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Non-Literary No-Brainer?

November 30th, 2010

A year ago, while living in Germany, I applied to become a member of the Kuenstlersozialkasse (KSK) – an association of freelance artists, journalists and writers, which supports them financially by subsidising their state health care contributions (a significant expense in Germany) proportionally to their income. From what I heard, translators would normally be included in the ‘Artiste’ category as people who work creatively with language.

Does technical translation belong to the domain of the left brain hemisphere?

Does technical translation belong to the domain of the left brain hemisphere?

As a part-time freelancer, it seemed like a perfect solution for me and so I produced tons of documentation to prove my translator qualifications, professional memberships, samples of work, project history, etc., etc. – as stipulated by the KSK application guidelines. After some 2 months I received a request for some further details, which I duly sent back, and then received another request for even more details one of them being the following question:

What is the % breakdown of the types of translations that you normally carry out:
a) literary texts
b) journalistic/editorial texts
c) specialised texts, manuals, company reports
d) contracts, legal texts, private correspondence as well as interpreting.

Being primarily a technical translator, I marked c) 90% and d) 10% assuming that translation of specialised websites and software would most likely fit in the ‘specialised’ (fachbezogene) category. I do not translate literature nor do I translate for the press.

The reply to this last letter came very quickly. ‘We are very sorry, but we must turn down your application due to the lack of artistic/journalistic quality of your work (fehlender Kunstler-/ Publizisteneigenschaft).

What???

First of all, why didn’t you spare me the several hours it took to put documents together by asking this question sooner rather than later in the application process? Secondly, by asking a tricky question which I could have easily interpreted differently (websites=published (publizistisch) material after all) you disqualified me outright. Not only that, just because I do not translate Joyce or Yeats, you made me feel like my work was mechanical, brainless and had no creative qualities whatsoever.

It still makes me angry when I think about this, and I regret now not contesting this decision. I was so fed up by then that I had no appetite for further correspondence with KSK. It took about 7 months to get to this stage and by then we knew we were leaving Germany back for the UK in autumn, so I just put the letter to the bottom of the drawer and counted it as a lost battle with German bureaucracy.




One of the perks of a freelancing job is the possibility to choose where you want to live. Although in practice this is always more complicated than just packings your bags and moving, within the European Union it is actually viable. So, we have decided to exploit this opportunity and for the last two months we have been living in our favourite European city – Berlin.

There are many good things about Berlin (the weather is definitely not one of them), but to us it has always had the appeal of being situated half-way between the UK and Poland. We have calculated that the journey time door-to-door is probably the same when taking the train to Lodz or when flying to London. This is somehow fairer to both families and balances the sense of guilt for not living a street down from one’s parents evenly between both spouses.

The extra bonuses are Berlin’s vibrant cultural scene, great architecture, high ceilings, Christmas markets, currywurst, doner kebabs, warm rolls from the baker and our dear friends who we get to see on a regular basis. Oh, and one more thing. The state subsidised Kindergarten costing roughly ONE TENTH (yes 10%) of what it would cost in the UK.

So this is an interesting question: why does the German government think it is good to encourage new mums to return to work (full-time or part-time, any capacity is supported) when they feel ready and the UK government thinks it is good for you to hand over your whole salary (or most of it) to private childcare or else sit on your bum all day (metaphorically speaking, that is) or work at nights if you are lucky enough to have a profession which allows that?

The latter would be my fate if we continued living in the UK. For the past few months, I have had a fair share of working late nights translating as this is the only time for me to focus. This is not good for me nor my health, and it hardly leaves any time for my partner. OK, it is my choice, you can blame me for having professional ambitions or being greedy and not appreciating the hard work of the childcare workers who need to be justly remunerated for this hardest job of all. I apologise for wanting to progress and wanting to pay more taxes… I did try though, I have been on a waiting list for a crèche located conveniently for my UK work for over a year now. Maybe we get a place when Kasper is 16 years old and is ready to move out from home anyway…

Childcare subsidy costs are certainly contributing to Berlin’s financial dire straits. For a few years now we have been hearing that the city is bankrupt, but somehow it keeps going and there is no news on cutting down the support for young families. In turn, it allows me to increase my work output, pay higher taxes and keeps me a happy citizen feeling useful and good about myself. Yes, talk about making savings on medical cost of treating apathy and depression among women and cut divorce rate by 25%. Isn’t this bill worth footing after all?

One thing I will say that I miss about Britain while in Germany (apart from good tea) is children’s BBC channel. This is British culture at its best – the quality of the programmes is top notch and they are well pitched at the youngest and highly selective viewers. I owe thanks to CBeebies for the precious moments of reclaimed time when I had a chance to enjoy a cup of tea or have a little doze early in the morning.

Thank you CBeebies!