BathDonegalDublinGalway IrelandNurembergAuthor, Susanne Stich From Nuremberg To Northwest Ireland

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Jackie De Burca
A very warm welcome to Susanne Stich who’s a wonderful writer, and all-round creative who hails originally from Bavaria in Germany. But she’s actually been living in the North of Ireland between Derry and Donegal. Welcome, Susanne.

Susanne Stich
Hello, Jackie, I’m so delighted to be here. Thank you for having me. It’s wonderful to be here.

Susanne Stich – Part 1:

Jackie De Burca
That’s brilliant. So I’m delighted that you could join us, Suzanne. Now I know you said to me, just before we started recording, it’s a bit of a rainy day there where you are. And it’s a place that you’ve been for 20 years. And as I was reading through your writing in the research period, up to our chat today, one particular quote, a favourite of mine popped into my mind, I thought, let’s start our chat with it.

The quote is by Anita Desai, and it is, “Wherever you go becomes a part of you, somehow” What do you feel about this quote, Susanne?

Susanne Stich
Oh, it’s a lovely quote. And it’s so so true. The funny thing, though, I think is you don’t really know necessarily what has become a part of you, especially when you’re in places for a long, long time. Saying that I could think of places that I’ve only visited in passing, like maybe only for an hour or maybe a day, and they left a big impression on me. So yeah, I can totally relate to that quote. It’s the kind of thing that would come up in my journal periodically, this idea of places having an effect on me making their little imprint, and I couldn’t necessarily say, what exactly it is that happened there? What was it that I took away from this place?

Jackie De Burca
What places up to now Susanne, in your life? What places do you feel have become a part of your life in that sense?

Donegal Ireland writer Susanne Stitch
Donegal Ireland

Susanne Stich

Well, definitely here the northwest of Ireland and Ireland as a whole for me, because while I live in the northwest, I have also lived in Dublin and in Galway before, many years ago. Ireland and Germany, where I grew up are the two big places and saying that I love travelling haven’t done so much in recent years.

And obviously not so much this year. But yeah, for me travelling is like food, you just get a lot of ideas, you can reflect on things not necessarily related to the place that you have visited. So different places are on my mind all the time, and I’m constantly switching between Germany and Ireland, even mentally, you know, sometimes I’m there I do make a lot of phone calls. Phone calls more than like Skype calls. So it’s almost Germany is the country I connect to on the phone these days.

Jackie De Burca
Okay, that’s quite interesting.

Susanne Stich
Quite bizarre? Yeah. And true.

Jackie De Burca
Okay, and what sort of creativity I’ve been reading some of your wonderful stories, but I know that you’re not only a writer, what forms of creativity have you been most engaged in Susanne?

Susanne Stich

I love all art forms. And I am probably most suited to writing, which I started as a young child, to be honest. It was always something I wanted to do. But I’m also equally attracted to imagery, like pictures, photography, film. It has been such a big part of my life growing up watching movies and looking at illustrations in books.

So I also made a couple of short films and I always use photography in my work as like a reference point. And I have taught visual studies and like the theory behind it, and that for me was a bit of a stumbling stone in many ways. While I love reading up about other artists about other practitioners, be they, filmmakers, be they, photographers, be they writers, be they, actors.

Nuremberg historic centre
Nuremberg historic centre

But I guess for a long time I was just so in awe of other people while always making my own stuff as well. And while the writing was always there from the very start. It took me a long time to really trust that is right for me and that that is the medium I want to work in.

The other thing there was of course that I grew up with German as my first language. And while I, while I did write little notes in English when I was there, when I was in Dublin as an Au Pair many years ago, and I started writing in English, I always loved English song lyrics. But I never really thought I could write, say, a whole story or even a novel in English. It took me a long time to, to muster up that courage and realise that it is actually possible. It is a very different process from writing in your first language, but I actually see it as a tremendously exciting thing. So with all my interests in different art forms, the writing is so complex now and I valued for that much more than I used to. I used to think writing is a bit boring, isn’t it? I’m much prefer painting and drawing and where I don’t like I love doing all that. But I don’t think I have the same kind of talent is maybe the wrong word.

I don’t really know if I believe in talent, it’s more like a calling, you really feel compelled to do this thing and nothing but. And if you were told, you can’t do anything else in art. Now, other than this one thing, what would you pick would definitely be writing with me.

Jackie De Burca
Interesting. And I have to say, it’s so courageous of you to write in what’s not your maternal language. And you do so wonderfully. I mean, actually reading your work. If somebody didn’t know that English wasn’t your first language, they wouldn’t have any idea whatsoever. You actually grew up in Germany, obviously. Susanne, whereabouts did you grow up on? How do you think this environment influenced you?

Susanne Stich

I did grow up in Nurnberg, which is in Bavaria, it’s a big city, about 600,000 inhabitants. It’s known internationally for its history, primarily to do with the Nazi regime, Hitler used to organise his party rallies there. But then, of course, also the postwar trials and Nuremberg trials are known widely. Now, while these were things I became aware of, as, like, I would say, from about 11 or 12 onwards. But while I was growing up, I had little idea that this had happened in my city, which was, like historically such a hotspot, really, for recent history.

Nürnberg Old Town River Pegnitz
Nürnberg Old Town River Pegnitz by Susanne Stich

I was born in the mid-70s. So it when I look at this now, even though when I was a child, it felt like a long, long time after the war, but it really wasn’t the Second World War, ended in 1945. So there were a lot of things, I think, still there in the, on the periphery of things that, especially my parents’ memories of being small children during the Second World War, and literally walking out of the rubble. What was that like? And what was it like to grow up with that dark cloud hanging over you?

Jackie De Burca
That’s very interesting, Susanne, that you say that, because actually, I was thinking to myself, you were born in the mid-70s 1974 on. You didn’t really have up to a certain time of your life, hardly any awareness of the history. Can you explain the differences, knowing your parents, knowing the reactions of themselves and other people of their generations? Can you explain the differences between Nuremberg of your youth and of theirs?

Susanne Stich
I think it is a huge contrast, and I probably absorbed that, subconsciously, big time.

But I didn’t really know that was the case until I saw a book. I don’t quite know if this was precisely the one moment but I always remember that my parents bought this book one Christmas, which was like a photo book. It was a coffee table book. And it was called Nuremberg, Then and Now.

It showed all these photographs of Nuremberg in ruins. In 1945, after all the Allied air raids had happened and the city had literally been reduced to rubble. And in those 30 years or so, until I was born a lot of reconstruction had happened and there was very little evidence of this complete destruction from 30 years before. But this book documented it so incredibly well there were pictures of places that I knew and had walked past many, many times and they look completely different. And suddenly the stories that my mother especially had told me But also my father about what it was like to be in that environment. And literally, there was nothing the house he had lived in was gone. And you just emerged, what if you were lucky with a suitcase, and maybe and your family if they were alive, that was like a big thing.

So these pictures made this all a lot more tangible to me. I was shocked and fascinated. And I kept looking at these pictures and especially, both the old pictures and the new pictures have people in them, but they were like, like wee pins in places. You could just tell this must be a partial, and there were children too. And I remember thinking, Oh, I wonder is this my Dad? Is this my Mum? And then vice versa, the other pictures that were taken probably in the 70s. And I would have looked at this book in the mid-80s, maybe 84 or 85 or so. And I was thinking is, is this my Mother as a young adult? Is this my Father, you know, naively as a child immediately referred back to my own family, because I had heard so many stories about what it’s like in the war, what it’s like to walk the streets, and there was no food, the winters were cold.

Nuremberg Germany full moon over old town
Nuremberg Germany full moon over the old town

And it was just such an incredible story world leaving aside the trauma, but the imagery was so concrete and powerful. Like no mittens, no hats, in winter, or three people sharing a bed. And living in one little room together, that kind of stuff.

And my Mother especially experienced that my Father had slightly better living conditions after the war. But my Mum was like, literally going through a whole range of different accommodations and very basic, and just her and her siblings and her Mum, because she had lost her father during the war. Okay, I think that was what shaped her. And I absorbed that through the story she told me.

