t started it yet. It’s about the development of prostitution in an East German town after reunification.

The author and translator are apparently giving a talk at Senate House on May 11, from which I discover that there is a

GLGN – Greater London German Network.

The GLGN is part of the think german initiative of regional networks spearheaded by the German Embassy.
The aim of the network is to fight the corner for all things German in the Greater London area by bringing together all those people in and around London who have an interest in the German language and related cultures and facilitating both real and virtual communication between them.

They are on Facebook and Twitter too. Who knew? It claims I am following it on Twitter – must be linked to GSSN, the German Screen Studies Network, which I do follow.

The Institute of Modern Languages Research is now in Senate House, as I realized recently when reading a history of German studies in London called Glanz und Abglanz.

German restaurants in London.

Disturbing: German Village and Bierfest at Mile End.

Now when days get longer and the sun comes out again it’s time for the German Village Festival. Sit outside in our Garden and get the vipe together with friends or family and enjoy a bratwurst or maybe one of our 3 different special brewed Bavarian beers. In addition you can visit our FunTime area or get your self a Heidi wig in the special German souvenier house. In the evening you should join our party in the Bavarian FestTent – grap your Lederhosen or Dirndl and become part of the biggest party!

Heidi wigs also widely available online.

Gerald Graham – obituary

Some of our teachers of German in London were Jewish emigrés (I suppose that’s what we called immigrants then). For instance, I first learnt German at school from a Fräulein (Ruth) Hoeniger, who must have had a stroke a couple of years after I started and so I did not know her for long. I wasn’t even sure she was Jewish, but research indicated she was, and was born in Berlin and taught at schools in Leipzig in the 1930s. I wondered if she was related to the Johann Hoeniger who designed one of the Berlin synagogues, but was unable to confirm that. At university, one of our teachers was Dr. Ilse Graham. I did not know that her husband was a cardiologist at Great Ormond Street hospital, but here is an obituary of him in The Guardian. There are also memoirs online, Scattered Leaves, with photos, typed up by his son at dictation (I got that from a comment on The Times obituary). He was 98 when he died this year.

Having initially as a child wanted to study dentistry, at the age of about 10 I decided that this would be too limiting. I thought I should study medicine. At the age of about 16, when I first went to England, my parents gave me a book by an Ernst Scharrer, called The Brain. I had carried this with me for years and, much later in my story, when studying at Western Reserve, I had a Professor of Anatomy, by the name of Hoerr – and then a new person joined the staff, by the name of Scharrer! The penny dropped that this must be the same person who wrote my precious book. After his first lecture – he was an outstanding teacher, who would draw his complex diagrams with both hands), I went up to him and asked him if he was indeed the author of that book. He was amazed and asked how I knew of it – and then asked me to bring it in, which I did. At which point, he examined it closely and then said: “As far as I know, this is the only copy of my book in existence”.
What had happened was that he had just been appointed head of a major neuroscience institute in Frankfurt, recognized to be a very brilliant man. They were not Jewish, but as Hitler grew in power, they decided that they didn’t want to carry on living in Germany and emigrated to the United States, ending up as an Assistant Professor at Western Reserve. But because of the way they left – pretending to go on holiday and not wanting to take possessions such as his book, which might give the game away – he was not able to bring a copy with him. Meanwhile, the Nazis, because of the way he left, destroyed all of his books.

Gerald Graham, born Gerd Greiffenhagen, tells his eventful life story lightly. He emigrated first to England, then to the USA with his parents, and then to the UK again, in the McCarthy era.
Emigrating didn’t solve everyone’s problems:

