Firenze, Harry Potter's divination teacher poses for a photo for my walking tour on Edinburgh's Royal Mile

Hedwig, Harry Potter's postal owl

How Germany enriched Harry Potter


Wrestling the wordplay of Harry Potter

Dumbledore’s Pen-sieve first appear in the Goblet of Fire. The word comes from a kitchen sieve, which is used to separate important ingredients from liquids. While ‘pensive’ means to reflect on something, often when you’re upset. So with the Pensieve you take the upsets and puzzles out off your head, filter them of the irrelevant, then examine and reflect upon them.

It’s a great example of JK Rowling skillfully inventing words for Harry Potter. Unfortunately invented words are a translator’s biggest nightmare.

In German, The Pensive is called a Denkarium meaning "think aquarium". Pretty good, in fact...

JK Rowling's Niffler bathes in gold

Once European publishers knew the Potter books were guaranteed hits their translators swam in Gringotts gold, but it wasn’t always so.

Harry Potter & the Hindenburg translations

The first edition of the German version of The Philosopher’s Stone translated Sirius Black’s name to Sirius Schwartz - meaning “black” in German.

By the third book Carlsen, the publisher, realised their mistake and started calling Harry’s godfather Sirius Black. Confusing thousands of dedicated schoolkids.

The early print runs of the Goblet of Fire translated "800 barrels of mulled mead" to "800 barrels of mulled meat”. Which taste completely alike, right?

The translator, perhaps working late into the night, transfigured “Vault 713” into “vault 719”. Too much mulled meat maybe?

Sometimes the translator’s desires crept in. Exploding snap is a favourite of the pyro-maniac Weasley twins, cards spontaneously explode during play. The translator of the Chamber of Secrets translated "exploding snap" to "Snape explodiert", meaning "exploding Snape”. Ah what a dreamer.

JK Rowling's Niffler bathes in gold

Norwegian Ridgeback Dragons can grow to adulthood and devour farms in the time it took for the publisher Carlsen to translate Harry Potter. So began the...

The German translations weren’t just meticulous, they were also speedy.

The 14th October 2000 was the date set by Rowling’s German publisher Carlsen for the release of the Goblet of fire, 4 months after its release in Britain. Speedier than a speeding Flobberwurm.

The German book cover for Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire

To the South Italian Potter fans grew so frustrated by the delay for translation that they began ‘Operation Quill’, sending their publisher thousand upon thousands of feather quills. German Potter fans took it into their own hands.

Passionate fans clubbed together on the internet and christened themselves ‘The Potterianerins’. They started posting translations of each chapter online for anyone to download.

We see this time and time again in the early Harry Potter books, the whole problem with the adults is they’re just so stupid & slow!

Six chapters in and moving fast German kids were encouraging their friends to use it to improve their English; Carlsen, the publisher, went ape.

The Potterianerins were shut down. But they sought to make some good come of it, arguing that the German publisher had raised the price taxing their love.

However Rowling’s agent Christopher Little explained that 850 page books cost more to translate and print than the Philosopher’s Stone’s 223. At least when you’re not using child labour.

And so Carlsen socked (freed) Germany’s too too willing army of house elves.

Rufus Beck defines Harry Potter

After the release of the Prisoner of Azkaban Rufus Beck, the narrator of the audiobooks in Germany, spent much time with Rowling on a reading trip in 2000. They took a train across the country together.

The German book cover for Harry Potter & the prisoner of Azkaban

At one reading he bossed Rowling around a bit telling her to read Harry and aunt Petunia while he read everyone else. Rowling is anxious about public speaking and was overwhelmed. Rufus is charmingly anxious too, saying she probably thought "That idiot, I will never return to Germany."

And she didn’t, at least not professionally. Rowling values time with her family.

Beck thanks the universe for the gift of Potter. He developed his voices for the Potter characters whilst reading the books to his kids in the nursery. Many were based on real people he knew, asked about the inspirations for the Dursleys he replied he had sworn himself to secrecy.