Jackie De Burca
I can imagine you did. So one of the things as you’re talking about such an amazing history, but obviously also so, so deeply sad as well.

Do you feel that that the connection and absorbing from your moment from the history of Nuremberg, and you know, from your Dad as well, do you feel that affected you creatively as a young person?

Susanne Stich
I guess so. I mean, it’s very hard to living here in Ireland has given me a very different perspective on all this. I can, I would say yes, wholeheartedly sitting here at this desk. In my house in Ireland. I wonder would I say exactly the same thing. Living in Nurnberg, though.

But yeah, I think there’s no doubt that these stories have shaped me and also the details of my parents biographies. My father, for instance, lost his hearing over a number of years, and it was pretty clear that this was somehow connected to an air raid basically to the impact of a bomb, which remained undiagnosed for a long time in his childhood, he, nobody knew that he had a problem with his hearing. There were so many other things going on, of course, and then as an adult, he slowly became profoundly deaf. And that was a huge thing in our family. Of course, that was unique to us. And I do think that also shaped my creativity.

Nurernberg Old Town - Heilig Geist Spital
Nurernberg Old Town – Heilig Geist Spital by Susanne Stich

I think it definitely shaped me beyond the history of Nurnberg. And the history of the second world war or the fact that my father was deaf. And by the time I was born, he had no hearing at all. I think the visual is so important to me because of that. And because he was really into photography, and even super eight film, all that kind of thing meant a huge amount to him because he had no access to the sounds that he remembered. So but that was also I think of as incredibly sad for him. And I was very aware of that sadness in my childhood.

Jackie De Burca
That must be such a burden to a child, as well as your Dad, obviously, that goes without saying, that must be a burden. And yet at the same time, perhaps, a deep knowing and wisdom because of your Dad’s loss of one of his senses, which he obviously made up with his love for the visual.

Susanne Stich
Yeah, I mean, I do think about that a lot.

And while it’s, there’s always a sadness associated with it, for sure. Also, because we didn’t really, at the time talk a lot about this, you know, the war had been such a traumatic event, literally, for the whole nation. A lot of things that happened that came out of that, and also the sense of Germany being guilty. In this war, it was our nation who had brought this on the world. And so I, even though people wouldn’t necessarily have articulated this, but it was a lot. This was very much an emotional undercurrent. If that makes any sense?

Jackie De Burca
It does, it does of course.

Susanne Stich
So I think there were a lot of silences, about all of this kind of stuff. And that shaped I think, my whole family. Nowadays, I think, generally, we in Western societies have come a huge distance in terms of talking more about what this means for a family what it means emotionally. But leaving all that aside, which is tied up I guess, with trauma, second-hand trauma, and all these things which do fascinate me. But for a creative person, which thankfully I am, I just had to make stuff all the time. I remember always drawing and painting and writing. It was an inspiration as well.

Nuremberg Christmas market
Nuremberg Christmas market

And I always remember factoring in that my father had no hearing. And so I wrote little notes for him. When he couldn’t understand something. I wrote things down and he enjoyed that. So I guess that’s, yeah, that’s definitely part of why I turned to writing.

Jackie De Burca
Definitely. I mean, it’s very sad on one hand, but also probably a huge creative trigger for you, I imagine. Were there siblings? Suzanne, you haven’t mentioned if you had any brothers or sisters?

Susanne Stich
Yeah, I have two older brothers who are quite a lot older than me. So they were 11 and 14 when I was born. So yeah, but they’re amazing. And I picked up a lot about music from them. Which is ironic, with my father also in the house who couldn’t hear, but they had already started listening to music. And I was like, I love the music that they were playing in the 80s and the likes of Eurythmics, Talking Heads and so on. That’s also how I became interested in the English language. They always made me tapes. And yeah, but their lives were very kind of, in a strange way separate from mine. Sometimes it was a little bit like an only child for me, because they were, by the time I was like, seven or eight, they had left and they were studying and working. And they were coming home to visit.

Jackie De Burca
Yeah, I was curious, really, because I’m an only child myself. And from some of the way you express yourself, I got like, is Susanne an only child, it’s funny, isn’t it? But going back to your childhood, you did also discover some places outside of the city that were formative to you, Susanne. Where did you use to go as a family?

Susanne Stich
We used to go literally to the countryside at weekends, we went into forests a lot. We went on bike tours, I remember going there with my godmother and aunts and cousins and also with my Mum and Dad and brothers. And it was a huge thing. It was very simple. And it didn’t cost us a lot.

But it was just so bonding and lovely to be gathering mushrooms for instance in the forest gathering mushrooms and berries, which was a huge part of the annual calendar. And I have such powerful memories of those days of being in the forest and like seeing a relative in the distance but it was almost like you were a little bit on your own. as well for some moments, and then suddenly, somebody appeared somewhere and you were in the middle of nature. And you heard birdsong. And it was just powerful to me from as early as maybe three-four years old.

Bavaria Germany forest and castle
Bavaria Germany forest and castle

Jackie De Burca
You wrote about this Susanne in one of your pieces also, didn’t you?

Susanne Stich
I did write a short piece, it’s only 100 words, but to me, it sums up perfectly that memory of being together, and also having this sense of everyone being like, an individual with mystery surrounding them, all that kind of thing. But literally also being connected to nature at the same time. And nature being so important and such a soothing force, I very much experienced that as a child, and I don’t know where that came from. But I should maybe add that the flat we lived in as a family was on the fifth floor. It was quite small for a family of three, even though my oldest brother lived next door, but we overlooked a park in the middle of the city. So up high, we were literally overlooking all these trees. And it was for me. When I was very small, it was like living in a treehouse.

Jackie De Burca
Okay.

Susanne Stich

There was also a river there. And I remember people always saying when they came to our house, is it raining? Is it raining? No, but it was the river. So there was always the sound of the river going past a sidearm of the Pegnitz, which is the river running through Nurenberg. And I think that really shaped me a lot. And that might well be where this love of nature comes from, despite growing up in the middle of quite a big city, with all the features of big city life.

Nuremberg View from my flat as a child
Nuremberg View from my flat as a child by Susanne Stich

Jackie De Burca
Okay, and did you used to go anywhere on holidays at all as a family?

Susanne Stich
We sometimes went to Austria, yeah, my Mum is half Austrian, and while she lost her father in the war. There were siblings there and one aunt in particular, who we used to go to outside Vienna.

But we also went to the Alps a couple of times and I remember that again, as some massive imprint on my child mind. The idea of the Alps covered in snow was just so beautiful, the sun reflecting on these massive slopes, and here where we our little unit of a family, and yeah, the Alps. And that would have been somewhere we went quite frequently when I was very young.

And then later as a teenager, I would have travelled a little bit with the community on these group trips. Like I remember going to the South of France, going even in Germany, going camping. And that again was great. It was just great to be out.

Jackie De Burca
I noticed in some parts of your writing, Susanne, and that you seem to also have a special connection to water. Would that be true?

Susanne Stich
Oh, definitely. Yeah, definitely. It’s probably one of the reasons I’m here surrounded by all this water on this island. But even swimming pools to me are magical. They really have this – one of my first memories is standing in a small pool and seeing the sun reflected in the water, like a kiddies pool – an outdoor pool. I’ve always loved swimming pools and wherever I go wherever I travel if I get the chance to go into a pool, I do go even just looking at one through the window I love and I love how water, it’s the subconscious ultimately, I guess but your own memories blend with other stuff with your experience, with history, travel, the films I’ve seen, the books I’ve read.

Even when I’m in the shower, I sometimes have the best ideas. Water and me do go together well.

Fanad Donegal Lighthouse
Fanad Donegal Lighthouse

Jackie De Burca  

I have that same experience. That’s why I was laughing. Do you actually feel that it’s possible that you and maybe other people, as well, carry their formative environments with them in life and maybe draw on them at times creatively?

Susanne Stich

Oh, definitely. I personally think everybody does that who’s creative. And if they tell you otherwise, I don’t think they’re quite in touch with the fact that this is the case. Because at the end of the day, we are so shaped by our own stories and experience and our particular sensitivity. And that is shaped by place as much as it is by people. 

