Contribution of the Blessed Virgin Mary visitation Parish to the program of the German Week 2012 in Saint-Petersburg

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Contribution of the Blessed Virgin Mary visitation Parish to the program of the German Week in Saint Petersburg

A rather unusual topic for a Catholic parish, but whoever avoids some parts of the Russian language vocabulary as a taboo subject, he gets into a danger of getting behind with the cultural reality. We know the author and stage designer, we know Eduard Kotschergin personally, we appreciate the knowledge of his as artist and writer, we also know the official representatives of cultural life. Just one day before the appearance of the three translators together with Eduard Kotschergin in St. Petersburg’s Printing Press Museum, he received in Moscow the prize “Golden Mask” for his entire life literary output. A lot of people turned up, showing their great interest for the cultural exchange that was going to be presented in both the languages, and wishing to experience it live. R.S.


To follow: the article by Eugen von Arb which was published in St. Petersburg Herald, a web portal in the German language, on April 19, 2012.


German Week: How Russian curses and abusive expressions are translated into German

Eugen von Arb

A topic which usually remains unsaid and omitted in the literary fiction, plays an important role in Eduard Kotschergin’s works, and is particularly up-to-date: cursing and offense in people’s speech and the language of criminals. An event of the German Week in St. Petersburg’s Press Museum, which brought together the author, the translators and the audience- an exciting meeting (see photo gallery).


There is a paradox in Russia- usage of a part of the rich Russian language is forbidden. The so-called “Mat” or “nizensurni jasik” is a kind of vulgar language of unique richness which- for the most part of the Russians- remains a taboo, yet it is used widely when nobody is listening or when one is drunk. Besides, there is a jargon of fraudsters which has been used in Russia for centuries in the circles of criminals and prisoners. Most of Pushkin’s followers would have for both just a condemning look or ignorance- for the Russian stage designer, screenplay writer and author Eduard Kotschergin that part of the language constitutes a part of his youth memories and juvenile language experiences.


Youth in the children’s hell When in 1938, in the middle of Stalin’s terror, Kotschergin’s Polish-born parents were arrested by the NKWD and deported to the Gulag, the small Kotschergin was taken to a home for repressed parents’ children. A time came for him to live in a kind of a children’s hell where one grows up very quickly and becomes a criminal. After the end of the war he runs away from the children’s home in Omsk to Leningrad- the journey takes 6 years. That is the time for a special “education”- he spends it as a helping hand of fraudsters, a thief and a street artist, in between he gets caught and put into other homes, until he finally finds his mother in Leningrad. He describes that time and the after-war years in Leningrad in his novels “The angels’ doll” and “Baptized with crosses”, however, they have never been translated into German.

No lexical equivalents could be found for the Russian insulting tirades How, for example, could the unprecedented, minute-long insulting tirades of the directress of the children’s home in Omsk be translated, by means of which she kept the run-wild youngsters in check, and made them clear for the German ears? How could the broad, vulgar joke in the song sung by the Russian fraudsters to the tune of Rosamunde be interpreted? There are no strict, explicit principles- that was the opinion of one of Kotschergin’s translators, Thomas Reschke, who took part in the forum along with his wife Renate and Ganna-Maria Braungardt. He himself was only slowly and gradually getting capable of handling the nuances of the colloquial Russian language. He told of his development, starting with the Slavonic languages’ study in the after-war Berlin and his first attempts as translator of technology texts, up to the post of lecturer with the GDR- publishers’ Kultur und Fortschritt (Culture and Progress) and translator of the famous Russian authors, like Michail Bulgakow (Master and Margaret) and Boris Pasternak (Doctor Schiwago). The Russian “Rukomoinik”- how can it be translated into German? Reschke quoted Russian words that could hardly be translated into German, like “Rukomoinik”- a small water container with some special tap that is used on dachas for washing hands. Only long lasting cooperation with the authors and their works taught him to find synonyms and possibilities to translate the Russian expressions descriptively. In the vulgar language causes “Mat” the biggest problems because the words included in its scope are connected with the sexual sphere, while in German the corresponding words would rather be connected with impurities. “Fenja”, the Russian fraudsters’ language, could possibly mean “Rotwelsch” in German, but that is of no big help since there are no more robbers’ gangs in Germany, and criminal substructures either, so their ‘language’ once used, does not develop any more. Eduard Kotschergin emphasized that the two languages should be treated separately. The “Fenja” was spoken mainly by Russian street vendors and minor criminals and served as a kind of a code. The “Mat”, however, has its roots in the pagan culture from before Russia’s Christianization. Kotschergin pointed out to the fact that even some words which are not “forbidden”, also emerge from that culture. As an example, he named the word “Rodina”, in German “Heimat”. It comes from the name of Rod- the god of fertility, that was carved in wood in the form of a phallus (penis).



Eduard Kotshergin takes the material for his stories from his meetings and experiences which his stormy and partly harsh life did not spare for him. Born in 1937, he spent years in state-owned child care centers, after his father had found himself in the gulag and his mother had been arrested. He ran away from the home in Siberia and made it to Leningrad. He was a member of a thief gang and lived in the street. After accomplishing education in the Leningrad Academy of Arts he was able to turn his talent for drawing to a job. Kotschergin became a stage designer. He worked with various Russian theaters, received many international awards and is at present the leading stage designer in the Great Dramatic Theater (Towstonogow-Theater) in Saint Petersburg. The play “Angels’ doll” was performed in 2003 and was welcome with enthusiasm by the critics. The book is going to have its third edition soon. In 2008 the author received the Triumph Award for it. In 2010 he received the Russian “National Bestseller Book Prize 2010” for his second book “Baptized with crosses”. The book contains also texts which the publishing house “Persona” included in the book “Angels’ doll”. In April 2012 he was honored with the most distinguished Russian award for stage designers- the “Golden Mask”.


Pictures: Eugen von Arb / SPB-Herold Further articles to the topic: Wo Witz und Tränen ineinander fliessen – die Lebensgeschichten Eduard Kotschergins

(Where humor and tears come together- life stories of Eduard Kotschergin) Eduard Kotschergin honored with the National Bestseller Book Prize 2010

Foto: Eugen von Arb

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