German Potter Fans Just Can't Wait

Attorney Scott Rothstein, left, is shown with Rudy Giuliani in a photo hanging in the law offices of Rothstein Rosenfeldt Adler, Nov. 5, 2009 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

Harry Potter enthusiasts in Germany are not letting the 4 1/2-month lag for the translation of the latest installment stop them from plunging into the young wizard's latest adventure.

The thousands of fans are translating the 766-page British edition themselves — section by section — and swapping finished bits via e-mail.

Demand for "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" has been so great that it has become the first English-language book to top the German best seller list ever — with sales above 550,000 the first week.

But impatient fans whose English isn't perfect need a little help — and are getting it.

An unofficial band of Web site enthusiasts have translated the fifth Harry Potter 15 times over since its June 21 publication. Volunteer proofreaders are assembling the best of the bunch and shipping them via e-mail to contributors, numbering some 3,000.

The lone translator for the German publisher Carlsen Verlag, meanwhile, labors on the project scheduled for official release Nov. 9. Due to security concerns, he received the book only after the public release last month.

The unofficial translators swap bits of Potter logic to the tune of 1,000 posts a day on the Web site www.harry-auf-deutsche.de, helping each other where English-German dictionaries fail.

Is it better to translate words like Puddlemore United into German? Does "flexing her arm" mean casting a spell? How does one characterize "a peck of owls?" What on earth are "fizzing whizzbees" or a "shrieking shack?"

"I translated the "Sorting Hat's Song," which was all rhymes. This took me a really long time because I had to find rhymes in German and stay with the rhythm as well," said Kathrin Konjareck, a 22-year-old book store clerk from Ruesselsheim near Frankfurt.

She stumbled on the Web site a month ago trying to find out more about the release of the latest Harry Potter — and has now translated three 15-page segments.

Computer scientist Bernd Koeleman, who created the site three years ago to expedite Potter translations for his 14-year-old daughter, said he encourages free translation.

"We use this freedom to create a kind of German or original spirit to it — you could imagine that these characters are Berliners," Koeleman said.

The site has managed to avoid being shut down by the publishers because it maintains its status as a forum — and does not sell or distribute the translations beyond their circle.

Still, it ran afoul of the publishers last week when Koeleman posted two translated pages as examples of the progress being made.

"If people do something in a private context, we cannot tell them not to," said Carlsen spokeswoman Katrin Hogrebe, who added the publisher was satisfied after Koeleman took down the translated pages last week at their request. Similarly, Czech publisher Albatros said it avoided litigation last week when the webmaster of a site voluntarily took down 19 pages of the book he had translated into Czech.

Carlsen does not believe the Web site initiative will harm sales of the German version when it hits book stores.

"It is not only the question of what is written in the book but how it is written," Hogrebe said. "It's the magic of reading that's important with this."
  • Melissa Cheung

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