When war first broke out on 1st September 1939, very little happened for a while. It was called the Phony War. During this period, the British Government found itself with several thousand German Jews about whom it knew little. How could it be sure they were not Nazi informers? It decided to intern the lot. They were in fact legitimate Jews, including professors and musicians. Some were sent to the Isle of Man and others to Canada and Australia. Ernie, who had volunteered to join the British Army, but was interned instead, was sent to Australia on a small ship. The “Dunera”, embarked on 10 July 1940, with 2,542 detainees, all classified as “enemy aliens,”. They included 200 Italian and 251 German prisoners of war, as well as several dozen Nazi sympathizers, along with 2,036 anti-Nazis, most of them Jewish refugees. The British crew of the ship understood nothing of the politics and circumstances of the Jewish group and, when the Nazis started to fight with the Jews on board, the crew took the side of the Nazis. They had terrible fights over about six weeks on a daily basis. As well as being dangerous, it was of course incredibly upsetting to have escaped to England and then to be placed at the mercy of those they had escaped from. Ilse remembered the case of one aged Jewish professor, whose manuscript – his life’s work – was thrown into the sea with a laugh by British crew members. The moment they got to Australia, telegrams were sent and it became known to the authorities what had happened and there was a debate in Parliament about it, with the Government fiercely attacked for allowing such a thing to happen. Steps were taken to have the Jews sent back to England.

I should also recommend Judith Kerr’s three-book autobiography, starting with When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit.

(With thanks to Professor John Flood – not the only one I know)

Thormann/Hausbrandt: Rechtssprache – book on legal German

Isabelle Thormann and Jana Hausbrandt, Rechtssprache – klar und verständlich für Dolmetscher, Übersetzer, Germanisten und andere Nichtjuristen, BDÜ Fachverlag 2016 – 446 pp. plus keyword index

Let me start by saying that this is a very full and thorough book with a variety of contents and I think anyone dealing with legal German will like to have it. It is intended for those who know nothing about legal German, so experienced legal translators will not need it, perhaps unless like me they are interested in how legal German is taught and explained. The authors have been running seminars on legal German for several years now, so they know what problems non-lawyers have in practice. (The BDÜ runs webinars on the subject by the authors too).

If you are a BDÜ member, you can consult and search online a library of all the books you bought from this publisher (provided the authors agreed to electronic searchng, including this one, together with past issues of MDÜ. I don’t know if it works for non-BDÜ members. I don’t think you will want to use the book as a dictionary – it would make more sense to work through it first – but electronic searching is very useful.

1. Who is it for?
The authors describe the book as both a reference work and a textbook, and they say it is ‘also’ suitable to prepare for the exam ‘Nachweis grundlegender Kenntnisse der deutschen Rechtssprache’, which many German Länder require court interpreters and translators to pass. In Bavaria the equivalent is or was part of the exam for court interpreters and translators called ‘Gerichts- und Behördenterminologie’. In that connection there is another book from that publisher:
Arbeitsbuch zur Gerichts- und Behördenterminologie, Auflage 2013
Autor: Ulrich Daum, Ramón Hansmeyer

The fact is that in order to pass an exam in Bavaria to be a court interpreter or translator, you do not have to choose law as your main subject, so there are a lot of candidates who ought to know something about legal German and fortunately training in this is increasing. So the legal German in these books is not the language of contracts or intellectual property or even judgments. But it’s still useful stuff.

But the subtitle adds ‘Germanists and other non-lawyers’. And parts of the book are said to be particularly suitable for those with German as a foreign language:

Dieses Buch enthält Hinweise und Teile (z.B. das Kapital “Komische Wörter und Ausdrücke”), die besonders für solche Dolmetscher, Übersetzer und Jurastudenten konzipiert wurden, die Deutsch nicht als Muttersprache, sondern als Fremdsprache gelernt haben.

Does anyone else find this ‘komische Wörter’ a bit condescending? Let’s look at them. First comes a long section of words with a different meaning, like anklagen vs. verklagen vs. einklagen, or bestandskräftig vs. rechtskräftig, then come Vertraute Wörter mit anderer Bedeutung, Fachausdrücke der Rechtssprache, Lexikalische Besonderheiten der Verwaltungssprache and at last Komische Wörter und Ausdrücke. I’m not sure why a non-native speaker should be more surprised than a native speaker by abbedingen or einer Sache keinen Abbruch tun. But anyway, I’m quibbling – the contents of the book are very useful.

2. What’s in it?
You can find details of the book here, together with a PDF sample – click on Leseprobe. I would recommend downloading this as it has a full table of contents and you can see how very full it is. The aditional material alone is very useful, closing with police grades, occupations at court, and much else.
The main parts are 1. Characteristics of legal language (about 200 pages), 2 Legal terminology – actually an introduction to law (about 160 pages) and 3 – Appendix – Additional information and solutions to the exercises.