Beck’s recordings became a smash hit and he has now recorded more than 200 audio books. He says "Thank the universe, to give me this opportunity. There are many amazing things in my life, but Harry Potter is guaranteed to be with me forever."

Is Beck the inspiration for Rowling’s ruthless & courageous minister of magic?

Rufus Beck is tall, thin and rangy, wearing attractive pinstripe suits with an impressive mane of reddish brown hair.

JK Rowling's Edinburgh award handprints outside City Chambers

Rowling thought his voice acting surpassed the dialog she had written, she thought he was very able. The very able wartime minister of magic is Rufus Scrimgeour...

Rufus Scrimgeour looked rather like an old lion. There were streaks of grey in his mane of tawny (reddish brown) hair and his bushy eyebrows; he had ... a certain rangy, loping grace...
Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince

Luna Lovegood thinks he’s a vampire, but she’s loopy.

It’s widely thought Scrimgeour’s first name was inspired by Rowling's time on the train with bossy Rufus Beck. While Rufus’s surname came from Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh which we visit on my Potter tours.

The price of being the chosen one

Beck is tall and attractive and for many Germans he is the voice of Harry Potter; this has led to a strange celebrity.

One day he was out with his girlfriend in town and a woman came up to him and said “I’m going to sleep with you every night”. Rufus’s girlfriend was spitting fire and Beck had to do some quick talking to explain it.

The Parting of the Ways

JK Rowling has never officially gone on record confirming Beck inspired Rufus and after their long train journey together they’ve never met again. After Rufus Beck finished the audiobook of the Deathly Hallows he thought the time for cherished myths was over.

But as things calmed Rowling sent a personal greeting to Germany with a toy-figure of Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour in thanks.

JK Rowling's Edinburgh award handprints outside City Chambers
Scrimgeour is the boss; Germany put a dent in the Potter-verse
I’ve got no idea what he says, come on my Potter tour & tell me!

Germany has its own Ministry of magic, dark wizard hunting Aurors and national Quidditch stadium (which not even Britain does). It hosts league finals of the Heidelberg Harriers, Germany’s most famous team.

In fact in the book ‘Quidditch through the ages’ we learn Germany effectively invented Quidditch.

The German magical community popularised the game ‘Stichstock’: an inflated dragon bladder was tied to a pole and players had to puncture it with sharpened sticks while a keeper defended. In the 15th century it evolved into Quidditch.

The Black Forest
is teeming with dangerous beasts. Professor Quirrell claimed he encountered a vampire in the Black Forest. In fact this may well have been Voldemort’s spirit which began feeding of his life spirit, weakening him and requiring him to top-up with unicorn blood.

Probably the most exciting and creepy resident of the Black Forest is

JK Rowling's Edinburgh award handprints outside City Chambers
Erklings

According to Newt Scamander’s book Fantastic Beasts, 6 year old Bruno Schmidt was the last person known to have survived an attack by an Erkling.

Rowling’s Erklings may have been evolved from ‘Erlking’, translated from the German Erlkönig. They are elfish creatures about 3 foot tall with pointed faces, their favourite food is children. They use high pitched cackles to entrance their prey and lure them away from their parents to eat them. Unlike smaller gnomes and most fantastic beasts they can speak human languages.

When an Erkling tried to lure Bruno away with it’s charming cackle, 6 year old Bruno hit it over the head with his father’s collapsible cauldron knocking it stone dead.

The Erkling population are now under strict control from the German ministry of magic.

The German book cover for Harry Potter & the Half Blood Prince

That’s all I have for German connections for Harry Potter, but I’d love to have you along on a tour to discover everything else.

Treat yourself to a 3 hour tour of JK Rowling’s Edinburgh

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Credits


Harry Potter book covers commissioned by Carlsen.
Early Concept Erkling 3 by Abz-J-Harding
Julia Lundgren's wonderful Niffler.
Chalk Snape from Lostfilm.io