I often think people’s preoccupations once you start, and maybe this is something that only comes as you get a little bit older, where you can develop an interest in this and you see it more clearly, that we are all motivated by things that we have very little control over. And I think the subconscious is really the main driver that for me, that’s also the reason why I’m a writer.

Jackie De Burca  

Okay, that’s interesting. Subconscious for a lot of people who probably just don’t realise or think about, it actually makes takes up 88% of the mind.

Susanne Stich

I’m not surprised. 

Jackie De Burca  

Which is fairly significant. Going to the area that you are now you’ve lived there -it’s a border area between Derry and Donegal – for around 20 years now. But when you first went to Ireland, that actually isn’t where you went first, where did you go first of all?

Susanne Stich

First of all, I went to Dublin, I work there as an Au Pair just after I finished school. I was in South Dublin in Cabinteely. I had a wonderful year there. I remember especially taking the Dart at weekends and going to Bray and Howth on a day ticket, basically take the whole journey from north to south and just walking the cliff walk in Howth and also walking up Bray Head. That was a big staple of my week. 

I loved walking the pier in Dun Laoghaire. And being in Dublin was just so different from anything I had experienced before because most of my travel had been in places that were not so much on coastlines anyway. I’ve been to cities. But not so much on the coast. I hadn’t actually been to the German coast at that point. And the idea of being near the sea was just very, very special to me. And I couldn’t get enough. That’s why I took the Dart and I love that. 

Howth Dublin author Susanne Stich
Howth Dublin

That view of, of the Irish sea, that you get and all the different parts of the journey through the city and then suddenly you’re in Howth and you’ve gone this cliff walk and you might as well be in Donegal. I still think to this day, the whole Cliff walk is one of the best Cliff walks it in the world.

Jackie De Burca  

It is stunning. I’m from Dublin. So you know, I’m going to be a little bit biased, you know, to all the nice things you’re saying? How did you feel about Dublin apart from the landscape, of course being different that you hadn’t really experienced being by the sea that much beforehand? How did you feel about the culture there in comparison to everything you’d known up to that time?

Susanne Stich

It’s very interesting and or it is very interesting from my perspective now because my sense of arriving in Dublin in 1993 it was just a strong sense of possibility. I was a young woman on my own working for this family and going into town, meeting all these people. I remember seeing Sinead O’Connor sitting in Bewleys talking to Brendan Kennelly, the poet. And I was like, everything seemed too vibrant. I saw Daniel Day-Lewis walking down Grafton Street one day and it just seemed like that it’s a small island and it’s much easier to actually see people. To me, from coming from Germany it was just unbelievable. Or my family on the very first day I arrived. They took me past Bono’s house on a drive.

I mean, I’m not a big fan of U2, but still, it was quite stunning to think “Oh, all right, that’s where he lives”. And over time, of course, I’ve seen Dublin in the 90s while I was on the cusp probably moving towards the Celtic Tiger – all of that big mess. But Dublin in the 80s would have been very different.

But there was still this lingering sense of The Commitments, Roddy Doyle – all his stories, I remember watching The Snapper, and being in awe of all of this, but not fully appreciating at the time, the amount of history and suffering also that the Irish have been through because for me, arriving, it was like, being in this place of wild possibility.

There was less perfectionism than I had encountered in Germany, people were a lot more open, they were interested in hearing your story. And I was really quite naive. And of course, these were also my formative years, and I just absorbed everything like a sponge, and just loved being there. Being in the city, sitting in cafes, sitting in Bewley’s sitting in the Winding Stair Cafe, going to the galleries, going to National Gallery, IMMA and just walking up and down the streets and absorbing this city. I sometimes wonder could I have gone to almost any city, and I would have had a similar experience because that was the stage I was at.

Jackie De Burca  

I’ll say the word biassed a second time. I actually wonder, would you? Because Dublin, even though it is my home city, it is special because it’s such a small city. So as you know yourself, you’re walking from Grafton Street, you’ve got Trinity College, and you go down to O’Connell Street, and everything is very accessible. So I think that has a different effect to many other cities.

Dublin Ireland travel after coronavirus

Susanne Stich

That’s very true. I remember a friend of mine saying back then, and you won’t understand Ireland if you haven’t seen England, and while I had been to Oxford and Wales, strangely enough on a school trip, I didn’t really think I knew England at all. I only knew it from stories and from things I had made up, seeing films and so on. And then going to London, I think in 1996. For the first time, I began to understand what he had meant. But also the other extreme, from this massive big city back to Dublin. And then going out to the Aran Islands in Connemara. Far off the Connemara coast and meeting people on these islands. I remember speaking to a man there who was quite elderly, but he had never once been in Galway. And he had spent all his time on the island. And I’d say that would be a rare thing. Most people would have been to Galway and Dublin.

But I was amazed by the sheer scope of experience. And then it could also factor in the ex-pat community people, Irish people in New York, Irish people in London, of course, Irish people in Australia.

So the magic of Ireland, to me, it still is the kind of magic that you meet Irish people everywhere. You yourself are in Spain. And that has always fascinated me how a small country has made such a huge impact on the world. And there are so many different perspectives you can take of looking at it. And it’s such a network of influence and of presence and absence.

I don’t know if this makes any sense.

Jackie De Burca  

It makes loads of sense. But it’s probably a whole separate discussion. Because what comes to my mind is as an Irish person, and as you say, I live in Spain, what comes to my mind is do you think that this is probably linked to the fact that so many of the Irish people who survived The Famine had to go to The States or you know, or wherever they went to. A lot of people did leave at the time of The Famine.

And I’m wondering, was it sort of almost instilled in our consciousness at that time? So I actually absolutely get what you’re saying. But it’s such a huge topic, I think. Isn’t it?

Dunree Beach Inishowen
Dunree Beach Inishowen by Susanne Stich

Susanne Stich

Absolutely. And I mean, living up here in the northwest in Donegal, it is just it has become a lot more clear to me over the years, the impact of The Famine on the Irish psyche. And I think the West of Ireland and the whole country was affected, but the west of Ireland bears witness to this even more viscerally.

Jackie De Burca  

I think so, definitely,

Susanne Stich

And I think it also does take time to really absorb that. You go through stages, you think, oh, I’ve got my head around this event, whatever happened to the Irish, but you hit new thresholds all the time, and I feel similarly about German history. I’m revisiting at different times, or at different points in my life. It takes on new and different meanings, and it becomes even more layered.

Jackie De Burca  

I think that makes sense as well, Susanne. Because as we go through different phases of our lives, you know, we go from young teenage women or girls into that sort of stage of life that you are, when you went to Dublin that time, and as you’re going through different phases, it’s like you are going to gravitate and understand the history of your own country in different ways, I suppose, you know?

Susanne Stich

Absolutely. And I find living away from Germany has given me very rich perspectives on it. I mean, this is my life, I have lived away for a long, long time now. So I will never find out what it would have been like to stay. But I’m making sense of my own country, my own Germanus, even from here, in my own way, there are so many different ways you can do this. But it is hugely important to me, and I do feel as I’m getting older, it is something I will always want to do is I would find it hard to imagine living there again. But the connection, the fact that I’m from the place, and that it has really shaped me.

Lough Foyle Inishowen
Lough Foyle Inishowen by Susanne Stitch

Jackie De Burca  

I can imagine that. And just going back to so you’re in Dublin -but you did go back to Germany, didn’t you to to go to university? Do you want to tell us a little bit about how you would have had a bit of contrast at that stage? How did that affect you that particular period?

Susanne Stich

I went to study at Erlangen, which is a small town about 20 kilometres from Nuremberg. I studied English Language and Literature. And also Film Studies, which at the very early stages of that programme was a combined programme of drama and film studies. So the first year I was with a lot of people who wanted to become actors, which was quite interesting. But the film studies part, which I then majored in was more theoretically driven, but I was always surrounded there by creatives.