3. Exercises
There are execises, which seem to crop up rather unexpectedly (to me) in the first part. Thus for example:

Umwandlung eines Relativsatzes in eine Linksattribution.
Formulieren Sie die folgenden Sätze so um, dass der Relativsatz in Form einer Linksattribution ausgedrückt wird.
1. Die Verzögerung, die im November 2015 auf Grund der Klagebegründung entstand, war etwas anders als von Ihnen in Ihrem Schreiben dargestellt zustande gekommen.
Die im November 2015 auf Grund der Klagebegründung entstandene Verzögerung war etwas anders als von Ihnen in Ihrem Schreiben dargesellt zustande gekommen.

I’m not sure what the point of these exercises is, but it looks as if the authors want to encourage more comprehensible legal language, perhaps even plain German, which includes converting sentences back and forth. The exercises probably useful to get a feel for legal German, although I wouldn’t have the patience to do 18 of them. I admit this kind of exercise was always very appealing to me as a teacher (I remember a set of sentences on hereinbefore and so on that caused a lot of problems).

At the very end of the book there are 130 questions testing understanding or memory of the text.

4. German legal language

The first part of the book deals with the characteristics of legal German, starting with sentence patterns and continuing inter alia with prepositions, tenses and
At all events, the first 200 pages of the book give a very detailed analysis of legal German which is also clearly set out and comprehensible. I could learn from them myself. They might also form the basis for a comparative analysis of how to translate legal German into English, whether that was legalese or the kind of less heavy English that some jobs need.

5. Lists of legal terms

Still in Part 1, there are long lists of legal terms, in a number of categories:
Bedeutungsunterschiede: over 40 examples, mainly pairs of words such as Anerkenntnis vs. Geständnis, anhängig vs. rechtshängig, Erbe vs. Vermächtnis. Many of the terms are dealt with in a bit more detail later in the book.
Vertraute Wörter mit anderer Bedeutung
Fachausdrücke der Rechtssprache: ‘Diese Ausdrücke sollten Sie kennen’. A long list with definitions, starting with abdingbar, abgängig, Adhäsionsverfahren, ahnden, Akt, aktenkundig.
Komische Wörter und Ausdrücke: “mit Verlaub”, abbedingen, Abbruch, Abkömmling, Absehen, absprechen and so on.
Stilebenen, Register, Soziolekt: colloquial expressions contrasted with legalese, e.g. Adresse/Anschrift, ansehen/in Augenschein nehmen.

6. Legal terms in the context of an introduction to German law
A nice introduction to the elements of German law, both substantive and procedural. There are also lists of abbreviations and Latin expressions.

At the back, following the final exercise, there is a brief bibliography and also a list of internet links.

That concludes a summary of most of the book. Again, look at the table of contents on the website linked above for a full impression.

One problem of a book like this is searching in it. It does have an index of the keywords at the back, fortunately. Not every word given special treatment counts as a keyword, though. The ‘komische Wörter’ for us foreigners are not included in the index.

As a final comment I have some difficulty in using the definitions of words. But I am not the intended audience for the book. I would be more inclined to go to a statute or to Creifelds or anywhere else I could find a serious legal definition meant for lawyers. But this would not be possible for many of the words dealt with. German general dictionaries exclude legalese (Fachsprache) so we translators are quite dependent on the help of colleagues. Take the word nachlassen in the sense of ‘permit’, for which see Corinna Schlüter-Ellner (below). The bibliography also contains other books that may be helpful; in addition to the volume by Ulrich Daum mentioned above I would add:

Schlüter-Ellner, Corinna: Juristendeutsch verständlich gemacht. Treffende Verben in der deutschen Rechtssprache (same publisher; the book comprises two sections and is not restricted to court vocabulary)
Simon, Heike and Funk-Baker, Gesela: Einführung in das deutsche Recht und die deutsche Rechtssprache

Crime Fiction in German

Crime Fiction in German. Der Krimi. Edited by Katharina Hall, Cardiff 2016.

Recommended at Lizzy’s Literary Life (Lizzy Sidal), where there is also an interview with Katharina Hall aka Mrs. Peabody – she writes a blog on international crime fiction called Mrs. Peabody Investigates.

