A small publisher with a varied program

27 October 2015

Angelika Schulz-Parthu is the owner of the quite unique and very successful Leinpfad Verlag publishing house. Among her extensive publishing program are cookbooks, city guidebooks, crime novels set in the region, and much, much more. She discovered the world of literature in the 1970s while at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). The former German Studies student is still well aware of how much she owes to her time here.

"Of course I'd be happy to talk about my time at Mainz University," said Angelika Schulz-Parthu cheerfully when we first contacted her by telephone. "There's a lot I can tell you."

We meet her in the offices of her Ingelheim-based publishing house. The ceiling is low, the shelves are packed full of files while the books she has published are stored in wooden drawers. Although these can hardly be all the books she's responsible for – she has published more than 250 titles since 1997 – there is still a wide range to choose from. For quite some time, Leinpfad Verlag has been the number one address for those looking to see their work of regional literature, whatever the subject, appear in print. One of these is the cookbook "Rheinhessische Tapas" with its recipes for tapas à la Rhine-Hesse that has turned out to be a bestseller while the locally set thrillers by winemaker Andreas Wagner are selling well and the Rhine-Hesse dialect dictionary continues to find buyers. We'll come back to these later.

"My time at university was liberating in all senses of the word," recalls Schulz-Parthu. After obtaining her higher education entrance qualification at school, she began work at a pharmacy. She needed to complete a two-year internship and then sit a preliminary examination before she would be allowed to enter a pharmacy course at university. But studying this subject was only of secondary interest to her anyway. What was way more important for her was that once she had passed the preliminary examination she would be able to take on weekend work and night shifts at the pharmacy – and these were a particularly lucrative source of income. She would need this money, so her calculations, because she was determined to study at university in any event despite the fact that her parents would hardly be able to afford to support her. So, for two years, from early on Mondays to midday on Saturdays she would be busy with the drawers containing the various medications.

A heaven on earth

"When I finally got to university, I thought: This is heaven on earth! At last I could do the things that really interested me and I could even decide when I was going to do what." Schulz-Parthu made up her mind to enroll for German Studies and was soon attending lectures given by a young professor who had just been appointed to Mainz University. This was Erwin Rotermund who arrived in Mainz in 1973. Among his special interests were German exile literature and the works of Inner Emigration literature produced by writers who had remained in Germany during the Nazi era.

"We learned an awful lot from him. He saw literature as an expression of its social and historical environment. I liked this point of view as I too preferred to look beyond texts when interpreting their meaning." At the same time, however, Rotermund also insisted on detailed textual analysis. The aspects under consideration included the concealed messages contained in the works of inner emigration writers. This is something on which Schulz-Parthu places particular emphasis. "The authors wanted to be published but also wanted to use their writing to put across a critical stance, a position similar to that of subsequent writers in East Germany. Uncovering these hidden truths was quite a challenge. But examining texts closely to discover what was actually being said was an exhilarating experience."

Evidently, Schulz-Parthu survived the challenge unscathed and soon found herself working for Rotermund as a student assistant. "One of the jobs I had to do was writing notes on the blackboard to accompany his lectures." The gulf between professors and students was generally insurmountable back then. "I was still fairly callow when I arrived at university. I was bowled over every time we had a private conversation."

Schulz-Parthu gave tutorials to students from the US who were attending Rotermund's courses at Mainz University. The student exchange program with Middlebury College in Vermont was already in place. The foreign students were interested in what Rotermund was teaching but as their German language skills were not yet good enough, they needed help in understanding what the professor was saying.

From tutorial to failure

"During the semester vacations, I also taught German as a foreign language. That was when Helmut Schmidt was German chancellor and the phrase 'ugly German' was coined to describe a nation that was apparently using its economic power to dominate others with no concern for the effect." Schulz-Parthu used the way this topic was dealt with in satire and caricature as material for her course. "It was all great fun but I also worked an incredible amount. I couldn't have cared less about vacation or time to go home. As far as I was concerned then, these were for philistines."

Schulz-Parthu finally reached the point where she had to make up her mind whether she should go on and take a doctorate. "I thought: well, why shouldn't I get a doctoral degree? And I was lucky enough to obtain a grant." But then something went wrong. "One of my particular skills as a publisher is that I am very good at being able to put a book to bed – but back then I was simply unable to do that with my own thesis." So she broke off her doctoral studies.

"Once you're successful, it's easy to admit to past failures. But at the time I was very dejected," says the Gutenberg alumna. She next applied for a job at Frankfurt's Städel art museum where she was given a post in administration. "I think that if I had been completely happy there, there would be no Leinpfad Verlag today."

It was in 1997 that Schulz-Parthu decided, then aged 49, to take the plunge and change the course of her life. "I got a bank loan and used it to produce my first books." She published the expedition reports of the late 19th century ornithologist Carlo von Erlanger, who had been born in Ingelheim, together with a short biography. "When a review appeared in the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper and orders came in from bookshops all over Germany, I asked a friend of mine who had her own bookstore: what I should do now? What sort of discount should I give them? I was thinking in terms of 10 percent. But she said: 'Oh no, they'll expect a lot more than that!'"

Running a successful publishing business

Unfortunately, this first venture did not exactly go to plan. The print run was too large and the books failed to generate sufficient reader interest. Schulz-Parthu thought long and hard about what might sell better and came up with the idea of regional recipe books and guidebooks. She herself grew up in the house at Leinpfad 5 in Ingelheim, which now houses her editorial offices, and it is from here that her publishing business spreads the word about the local region.

Her current books are of high quality and where they differ from those produced by the large publishers, those differences are positive. Her Rhine-Hessian Tapas is a colorful and sumptuously produced tome containing fusion cuisine recipes – the combination of local ingredients such as meat sausages and the cream cheese called Spundekäs with more exotic foods such as olives and sheep's cheese. The idea has captured the imagination of vintners and Schulz-Parthu has launched a series of books with similar recipes from other local regions of which "Rheingauer Tapas" and "Pfälzer Tapas" have already seen the light of day.

She has also developed an unerring eye for city and local guidebooks. She has published a walking tour guide of the city of Trier and a guide to the regional wine-growing areas. Locally-based thrillers constitute another significant proportion of the output of Leinpfad Verlag. "But it must have that special something before I'll publish it."

She personally closely scrutinizes all her books and only rarely commissions outsiders to support her work. "For me, good proofreading and editing are absolutely essential. It's expensive if I outsource this, so I prefer to do it myself. And anyway, I like to take a last look at my books before I send them on their way." Schulz-Parthu also organizes readings by her authors with whom she maintains close contacts that go beyond the interests of her publishing business.

"A routine 38.5 hour working week is pure fantasy as far as I am concerned," adds the Gutenberg alumna, although she does not sound particularly unhappy about this. Even so, she still finds the time to stay in touch with her former German Studies professor, Erwin Rotermund. "He regularly sends me his articles that have appeared in journals and I go and visit him," she explains. "Only this year I haven't yet been able to manage it."