And leaving aside the two subjects that I was studying, and being in the small town of Erlangen initially felt like a bit of a compromise, I had always dreamed I could maybe go to Berlin to study. My cousin lived there. She’s a fine artist and I had visited Berlin a few times and had these dreams about going there. But something had happened in Ireland that made me want to go back to Ireland somehow. I had the sense that if I had gone to Berlin that might never happen.

Berlin Wall 30th anniversary-09.11.2019
Berlin Wall 30th anniversary-09.11.2019

I just I came to Erlangen, started college there- found it quite a bizarre experience- found it quite anonymous, the university was massive. There were so many people, it was hard to really connect. And the two subjects were very different. The drama film studies part was very hands-on, very creative. A lot of practice lessons and so on, or as- at least for the early part of the course. Whereas the English Language and Literature part were very dry, and a lot of modules that I- I just thought, ‘is this it? No. Is this just me studying dry things where I really want to be a creative’?

But being in a small town was a nice thing and it gave me a lot of time to reflect on what had happened in Ireland and even what had happened for me as a teenager because I do now know at this stage of my life, that I’m really an introvert. I take a lot of time to process things like and- in the best possible way as well, because it can be easy to beat yourself up over this.

Oh, you should be able to take in things a lot more quickly and move on and process but I do think- I do think things go very deep with me. So it’s good for me to have time where I get like, time in nature and reflect. And that was certainly possible, studying in Erlangen as opposed to going to Berlin.

I’m quite happy. Looking back, I think I learned back then living in Erlangen- I rented a room there that it was possible for me to be in a small place and be fulfilled with the things I do.

Rather than feel, oh, I always have to chase up blocks, I have to be everywhere. And this idea of fear of missing out I think even then, I was aware that you kind of pick what you want to do, and then you stick with it. Even though I was only in my early 20s back then but like, it was after a wonky start where I wasn’t sure, is this the right place for me? It was good because I was able to focus on studying and then eventually, I was able to apply for a year abroad which brought me back to Ireland.

liffey-river-dublin
Liffey River -Dublin

Jackie De Burca  

That’s great, your intention worked out. Whereabouts in Ireland did you end up at that stage, Susanne?

Susanne Stich

At that point, I went to Galway. I spent a year at- that was then called TCG-NUI Galway. And I studied English there.  should briefly add that I had been back to Ireland during the semester breaks.

So really, my first two years of college were centring around, ‘how can I return to Ireland’? And I have to I want to study at university obviously, and I want to study these subjects. But the big dream for me was Ireland, it was always this, ‘when can I go back? When can I go back’? So I did do all these jobs on the side to travel back. And then the idea of living there again as a college student was amazing. And I was very lucky to get a grant for the year and yeah, spend a year.

Jackie De Burca  

How did Galway compare to Erlangen? Your university experience- must have been quite contrasting, I imagine?

Galway city Claddagh area

Susanne Stich

Very contrasting. Even though size-wise they might be roughly the same, and they’re both university towns but Galway was amazing. It is so vibrant. The international influences there- you meet people from all over the world and yet it’s just such an Irish place. So vibrant. And again, you’re so close to the coast. You have Connemara there on your doorstep, the west of Ireland really seeps in. It’s a very different world from Dublin, it’s quite urban in its own way.

And even though we talked about before, but how Dublin as a city- you can compare it to the likes of London or New York or even Berlin. And yeah, but Galway- the weather was a huge thing. Of course, I had experienced Irish weather in Dublin and also on my travels, but to be living there for a year. I remember where I was living, there was no bus to the university. So I was in Salt Hill, but there was no direct link to Newcastle. So I had to cycle, and I remember the amount of days I was blown off the bicycle.

Jackie De Burca  

I can imagine, I know the area quite well.

Susanne Stich

And wearing these waterproof trousers and carrying them around college all day and they were- they didn’t smell nice. You felt like you had to like- it was literally like, like travelling in space with the winter weather. The heating in my accommodation wasn’t great. I had the worst colds and ear infections during that winter until I finally bought an electric heater. But leaving all that aside, the place really grew on me over time. It is just- something so raw. And I used the word before, visceral there- that really resonated with something and me and my love of the sea became even stronger.

I remember walking along the coast every day. And whatever I needed at that time in my life, I think it was- it was really a good place to be. And my father had died when I was 16 and I think I had never really grieved for him properly and that year in Galway was an opportunity to do that. I remember walking along the coast and being really in touch with the grief and for the first time, understanding that this is something you almost have to make space for. And it goes well with certain landscapes. And it takes a lot of time. So my year in Galway was very rich, for all kinds of reasons.

Glimpses of Bath from tour bus
Glimpses of Bath from tour bus by Susanne Stitch

Jackie De Burca  

That’s an amazing insight because you actually used the word ‘raw’ about the landscape there. And of course, grief when it is in process particularly for a parent, or somebody so close- is bound to be very raw, and the landscape triggered your processing of at least some of that grief, no?

Susanne Stich 

Absolutely. And as I said, it was like years before I came to Galway that my father had passed, I was 16. But German culture is quite different when it comes to dealing with death to Irish culture. And while I will forever be hovering somewhere in between those two, I guess, what I like about Ireland is how it’s possible to quite openly talk about these things. And it really helped me and it wasn’t something that I had seen coming even, that I would be in touch with the grief for my father, especially the first part of that year and that winter.

And then I had the lovely experience of also being there in the spring that followed and the summer. And that was the polar opposite. It was like I had suddenly emerged out of something very, very heavy. And I experienced a lot of cultural events there, the Cúirt Literature Festival where I actually got involved in the poet’s platform. I read one of my poems that I’d written in one of the seminars at college that the offerings at NUI-Galway are amazing, like- and at the time, I was just stunned by what was possible for people who are both creative and interested in studying the history and theory side. In Germany, that was always very separate. Even though in my experience of the Film Studies degree and the Drama combined programme, it was that little bit different.

But still, Ireland was, in my mind miles ahead of how it deals with these things differently. It doesn’t draw that line. So what we were doing in college was that we were looking at contemporary Irish poetry. And our assignment for the week was usually to write a poem in response to the poems we had read by the likes of Eavan Boland, Medbh McGuckian. And- Seamus Heaney, of course, Derek Mahon, these were the big names at the time. And I had never heard of any of them. So it was a huge privilege to be exposed to that and be invited to write poetry in English, even though I thought it wasn’t great. But it opened a door in me and that was probably the first step towards what I’m doing now.

And at the Poet’s Platform, in the Cúirt Literary Festival, I then read one of these pieces. And that’s strangely enough, also where I’ve met my partner, who I’m still together with now. So it was a hugely important spring when we met at that festival, and we were friends for a while, but that’s where we met initially.

Susanne Stich – Part 2


Jackie De Burca  

Well, that is actually- it’s a lovely story because you’d been through dealing with the grief of your Dad and coming out sort of emerging in the springtime, as you say, exploring poetry in that way. And then, of course, meeting your long-term partner, and who, of course, now you’ve been living with for around 20 years in Northwestern Ireland. But going back, Susanne, one of the things that struck me, you know, when reading your work and researching- you go back to your school days back in Germany, were you being taught at all about any of the history, the Troubles in Northern Ireland?

Land's End, San Francisco
Land’s End, San Francisco by Susanne Stitch

Susanne Stich

A little. I remember in geography, this came up. I remember vaguely- I’m vaguely aware of news footage that I would have seen, but to be honest, I had no connection to that part of Irish history and even when I came to Dublin there was very little- like I wasn’t terribly aware of it at all. And I would never have dreamed that I would work in Northern Ireland in the art sector, that was just a complete surprise. But I think it’s been a really interesting journey to come to the place with little awareness other than I mean, of course, there were references in popular culture, I would have watched movies like In the Name of the Father. Heard songs like Bloody Sunday, by U2. Here we go, again. Great song, but it’s a reality and the north of Ireland is so, so different. And the thing that struck me coming here and working in the place is initially how little or how few clues there were to something being wrong, you know? Of course, this was post the Good Friday Agreement that I moved here, and so on. But it took me a while to really begin to see the evidence that is often quite- that there is a legacy of conflict. And the Troubles took place of course, like I had seen documentary films at that point and my partner is from Belfast so he told me about his experiences and I learned a lot through that. But in terms of my own schooling back home, there was very little, it was a well-

Jackie De Burca  

There was no obvious point of references. That was something that I was really quite fascinated with. And you have a lot of gorgeous quotes throughout your writing. But I felt that there was one paragraph in Landlocked where you describe when you first came to Ireland? I think that’s a great paragraph, would you- would you like to read that out for us?