This is another book I haven’t read from cover to cover, indeed I don’t think I could, but I see it as a source ofsuggestions for reading. It looks very useful. But then again I have already read too many German crime novels. There is not much point getting addicted if you want to find time to read anything else.

At the beginning there is a 24-page table with a chronology of crime fiction in German set against current historical events. It goes from 1786 (with a couple of earlier events) to 2015. At the back is a full annotated bibliography of sources. Each chapter ends with notes, bibliography of texts, and further secondary reading. There are chapters by various authors on subjects including Austrian and Swiss crime fiction, Der Afrika-Krimi, Der Frauenkrimi and TV shows. Occasional quotations are in English, although the books referred to are not necessarily available in English.

It’s not the aim of the book to analyse crime fiction at length, so it is a bit dry in parts, I think, when it appears more like a catalogue than a commentary.

The time when I read most crime fiction in German was the 90s, and I see that it completely omits one of my favourite spoof series, by Helmut Zenker, about the detective Minni Mann (Zenker is only mentioned for the Kottan TV series). I suppose Minni Mann is not very PC. Titles include Die Mann im Mond and Die Mann ist tot und lässt Sie grüßen. Quite a lot of them have been reprinted, as late as 2014 – my edition of Minni Mann is from 1989. They always included a contract with the author (Buchordnung):

1. Nachfolgende Buchordnung tritt mit der Übernahme von MINNI MANN in Kraft.
2. Lesen darf ich nur Exemplare, die ich erworben oder geschenkt bekommen habe.
3. In anderen Büchern darf ich zur gleichen Zeit nicht angetroffen werden.
4. MINNI MANN darf ich auch alleine und ohne Einwilligung der Eltern lesen.
5. Das Lesen erfolgt auf eigene Gefahr.
6. Für plötzliches Verlassen des Buches ist ein triftiger Grund wie Erkrankung, Geburt, Hochzeit oder Ableben geltend zu machen. Im Krankheitsfall ist Bestätigung des Arztes unbedingt erforderlich.
7. Schriftliche Änderungen meinerseits gehen ohne Anspruch auf Entschädigung in das Eigentum des Autors über.
8. Für während des Lesens abhanden gekommene Garderobe übernehmen Verlag und Autor keine Haftung.
9. Ein Lesezeichen ist nicht erwünscht. Ich darf die Ecke der Seite umbiegen, auf der ich mich befinde.
10. Ich weiß, dass ich als Leser zumindest einen Bekannten oder Verwandten zum Kauf eines eigenen Exemplars bewegen muss. Der Ankauf ist zu kontrollieren.
11. Sollte mir das Buch missfallen, bin ich wenigstens verpflichtet, ein Exemplar meinem besten Feind zu schenken.
12. Nach der Lektüre schließe ich das Buch sorgfältig und stelle es zu den anderen Zenker-Büchern.
13. Gerichtsstand ist ausschließlich Klosterneuburg.

A couple of years ago I did attend a good CIOL seminar on German crime fiction, the translation thereof, I think, by Karen Seago. There is stuff by her online too, but a lot of it only accessible through academic institutions. There’s an article by her in The Journal of Specialised Translation though: Crime (fiction) in Translation (PDF)

Comparative Law for Legal Translators – first look

This is a first look – not a review, because I haven’t read the whole book.

Comparative Law for Legal Translators, by Guadalupe Soriano-Barabino, published by Peter Lang 2016 – also available as an e-book, PDF – volume 17 of New Trends in Translation Studies

This book is by one legal translation academic with shorter contributions from two others. Between them they cover the languages French, Spanish, Italian, German and English. It is part of a series published by Peter Lang called New Trends in Translation Studies – volume 17, in fact.

The title suggested to me that it is a book about comparative law intended for legal translators, but in fact it is a book intended for academics about how comparative law might help legal translators, and help train them, and it contains concrete examples of exercises. It is quite a short book but rather heavy going in parts, as one might expect when the intended audience are academics rather than practitioners. There is frequent quoting from Zweigert and Kötz, for example – an excellent book but not what I was expecting. I was expecting one author’s views, not opinions frequently buttressed with citations. That is not exactly what the introduction says, but it does say it’s addressed to translators-to-be, translator trainers and professional translators ‘who wish to develop their activity in the field of legal translation’.

