The Pocket Sized Tourist Guide for Leipzig

May 28, 2018

How well do you know your city? Recently I had the opportunity to become more familiar with Leipzig, and even though I’ve been living here for over ten years, I managed to learn a few things in the process. The translation project was taking a small-format tourist guide on Leipzig and turning it into something people reading it in English would find accessible, informative, and insightful.

The publisher of the German and English editions—BuchVerlag für die Frau—has an interesting backstory as well. The Verlag für die Frau was started in post-WWII East Germany, and was largely dedicated to the publication of women’s magazines and books. After German reunification, the book publisher carried on and has retained a tradition that arose out of East-German frugality. Instead of simply pulping the margins cut off in the printing process, these strips of paper were used to produce “miniature” books.

The tourist guide I translated was one such book. Beyond format, the process opened my eyes to cultural differences contained in the guide. The chapter “Mother of all Trade Fairs” (“Mutter aller Messen”) describes Leipzig’s special place in German economic history, but the differences to English and/or American structures required many subtle shifts, additions, and omissions to make the text work for a non-German readership. Furthermore, it might be surprising how many sayings, idioms, and proverbs are utilized in such a tourist guide. I’ll spare you the details, but the bitter truth is that many of these rhetorical tricks do not have exact equivalents. In other words, the translation required more flexibility and creativity than initially expected.

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