Susanne Stich

Yes, I can. Yeah, of course. Okay.

I first came to Ireland after I’d finished school, a favourite teacher’s tales of Dublin and Donegal convinced me that I too, had to go there. It was simple, a call of the wild. Once there, something clicked. Like my teacher, I kept returning, travelled the length and breadth of the island. History wasn’t something I thought much about in those early days. I thought about water instead, how it surrounded the place I had hopped on to as if in a dream. I felt alive in Ireland, alive and perceptive.

Jackie De Burca  

It’s absolutely wonderful. I love it. Can you talk a little bit further, I mean, you were just starting to touch on your partner obviously, you know, being from Belfast and having- of course, talk to you a lot about his own experience. You’re there so long. And you have such a connection with the water, the culture, the history of the people in the area, and its beauty. Can you describe that to us please, Susanne?

Susanne Stich

Yeah, it’s- I feel almost the longer I live here, it’s getting that little bit trickier to stick with that initial vision, you know? So it really helps me to write about it and when I read this essay that I wrote called Landlocked, I’m very much in touch with that little line of breadcrumbs that brought me to this place. And because history in Ireland and also in Germany, both these- I mean, all countries ultimately. But for me, because these are the two I know best, I’m very conscious of how contested the history is and how- and especially here now in the border region with Brexit looming and all this, it’s- Yeah, it’s a bit of a minefield as well.

So, my particular take is my experience of having come here through the route of Dublin, Galway, the Northwest, working in Belfast and Derry over the years and getting to know the place very gradually with no- coming to it with not an awful lot of baggage other than my own historical baggage. If that makes any sense? History is- especially in these last few years for me, especially since 2016. A lot of the things I have been going on about and talking about- all history is important to me, but the fact that it’s alive always, I’ve never had such a strong sense of being at the mercy of history to a point, you know, as I’ve had the last four years. It might be partly to do with the age I am, but also, with these events like Brexit, I would never have foreseen that. And I remember the shock that everybody felt that I know here. And in this region, in particular- such a challenging thing, such a train wreck, for people to get their head around. It really is difficult because this border region is- it requires a lot of healing still.

Nuremberg
Nuremberg

Flickr photo by Aleksi Mattsson.

Jackie De Burca  

Yes, definitely

Nuremberg
Nuremberg

Flickr photo by Aleksi Mattsson

Susanne Stich

There are a lot of wounds here, but the wounds are there to be seen. And again, I wrote a little more about this in that essay. And it’s like, suddenly, this healing process has come to a halt. And people are just in bare survival mode. And that is terrible. That is not very productive in terms of long-term peace, and it really rattles people’s psyches. And I certainly have to say it has rattled me and I- when I was growing up. And it’s also made me reflect on how privileged I have been to be travelling so much as a teenager and young adult. And the idea of not being able to cross a border or being asked for ID and- while this is hopefully not going to be the case here and be very detrimental to the peace process. But it is a very different way of looking at moving- moving in space and moving from A to B. I grew up in an era where freedom was something I really took for granted. And freedom of movement, freedom of like, working anywhere in the EU and making that place a home. I do have friends in other countries that are also from Germany originally. People in Scandinavia and you know, somebody in Spain. And my generation, I think that’s quite typical for people to do. Sorry, that’s- I’ve kind of rambled away from your question.

Jackie De Burca  

No, you’re- but it is relevant because of course, we’re recording this now just two days before the Sunday that people have all their hopes pinned on. But of course, we won’t be actually broadcasting till so by the time people are listening to this, hopefully the Brexit situation will have been resolved to some degree better than it is on the day that we’re recording this, you know?

kylemore-abbey
Kylemore Abbey

Susanne Stich

Yeah.

Jackie De Burca  

And going back, as you mentioned, obviously, your childhood. There’s one quote that also resonated very strongly with me. “I understood that I had lived through a childhood where the residue of conflict was as palpable as the bicycle I used to ride. Just like people on this island, I too had been shaped by silences, assumptions, longings not entirely my own”. And I just think that that quote after what you’ve been discussing- it brings to mind what is still, unfortunately, a very real issue there in the north of Ireland. The feelings of traumas that are still there, in both the people and the place. How do you feel about that, Susanne?

Jackie De Burca  

I think it is, it’s typical, I mean, John Carson pops into my mind straight away. She needed to go, you know, and she, she was going to, she ended up going to Portland, Oregon. And that was like, hugely important for her to have left the north and to spend time there. And I think it is, I think, as you say, people in Germany, find us people in art and find it, I think it’s coming out of our own comfort zones. And we can just do that more easily by going, ideally, to a different country, probably, you know.

Susanne Stich

Yeah, the effect of war and conflict on places is certainly something that fascinates me, especially the long-term effects, the aftermath. I guess the year I was born, and very much that post-war generation with regards to the Second World War, and I think it’s definitely tied up with that. The respect and understanding for how long it takes to recover from conflict and trauma is- that is something that has always been on my mind. I think even as a child, I would have absorbed that that sense, that things take a lot of time. And it’s- well, certain things on the surface can change very quickly. And something can be resolved in a day, like some kind of predicament, suddenly, there’s a building that is reconstructed, and people can access that again, and that is great. But what goes on in the mind and how this has affected people’s psyches and how they relate to their kin, how they relate to others in their society, is certainly something that has always been on my radar. And maybe that’s also why I resonate with the history of the Troubles, but also with Irish history in general. And it’s not- in my writing, I don’t even write historical fiction if you know what I mean. And or it’s not primarily about the history, but it comes in as something that is really defining factor in how people relate on a day to day basis, how they live their everyday lives. There are all these residues and aftermaths and- but I do think it’s tied up with my particular generation, and the idea of assumptions and silences. Yeah, that is a big one also.

There are certain things we won’t talk about, or we can’t talk about, because maybe they’re too painful, or they’re too complicated, all kinds of things. And certain assumptions that we make. We’ll do it this way because there isn’t even so much of an inquiry into why are we doing it this way. It’s more like, oh, we have to do it this way. And asking why won’t get us anywhere. I was- I’ve always been fascinated with that, and how that has shaped the life of my parents in particular, and how I kind of then came in with the question marks and I wanted to put the whys in where they put the statements, the blanket statements. “This is how we do this”. And I went in and said, but why? Because I was quite young and a little naive when it comes to the things that shaped them.

Jackie De Burca  

Of course. Of course. And one of the things that have been kind of a thread really for a lot of the interviews I’ve done in this first series of Creative Places and Faces- it’s occurred to me that the people who have been in areas, and obviously where you’ve grown up in Nuremberg, and where- your partner’s from Belfast and quite a number of the people I’ve interviewed, also being from Belfast- that there’s- they have undergone historic trauma, but actually at the same time, it’s like that seems to serve as a kind of a trigger for creativity. Have you experienced this yourself?