Not only is the book addressed to a variety of readers, it also contains short chapters on seven legal systems. If I wanted to use this book for legal translation between German and English, I would want more on German law than sixteen pages starting with the historical evolution of the German legal system and then concentrating on sources of law, courts and the legal profession. (The introduction to comparative law also goes back to Plato).

The first of four parts establishes, with much theorization and quotation, that legal translators need to understand source and target legal systems. A taster (p. 21):

To sum up, comparative law and legal translation interact because the former becomes an instrument for the latter. The asymmetry between different legal concepts and systems is a challenge for the translator and comparative law can help translators first to understand and later to explain (and translate) the legal concepts of the source legal system into the target legal system. The actual translation (as a product) can be rendered through the application of different techniques and strategies, which are discussed in detail in Chapter 11.

The second and third parts consist mainly of short chapters on a number of legal systems, concentrating on sources of law and court hierarchies. These chapters are preceded by a discussion on how the major legal families/systems of the world may be classified, and then a few pages on the civil law and common law systems.

The fourth and final part is headed ‘Comparative Law for Legal Translators: From Theory to Practice’, and falls into two sections. Firstly, ‘Training Legal Translators’ is mainly a discussion of what translation competence means and how legal translation competence can be defined. It concludes that legal translators do not have also to be lawyers to be good translators. finally, ‘Legal Translation in the Classroom’ suggests concrete approaches.

First, there is a discussion of how to decide on terminological equivalents: translators need to know the difference between two legal systems in order to decide how similar two terms are – are they equivalents or not close enough? Finally, there are twenty-four suggested exercises of a variety of kinds for students. Students should be encouraged, for example, to look at texts in their source and target languages which are similar, that are different but have the same purpose, that don’t exist in the other language, that have a different structure. Students should rewrite texts in legalese in plain language (an excellent idea). They should look at the same terms that have different meanings, for example in English-language jurisdictions.

This isn’t a review as I haven’t read the whole of the book. I am more interested in practical legal translation and would recommend another book from the series, Legal Translation in Context, edited by Anabel Borja Albi and Fernando Prieto Ramos, a collection of chapters – the first, by Jan Engberg, is incidentally titled ‘Comparative Law for Translation’. There is also Legal Translation Explained, by Enrique Alcaraz and Brian Hughes, from the (originally) St. Jerome Publishing series Translation Practices Explained.

The Hidden Life of Trees

After I moved back to London in 2013 I attended a course on trees at the City Lit, I can now reveal. In five whole Sundays we were promised we could learn to recognize eight trees. I immediately saw the value to me. I had not thought much about trees till then, but I needed to get out walking and there are trees everywhere, so I thought it would be interesting to know something about them. And indeed I found the course quite fascinating. We used to go to Lincoln’s Inn Fields and pull leaves and flowers apart, and one member of the class put the bits in a bag, and the following week we had to identify them again. It was good that the course wasn’t restricted to Our Native Trees, because from gingkos to Tibetan cherries to unusual types of magnolia, London is full of immigrant vegetation.

I highly recommend the teacher, Letta Jones, who holds courses elsewhere. Her website www.lettajones.co.uk will not always be quite up to date, but I think an email should get a list of courses and walks.

At the time I got some books on trees. I must say that there is no one guide to identifying trees that covers everything, and they vary in the way they help identification. You have to put time into recognizing twigs and buds and leaves and bark.

But then there are other, more discursive books on trees. And this is where the story reaches the present day. I had read a bit of the German bestseller Das Geheime Leben der Bäume by Peter Wohlleben, and much to my surprise I heard a German talking about trees to Jo Good on BBC Radio London last week, and sure enough it was he! At the time of writing the clip can still be heard as part of Prue Leith and the Barking Hour at about 1.05 (who knew one could pronounce Wohlleben like vol-au-vent?). It seems that the book has just been published in English, by a Canadian publisher, translator unnamed, as The Hidden Life of Trees. I suppose Canada is the place for lumber. Anyway, Wohlleben was passing through London and is obviously selling his book.

On air, Wohlleben was a bit sniffy about non-native trees. He had obviously practised his tree English, but he didn’t know the word pollarding. Jo Good seemed obsessed by an allegedly particularly lonely plane tree outside The Dorchester (that tree is included in The Great Trees of London and was planted in the 1930s, it says. book, website). Other callers referred to the plane tree in Cheapside, but seemingly believed it is the oldest tree in London and survived the Great Fire of London. In other words, the programme wasn’t very informative.

