You are currently viewing From Little Rome to Little Berlin
8 March 2023, Trnava (photo by me)

From Little Rome to Little Berlin

When I saw an announcement on the TEH network last year about a volunteer opportunity in Maly Berlin, I immediately jumped. I considered myself far from art, yet I was inside of it – everyone around me was an artist: filmmakers, photographers, painters. The closest I have been to art was making logos for different local rock and metal bands (including my own). But I tried my luck, after all, writing is also an art. At least, according to “Last Messiah” by P.W.Zappffe. I was determined to refocus my energy away from negative outlets toward positive ones. So, Little Berlin inside Little Rome looked like a perfect opportunity to do that. But I was *almost* turned down because I was apparently overqualified. So I took a residency opportunity instead.

I arrived in January, hyped up to discover Europe. I have never been to Slovakia, to be honest. It is not the best country when it comes to tourism advertisement budgets, I guess. But spending time in Trnava was worth it. Walking for hours among countless churches, waking up like you are in medieval times (Maly Berlin is just next to the clock tower) felt a little bit different. Maybe a good kind of difference.

As soon as I settled in, I had difficulty with the thermostat (we don’t have it in my village). It was in Slovak and was set to 19°C. I thought “well, there is a war between Ukraine and Russia, maybe they are tightening their belts”. Turns out there was an English option and I could raise it to 50°C like a king. Soon I started my work on the translation of Caucasian Albania (An International Handbook – Edited by: Jost Gippert and Jasmine Dum-Tragut) with Professor Jost Gippert from the University of Hamburg. I intended to translate it into Azerbaijani, my mother tongue. Not to my surprise, it would take more than 3 months. If you don’t know already, Caucasian Albanian is an extinct Caucasian language that used to be spoken in what is now Azerbaijan. The book is open-access, so you can get more than enough information.

Trnava is also a good base of operations if you want to travel to Europe. I have visited Prague, Wroclaw, Warsaw, Katowice, Vienna, Budapest, Munich, Hamburg, Berlin, Augsburg, Füssen (where you can see Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles!) and beyond only by train. I was lucky enough to run into the Visegrad Fund and have fruitful discussions with Amb. Petr Mareš. Bratislava and Trnava is also a good place to see some of your favourite bands live. I didn’t think I would ever see metal bands like Batushka and my favorite singer Zanias live, but I did in Bratislava! There wasn’t any weekend that I wouldn’t hear good music coming from Maly Berlin.

Later, I got a new roommate – Vika from Belarus. By the time she learnt English (just a joke, Vika) I already got acquainted with Michal, Soňa (both of them), Petra, Miki, as well as dear Anna from Ukraine and Rut from Sweden. And of course, who can forget Jozef and Ján Janočko?! (When we were reunited for the TEH meetup in Tbilisi, they confessed that they missed me)

But all things must come to an end. So did my residency in Maly Berlin. But I didn’t just translate a book, I even gave a whole minicourse and lecture about the Caucasian Albanian language when I came back to Baku. Among other things, Anna introduced me to other Ukrainian refugees in Slovakia. Talking to them, I have learnt a lot about their culture and language as well. These meetings proved helpful when I also participated in an event where we discussed the impact of Russian cultural imperialism in post-Soviet countries with Ukrainian curator Katya Taylor.

Reflecting on my journey in Trnava and my residency at Maly Berlin, I realize how much I’ve grown and how many invaluable experiences I’ve gathered. This journey wasn’t just about translating an ancient language or exploring the medieval marvels of Slovakia; it was a journey of self-discovery, cultural immersion, and making lifelong connections. From the therapeutic melodies (!) of metal bands in Bratislava to profound conversations with fellow artists and refugees, each moment added a unique hue to my palette of memories. Among these memories, the nightly conversations with a remarkable person in Baku also stood out, subtly weaving a transformative thread through my experience. As I bid farewell to this charming town, I carried with me not just a completed translation or knowledge of a lost language, but a heart enriched by diverse cultures, friendships, and an unwavering spirit to explore and understand more of our world’s hidden wonders. Trnava, with its understated charm, has been more than a destination; it’s been a catalyst for change, growth, and inspiration, proving that sometimes the most unassuming places hold the greatest treasures. I hope to go back sometime.

I have to say, I am not writing these in a good mood. I have been feeling down lately. Especially when I discovered that life quality was much higher than my own here in Azerbaijan. Nevertheless, as Zapffe says: “Through stylistic or artistic gifts can the very pain of living at times be converted into valuable experiences. Positive impulses engage the evil and put it to their own ends, fastening onto its pictorial, dramatic, heroic, lyric or even comic aspects. […] Here is, by the way, an opportunity for the wildest round-dancing through ever higher ironic levels, into a most embarrassing circulus vitiosus. Here one can chase one’s ego across numerous habitats, enjoying the capacity of the various layers of consciousness to dispel one another.”

Cavid Ağa

Müstəqil tədqiqatçı, jurnalist, yazıçı, Artur Şopenhauerin "Eristik Dialektika" kitabını Azərbaycan dilinə ilk tərcüməçisidir. Bakı Araşdırmalar İnstitutunun üzvüdür və Eurasianet, BNE Intellinews, OC Media, France24, Amerikanın Səsi və digər nəşrlərdə çıxış edib.

Cavab yaz