Susanne Stich

Yeah, I can see it in places, for sure. Not even just in Ireland and Germany, where a lot of the art that I would relate to what would be rooted in some experience of trauma or conflict. I do see it in a lot of the art that I admire, be it in painting or in writing, in films even. And as for my experience as a German woman coming from Nuremberg, growing up there- it’s sort of like a double-edged sword for me, this question. Because I was exposed to a lot of art. As a child, I did absorb lots of stories, I went to galleries and like, even this was something I wanted to do. I don’t know why really, but I’m certainly motivated to see something outside of my own life and then maybe compare it back to what my experience was like. But on the other hand, in Nuremberg, growing up in Nuremberg, there was a very different sense from the way I’ve experienced creativity in Ireland. It was more like, oh, you’ll never get published or it’s hard as other people do that or it’s very hard to make yourself heard because you have to be so good and so perfect. Whereas in Ireland, I think there’s more of an attitude of encouragement. And anyone can have a goal like if you go into a pub, or- not so much this year, obviously but you’ll definitely find somebody who will say, ‘oh, I’m a writer’. Whether they have published anything or not, it’s the other question. But you got a lot of storytellers, you got the seanchaí tradition, and people are just in love with a good yarn, with a good story here. And there’s a great sense of history, people are great readers in Ireland too. And they are that too in Germany, but there is- there’s more awe and respect for artists as if they’re somehow removed from the rest of the people. I think that’s slightly different in Ireland. So I felt as a teenager, doing a lot of creative things, I kind of had to leave the place. But then again, I’ve heard exactly that from Irish people who are creatives who felt they had to get out of the place in order to really live their creativity. So I think it might be more a universal experience for people who have to work creatively for whatever reason that is, that they have to go away. And maybe-

Jackie De Burca  

I think it is, it’s typical. I mean, Jan Carson pops into my mind straight away.

Nuremberg Old Town River Pegnitz
Nuremberg Old Town River Pegnitz by Susanne Stitch

Susanne Stich

Oh, yeah.

Jackie De Burca  

She needed to go, you know- she was going to- she ended up going to Portland, Oregon. And that was like, hugely important for her to have left the north and to spend time there. And I think it is, I think- as you say, people in Germany find it, people in Ireland find it- I think it’s coming out of our own comfort zones, and we can just do that more easily by going, ideally, to a different country, probably. You know?

Susanne Stich

Absolutely. And I mean, then there’s always this degree of going back, be it through the art or be it physically going back. Revisiting the place that it came from. And I can now see in my writing, especially in the last couple of years, I’m much more prepared to or much more interesting also, to look at the impact of whatever came before me and my family and my country. And how does this- how could this manifest in the writing? Whereas at the very start, I wasn’t. When I was a teenager, and I started writing stories, they were always set in America where I thought was a wonderful place, for whatever reason. And they were as far removed from the place I was in as you could possibly imagine.

Nuremberg
Nuremberg

Flickr photo by barnyz

Jackie De Burca  

I guess if you think about it, I mean, we know that we’ve touched predominantly on your experiences in Germany and Ireland, but you do have a number of other places that have made, you know, a significant impact on your life. I think if we think about it from a writer’s perspective, you know, popping- dipping in and out of different places, environments and cultures, it’s almost like collecting fragments of characters that you’ll- eventually will pop up in your writing, no?

Susanne Stich

Absolutely. And I’m lucky to have travelled a fair bit as a teenager and young adult. And that is definitely- I feel I have experienced so much on these travels, that I almost- I would love to travel again, don’t get me wrong, but I almost wouldn’t have to. And I would still have material to draw on.

Jackie De Burca  

That’s very interesting. So which places have made an impact just that is significant enough that you actually could make that statement that you’ve just made?

Susanne Stich

Well, I guess, Berlin was a place I went to a lot as a teenager, just after the wall came down in the early 90s. The Wall came down in ’89, and then I would have been there a fair bit before I finished school. My cousin lived there. She had lived there for many years, and I was able to stay with her which was wonderful. And I just remember cycling around the city and encountering this place, which was German, but it seems so very, very different from Nuremberg. And I think a lot of big cities- London would be similar, New York. I’ve heard people say that about too and these big metropolitan places, they are not necessarily representative of what the country at large is like. So for me, it was like our complete education makes like- you could go to a cafe at any time of the night. You could turn up there at 1 am and stay until 6, no problem. And I found that quite- I didn’t really have the energy for it, but I did try it out just because of the fun of it. It just seemed like, wow this is amazing. And even Bavaria is a very different place from Berlin. So there are big cultural differences as well, that I became very aware of, and I was intrigued by them and watched them like a hawk. Oh, oh, oh, oh. And like fitting in like a painting by number drawing of my own national identity. I was filling in some of the blanks that I hadn’t seen until then, and I thought, ‘oh, this is also what it means to be German’. So it was like an education. Another place that again, I mentioned before I travelled to a fair bit was Vienna. I remember specifically going there for a week to stay with my great aunt when I was 18 years old. And I was in this culture vulture group, where I just wanted to see a lot of art and walk the city, go into every book shop and just absorb a lot. I remember going to the Sigmund Freud house, which was, really amazing. And we had talked about his work in school a few years earlier, and to be in that space was quite impressive. And even though I’m now like, I’m far more interested in the writings of Jung, but it was still- it was fabulous to be able to see that, take the train into the city, read a book on the train and then walk around, go and see the castles, see the (inaudible – 01:11:44), all these galleries with the beautiful artwork of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele. And yeah, it was lovely to have that opportunity through a family connection.

Jackie De Burca  

Okay. And anywhere else is sort of- now, you’re there sitting in your home in northwest of Ireland, on a grey, drizzly and a dull day, as you’ve described to me. Anywhere else that you’ve been to the sort of- very much sort of sits with you still?

Susanne Stich

Oh, San Francisco would be one other place that I also love. My cousin, another cousin lives there and has lived there again for a long time. So I’ve been out there a few times. The very first time I went was just a summer after I graduated from school. And it was- the weather was glorious, and to be suddenly in this world of, of places that I’d seen in films like- I love Alfred Hitchcock’s movies, and I love the film Vertigo and to suddenly see all those locations and walk past them casually. It was just absolutely incredible. And even the highways out of the city going north and south, we went there. My cousin had a motorbike at the time and took me on the back of it, it was just absolutely fabulous. And it reminded me of the movie The Birds, the little town they travelled to from San Francisco, I think it’s called Bodega Bay. And that’s another favourite movie of mine. And for me, movies have been obviously so important. And the idea of being near these locations, it taught me something about where stories and life intersect. Something about creativity that was just so powerful. And even the spirit of San Francisco as a city was just a wonderful thing to witness at that age. And my cousin took me to all these hip and cool places, and it’s just so, so very different from anything I had known. And it’s just lovely that that was possible to experience. And because I think it’s a wonderful thing to have that experience when you’re about 18, 19. You’re so open to absorbing so much.

connemara-irlande
Connemara Irlande

Jackie De Burca  

It’s kind of like a coming of age, time of your life, isn’t it?

Susanne Stich

Absolutely, yeah. Yeah.

Jackie De Burca 

So you’ve mentioned not long ago, Susanne, that you sort of feel almost satisfied with the places that have made up those fragments of your creativity from the places you’ve travelled to and spent time in. But imagine if you were a jigsaw, do you feel your complete right now in terms of those places? Or would there be anyone or two places missing that you feel would make a complete jigsaw?

Susanne Stich

That’s a really lovely question. I would love to travel again, of course. I would like to see new places. I think at this stage of my life, I encounter them in very different ways. I’m looking for different things. But there certainly are places that I would like to see like Australia is one of them. I would like to go there. My partner actually lived there at one point, and he talks about it all the time, and it is just somewhere I would love to visit. I’d like to see a bit more of Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. I love travelling to places in the sun, not because I’m lying on the beach a lot, but I just love being in the sun. And when you live in the northwest of Ireland, there’s so much rain, and it’s- you really- I do miss the sun on occasion.

Jackie De Burca  

Yeah, I can imagine. I can imagine knowing the Irish weather, obviously. One of your stories, Susanne, and it’s set in Bath in England, which you mentioned was inspired just by a one day trip. How do you feel this particular trip had that kind of effect on you? And like how a one day trip, in general, can have such an important effect? How do you feel about that?

