Katrin Schönig is a Berlin native and the manager of The Circus Hotel. She is for the second time part of the jury team of the Berlin Writing Prize. We talked to her about Berlin, her interest in Literature, and why The Circus Hotel is involved in the writing competition.
You are the manager of The Circus Hotel. How long have you worked here and how has it evolved?
The Circus Hotel will celebrate its 11th birthday this year and I have been here since the beginning! During my studies I worked in the Circus Hostel reception and a few years after I completed my Literature degree I returned to the Circus once more. At that point they had a rental contract and not much else, so I started with creating the hotel concept, building the team, overseeing the renovations… you name it! Now, I can’t even remember what my pre-Circus life was like.
The Circus are offering an incredibly generous prize to the competition winner – a month long residency in one of your luxury apartments, not to mention the runner up prizes. Why does The Circus want to be involved?
As I have already mentioned, I was a student of literature and continue to be a lover of books, and since we opened the hotel we have been committed to connecting The Circus and our guests with the arts and cultural scene of the city. I met Victoria from The Reader some years ago, and we started by making space in the hotel available for readings and other events. A couple of years ago I said I’d like to do more and to make The Circus a bigger part of Berlin’s literary scene, and together with Victoria we came up with the idea of combining the writing competition with a residency at the hotel. And after the first time around, I can say both personally and on the Circus’s behalf, that we are extremely proud to be involved and to host the winner of the Berlin Writing Prize.
You were born in Berlin, right? It’s got a reputation as being a wild and creative place. How has it changed?
Yes, I was born in Berlin… just down the road from the Circus! I spent some of my childhood years in Stralsund on the Baltic coast, and have lived in the US and the UK for a couple of years, but Berlin always pulled me back. I still feel it is a free and proud city, something that I felt in my teenage years as I started travelling into the centre from where we lived in Hohenschönhausen for theatre, live music and all that Berlin had to offer.
At that point though it still felt like I wasn’t really an active participant in Berlin’s cultural life, but that changed during my studies as I got involved in organising readings and exhibitions. That was around the turn of the century, and Berlin felt like an opportunity. It was possible to rent somewhere cheap and just give things a try. I got to know many artists and writers who moved to Berlin because they could live off a few bar shifts and otherwise get to work. Of course, things have changed dramatically since then as Berlin is no longer the cheap place it was. But there remains much to discover and be inspired by, and although it might not be as wild today, it remains free. We Berliners are still very proud of our hometown.
You were a judge last time. How was the experience? Was it easy or difficult? Any highs or lows?
I have to admit, the first time around I was very nervous! I was the only non-writer in the jury and I wasn’t sure what I would have to add. But the judges were all amazing and we were all very respectful of each other’s views and opinions. I loved reading the stories and was impressed by the standard – which you can find out for yourself in the beautiful anthology that was born out of the competition. To be honest, I don’t have a bad word to say about the experience, so I was more than happy when Victoria asked me to get involved again.
Dolores Walshe was the winner last time round. Did you have any other favourites on the short list? Or stories that didn’t make the cut?
I loved Dolores story, and I was very happy when it won. Otherwise I fought very hard for Head Like a Hole, by Amy Lee Lillard, which you can read in the anthology.
Dolores spent January 2018 with The Circus. How was it to have a writer in residence?
It was an absolute pleasure because Dolores is one of the nicest people out there. She loved getting involved with our guests and joining in with the events and activities of the Behind the Curtain cultural program we offer, and she wrote for the Circus blog. Dolores has a very positive attitude and is constantly smiling! She was an absolute delight to have around and we all missed her when she left.
You did your degree in Literature. Who are your favourite writers? Is there any kind of writing you have an aversion to, or think is cliched?
I am quite a broad reader and I’m willing to give most genres a try. As an English Literature student I loved Jane Austen, and if I’m ever in need of some downtime you will find me reading one of her books and giggling away. In German I always loved Erich Kästner and Stefan Heym, and recently I discovered Benedict Wells. I also love a good crime story or a historical novel. The only thing that puts me off is if a writer comes across as being too clever for their own good.
What are your hopes for the competition this time round? Is there anything you’d particularly like to see?
Of course I am hoping for a lot of interesting stories, but in particular I can’t wait to see how people interpret the circus topic. I’m also looking forward to meeting the other judges and, when it is all over, welcoming another wonderful writer to our hotel and to see what they create while they are with us.