When I started reading the German book last year it did occur to me it might be worth translating, because there are quite a number of books about trees in English and quite a readership – but not a readership that puts them in the top ten best-selling books. One explanation is that Wohlleben tells stories and gives trees feelings.

Wohlleben was a forester for 20 years, learning how to manage wood. Later he found himself conducting nature walks and making provision for woodland burials and began to see trees differently. He retired as a forester (giving up his civil service career) and it looks as if he has published a book every year since then – see his German Wikipedia entry. But it was with Das geheime Leben der Bäume that he hit the really big time. Funnily enough, Colin Tudge’s book The Secret Life of Trees covers a lot of the same ground and got great reviews in 2005. So Wohlleben’s book had to be given a different name in translation. I read most of Tudge and found it a good read full of memorable detail, but eventually there was so much memorable detail and I was remembering so little of it that I seem to have stopped at page 252. I think this was because of the six chapters on six different tree families all over the world – the last chapter I managed was ‘From Handkerchief Trees to Teak:The Daisy-like Eudicots’.

The thing about Wohlleben is that he is a great popularizer and anthropomorphist. Both authors’ books have their references to scientific articles – I can’t help thinking Wohlleben was influenced by Tudge, not in style or detail but in the idea of writing a book on this subject, but he doesn’t cite him.

An article by Christoph Schröder in Die Zeit

Im Duktus des Märchens entwirft Wohlleben das Bild eines bestens durchorganisierten sozialen Systems, in dem zwar einerseits das Recht des Stärkeren gilt, andererseits aber der Schwächere niemals allein gelassen, sondern aufgefangen und mitgetragen wird. So beseelt wie bei Wohlleben war der Wald selbst bei den Romantikern nicht. Man spricht miteinander, liebt sich, erzieht sich und hilft sich gegenseitig mit Mahlzeiten aus, wenn Not am Stamm ist.

Kobolde haben schlechte Karten
Kann es in aufgepeitschten und unruhigen Zeiten etwas Tröstlicheres geben als den Entwurf eines funktionierenden gesellschaftlichen Gefüges, das in gegenseitiger Achtung und in Solidarität und Generationengerechtigkeit lebt? Das ist der Wohlleben-Wald: ein nur von außen, durch den Menschen bedrohter utopischer Raum, in dem es keine Schuld gibt.

In the FAZ Bäume sind so tolle Lebewesen, Melanie Mühl also considers why Wohlleben’s book has been a bestseller for months: he has been practising how to explain trees to people for years, and people want stories and feelings.

Seit zwanzig Jahren führt Peter Wohlleben Menschen durch den Wald, zeigt, erklärt, erzählt. Zwanzig Jahre Marktforschung darüber, welchen Ton er anschlagen muss, damit die Wissensvermittlung funktioniert. Bei der trockenen Wissenschaftssprache jedenfalls, da schalten die meisten sofort ab. Menschen wollen Geschichten. Und Gefühle. Wohllebens rhetorische Vermenschlichungsstrategie ist lange erprobt.

In Wahrheit gibt Wohlleben den Deutschen nicht ihren Wald zurück. Er erklärt ihnen den Baum, damit sie den Wald besser verstehen. Er fragt nicht, wie die Romantiker und die Yogamattenausroller, was der Wald für unser Seelenheil tun kann, sondern was wir für den Wald tun können.

„Ich umarme keine Bäume, und ich spreche auch nicht mit ihnen“, sagt Wohlleben.

It will be interesting to see if the book is as successful in English as it is in German.

As a footnote, Christiane Bergfeld’s blog Übersetzung und Literatur, doch nicht nur has recently been taken over by tree photos.

Colin Tudge, The Secret Life of Trees. How they live and why they matter, 2005.

Oliver Rackham, Woodlands. 2006.

Oliver Rackham, Obituary :

He was also a gifted linguist, reading Latin verse for relaxation. During a field course on the Croatian island of Rab he sat next to the local priest on a bus and questioned him closely in Latin about the management of the local woods.

Peter A. Thomas, Trees. Their Natural History.