Susanne Stich

Oh, yeah, that was- I was staying with a friend of mine for a weekend in Bristol at the time. This was in 2011. And she said to me, this was my first time in Bristol also. And she said, ‘you should take’- I had one day left before my plane went home. ‘You should take a trip to Bath, you would love it’. And I had heard a lot about Bath, and I thought, yeah, I’ll do that. And I went there and I had a very heavy rucksack on my back. And so I couldn’t really leave that rucksack anywhere. So I thought, what will I do? I took the tour bus. It was a glorious day, the weather was gorgeous. It was in June. I basically spent the day on that bus most of the day, going around Bath over and over and over. It was one of those tickets where you can just stay on buses as long as you like. And I was sitting on the top deck and just loving the views and seeing all the tourist sites but also beginning to wonder about what is life really like. Because again, Bath is such a historic place. It’s a little bit like the old city of Nuremberg. And I think maybe that’s why I loved it so much. This first impression, I gravitate to places with that kind of mediaeval architecture and beauty. And of course, all the other epochs make their mark as well. I remember seeing people dressed up as characters from Jane Austen novels, and from the top of the bus. And it seems such an absurd thing for me to be going past on this tour bus, or this city tour bus and see these people and I was wondering what are their lives like? How are they making ends meet? They’re dressed up as Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. It just seems so crazy. And I had been working on this story about a couple, an English man and the German wife and they live in London initially, and then they relocate to Bath. And that’s when their marriage goes really pear-shaped.

Galway
Galway

Flickr photo by James Pillion

Jackie De Burca  

Now, tell for the audience the name of the story, because that is one of the most clever pieces of writing I’ve read for quite a while.

Susanne Stich

Oh, thank you. The story is called Weapon of Choice, which is very much based on the song by Fatboy Slim. It features in the story. And yeah, the story was published in the Stinging Fly, I think it was in 2017. And it can be read online. So yeah, it’s, it’s about a marriage that is maybe not the best match. And it’s told from the wife’s perspective, from a German perspective, looking at like, Englishness and then also bringing in this video with Christopher Walken dancing in an empty hotel. So for me, sometimes in my writing, it sounds bizarre to combine Bath and this video. And when I was writing this story, which I had started years before that trip to Bath, it was really just about this unhappy wife dancing to the video and alongside Christopher Walken. But it wasn’t set in a specific place. And that day, something happened when I was on that tour bus. Looking at Bath, something clicked and I thought why not set the story in Bath and so all these quite different elements came together and really seemed to make a lot more sense than it had done before.

Jackie De Burca 

Actually, that’s kind of wonderful because it’s as if your trip and because of the fact that you had your rucksack- so in other words, you took a clever decision as to how you would spend your day because going with a big, heavy rucksack wasn’t going to be a lot of fun. And as if that time that you spent that day in Bath, it just added a layer that you’d be waiting for to appear, no?

Susanne Stich

Absolutely. And this is the kind of stuff I was saying earlier about being in the shower and having good ideas. Oh, my God, I can’t remember where that actual idea came, but I suddenly realised, oh this story needs another layer. And that that came in the form of Bath as a location. And yeah, but leaving all that aside, Bath is a stunning place. And I would love to visit it again.

Jackie De Burca  

Yeah, well I mean, hopefully we’re all- now that we’re coming towards the end of 2020. Obviously, at the time we’re recording and this will be you know, we’ll have it out in 2021 in January, but we’re all in the same boat where we’re really hoping that next year will be different. And we can revisit. I think it’s given a lot of appreciation to lots of people about the places that they loved, and they love to go back to as well, you know?

Susanne Stich

Oh yes, for sure.

Galway City Museum
Galway City Museum

Flickr. photo by Mohd Fazlin Mohd

Jackie De Burca  

So listen, going back, Susanne, to the place that you’ve know, be calling home for around 20 years. And if someone was coming to visit you there for the first time, maybe a friend from Germany or somebody from another country. Where would you actually say that they should stay that’s- we’ll assume you just don’t have enough room to invite them to your own house. Where would you think would be a lovely place for them to stay in that area.

Susanne Stich

I would say to them to stay anywhere along the Wild Atlantic Way, the Donegal Wild Atlantic Way which starts literally here in Inishowen. I would recommend renting a cottage. The more simple and pared-down, the better and close to the coast. Because this place is really, it’s the landscape that makes it so, so absolutely stunning and amazing.

As long as you can be warm, that is the thing also. You don’t want it to be too wet and dark and all that. But it’s part of the experience. But if you have it too much- so make sure you’ve got some form of heat there. And the idea of waking up in a cottage is just a lovely thing and to maybe have a view of the water as well, which I don’t have where I live. But I know it so well, I have it inside me but say if you didn’t know the place, I think this is the way to get to know Ireland. To wake up somewhere where you have a view of the sea. And the beaches here in Donegal are just absolutely beautiful. There- a lot of people say that they have surfers coming here from all over the world, even though it’s quite grey and rainy at times, but the beaches are just one of a kind.

Jackie De Burca  

So describe Susanne, for the listeners who aren’t familiar with Inishowen, which is the main place, you know, that’s closest to where you’re living- describe Inishowen and the landscape, please?

Susanne Stich

The landscape here is quite hilly, and Inishowen is a peninsula. So you can drive the length of the peninsula, which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way and you’ll always be near the coast. And some of the viewpoints are the most stunning I’ve seen on the whole island of Ireland. And there’s a place called Kinnagoe Bay. It’s one of the most famous beaches here. And it’s an absolutely stunning spectacular beach with a huge cliff face. And they’re also gentle beaches that I love just as much. For instance, Stroove Beach, just north of Greencastle. And then there is the town of Buncrana, which is a lovely place to visit.

And there are the most amazing walks along the coast again toward the mouth of the Lough Swilly, which is the lough on the western side of the peninsula. On the other side, on the eastern side, we have Lough Foyle, which is like the- which is where Derry is. So you do have the most beautiful views and what’s beautiful about both Foyle and Swilly is when you’re looking out to sea, you’ll actually also see the land on the other side. And because it’s a peninsula overlooking other parts like Lough Foyle overlooks Northern Ireland on the other side, and Lough Swilly overlooks Rathmullan, another part of Donegal.

So it is stunning and it’s very unspoiled. Especially Inishowen, due to the history of the Troubles and so on. And there aren’t as many visitors as you would get, for instance, in Connemara, or even other places in Donegal, the more South Donegal, around Donegal town. I think there’s much more tourism there. You don’t get that many people up here and the people you do meet are not your run of the mill tourists if there even is such a thing in this day and age. But they’re often people who have visited the place many times before, or they have some kind of connection to this place. Again, you do find that all over Ireland, people come to search for their roots from America, from England, from Australia and so on. But yeah, you do. It’s very unspoiled. And you do meet interesting people in that sort of solitude, that you do get in this place. It can be lonely as well at times, of course, especially when the weather is very bad. But the beauty of the landscape all year round is really breathtaking. Even if you come at this time of year, it’s- there’s- I really should be better at describing this, but maybe it’s because it’s so-

Jackie De Burca  

I think it’s probably Susanne, that it’s so ingrained in you, you know? So you- you’ve been there so long, you’ve merged with the landscape that it’s almost like- for example, if somebody says to you, you know, ‘tell me your good points, your bad points’. But it’s part of yourself, isn’t it? So it’s quite hard to talk about really.

Susanne Stich

It is actually, yeah. But one thing I could maybe add is that the thing I love the most about here is how I do follow the seasons. And you can do that anywhere, of course, but being here really has made me a lot more interested in looking closely at what exactly happens. As spring moves into summer, summer moves into autumn, autumn into winter. And I do see all these little markers, I collect the blackberries, end of August until the end of September. I do see the snowdrops come at the end of January. These are all clichés but they’re- beyond the cliché, there’s this beautiful experience where you’re actually out and do see these things and do see how they nourish us. And this year, in particular, I have made even more of a point of going out there and looking closely at the trees, listen to the birdsong and so on, in my immediate surroundings, and this- I’m not even that close to the coast here. But to see the change of the seasons and the seasons come into their own is just a beautiful experience. It’s so nourishing.

Lambs Inishowen
Lambs Inishowen by Susanne Stitch

Jackie De Burca  

I think it is- we have- I’m sure every single landscape is the same, you know? We have, for example, and sort of depending on how the winter has been, you know, we’ll have the almond blossom, which will probably be sort of end of January, beginning of February. It’s absolutely stunning. It’s like this icy pink that starts to creep over and take over a lot of the fields that surround us here, you know?

Susanne Stich

Oh, beautiful.

galway-bay
Galway Bay

Jackie De Burca  

And the word nourishing is wonderful because I think that applies to anybody who pays attention in that way to their surrounding environment will find nourishment in it. And it’s interesting, that also you say Susanne, this year in particular, the amount of people- not just people I’ve interviewed for the podcast, but people that I’m in contact with- such a huge appreciation for their local surroundings that perhaps they didn’t realise before, you know?

Susanne Stich

Yeah, I’ve heard that from many as well. It’s just a good thing. A really good thing. Because I think-

Jackie De Burca  

It is. It is. Now one question for you. Because I don’t know that area that well and because I’m Irish so I’m allowed the excuse to ask, are there any sort of eccentric or unusual places that you might bring or even experiences that you might bring your visitor to?

Susanne Stich

I guess the sea swimming has really taken off, this year as well. I haven’t been in the sea as much as in previous years, I have to add but the wild sea swimming is definitely something, especially in Buncrana. There’s a group I swam with a few times, but I often also just swim on my own on Stroove beach, and off the different beaches in Buncrana. Definitely something I would like to take somebody to experience because there are people who do it all year round. I’m not one of them yet. I would love to be but I’m quite sensitive to the cold. You do see people who go literally 365 days a year. Seems to be a huge part of the calendar for quite a few people in these parts. And again, it is such a strong way of connecting with the land. And in this case, the water obviously, but to connect with the place that you’re in, and to remind yourself, to ground yourself into that place. That this is actually a physical experience that you’re having in this place. I’m fascinated with sea swimming, and I don’t do it quite as much as I would love to. But I have to overcome my sensitivity to the cold. I’d definitely take somebody to go swimming with me. And another thing that is beautiful about the change of the seasons here. And the last couple of years and this- people will laugh at me for this because I’m from a city and I had no element of farming in my background at all, but I’m really excited about the lambing season.

Jackie De Burca  

Yeah?

Susanne Stich

I always just watch the new lambs, and I count them. And I’m just really, really intrigued by it. And it starts sort of- I think as early as the end of January, but it goes on into the spring. Slowly, slowly, all these lambs appear. And there’s all kinds of sad stories attached to it also, obviously, because some of them will never grow up. I try not to think too much about that. But it is a beautiful part of living in rural Inishowen to experience. And again, it’s something I would love to share with people coming here because it is a unique part of the calendar here. It’s not exactly eccentric.

Jackie De Burca  

No, but it’s it is quite specific to the place, you know, and maybe not eccentric, but I have to say as an Irish person, there could be eccentric things to do and in lots of parts of Ireland, I suppose. Have you got any restaurants close by or is it quite rural in terms of where you might bring a visitor to for- to go for something to eat there?

Oh, there are lovely places. I mean, Derry is of course not far from here. So we could go for a bite to eat there. I myself am quite a creature of habit. We often go- we love Italian food. There is an Italian restaurant in Derry, it’s called Spaghetti Junction, which I love. But there’s lots of other places. Browns Restaurant on the town in Derry is also a lovely place. There’s constantly new places coming up. There is a cafe in the village of Muff, which is called Tank & Skinnys, which is amazing.

That’s Muff, County Donegal. Isn’t it?

Susanne Stich

And there is the Tree House, also in Muff. There’s the Red Door restaurant in Fahan and there’s McGrory’s pub in Culdaff, on the Atlantic coast, which is the open coast at the very northern tip of Inishowen. Excuse me.

Jackie De Burca  

Would that be your favourite bar to go to Susanne, or are there other bars around that you’d like to go to?

ireland-galway
Ireland Galway

Susanne Stich

McGrory’s is lovely, they do have music there, would be normally. Actually, they sometimes have concerts there and I hope they’ll be able to do that again soon. And I’m not so much- I don’t go into bars that much now. I used to a lot in Galway during that year there. And- but yeah, Derry has some nice pubs. There’s Peadar’s which would also have live music. And a lot of international visitors would go into that pub for the music and there’s always a lovely buzz in there.

Jackie De Burca  

Okay. Okay, so sounds like a fantastic area. And as you said yourself a little earlier on, who knows how things would have been if you’d stayed in Germany, but we’ll never know. Will we? What are you actually working on at the moment, Susanne? Have you got something that you’re focused on right now?

Susanne Stich

I’m working on a new novel, and always on stories as well, of course. There are different things on the back burner and the main thing is a novel that I’m trying to go deep with now. And so, I’m still in the first draft stage.

Jackie De Burca  

Does the novel have a working title?

Susanne Stich

No, not yet.

Jackie De Burca 

Okay.

Susanne Stich

But it does weave together again certain places here and aspects of my experience in Germany. So-

Jackie De Burca 

Okay, and are you able to reveal anything else? Or is it too much- early days at the moment, Susanne? About the novel?

Susanne Stich

With that particular project, yeah, it is early days. But the stories that I’m working on, they’re always picking up on little things. Like what I said about the story Weapon of Choice, I developed them over a long time, I usually edit a lot, I work on them, I couldn’t write a story in one week and have it finished and feel that’s a good story. I almost need at least a couple of months. But sometimes a number of years, which sounds bizarre for stories. So I always have some work in progress.

And what I said earlier, the connection between Germany and Ireland and the resonance of the histories of these two places, that certainly informs my work a lot more recently than it did in the past.

But yeah, I’m also interested in popular culture, as you’ve probably gathered from that piece, which features the Christopher Walken dance video. I’m always intrigued by the intersection between popular culture and history, and more serious aspects of the culture. There’s such a big- not so much now, but when I was growing up in Germany, the idea of serious work versus entertaining culture was very strong, like, you would never listen to Bach and Fatboy Slim in the same hour or the same place. Whereas that has changed too. But I do think here, it’s very different, the way these things are perceived. You could find yourself listening to classical music, and then next to a piece of rap and no problem. And that’s how my imagination works. It works well when I’m wrestling with some kind of contrast, and I’m trying to get something good out of that.

Jackie De Burca 

Okay. So do you feel- the last question- I suppose Susanne, do you feel that your creativity has been heightened by being in that part of Ireland for the last 20 years or so?

Susanne Stich

I hope so. I mean, I will never be able to compare it with anywhere else, because this is where I have left. And I certainly feel for me as an introvert, the solitude that I get here is very helpful to the creative process. And I also think, when I sometimes miss the city, and I have to make a point of visiting cities occasionally just for inspiration, and so on- and to go into galleries, which I love, even go and see certain things in the cinema. And that is all-important, but for the actual process of working, of writing, sitting down- and there’s all but a piece of paper and myself and my pen or my computer. This is a good place to be, definitely.

Jackie De Burca 

Okay, that’s brilliant. Listen, thank you so much for coming on today, Susanne. It’s been wonderful to get a German woman’s perspective, after having some of Northern Ireland’s- really well-known authors on, who came very much with the perspective of the North in Belfast in three particular cases. I’m talking about Henry McDonald, Malachi O’Doherty and Jan Carson- been a formative environment in the case of the two men and in Jan’s case, Ballymena, of course, was her formative environment. But Belfast, you know, once she hit university age was very much part of her life and today is absolutely essential to her writing. So, getting your perspective Susanne, as a writer and a creative who’s coming almost from a reverse situation has been just fascinating. Thank you so much.

Susanne Stich

Thank you, Jackie, for having me. It’s been a privilege.

Jackie De Burca 

Thank you, Susanne.

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Jackie De Burca

Jackie De Burca is is a travel, arts and culture writer. The author of Salvador Dalí at Home, De Burca has spent much of her life in Spain since 2003. Originally from Dublin, Ireland, she is the creator of Travel Inspires: the authentic travel magazine by the people, for the people. She mentors aspiring writers around the world, who have the opportunity to showcase their work on Travel Inspires. De Burca feels an inspirational connection with the land in Spain, while maintaining her deeply rooted attachment to Irish landscapes, soil and of course, the Irish character.

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      Author, Susanne Stich From Nuremberg To Northwest Ireland

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