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Camels in the booths: The interpreters at the GMF

Norbert Heikamp (right) and his colleague are working at the GMF in Bonn.

Norbert Heikamp and his colleague at work at the GMF

A trace of sweat glistens on Norbert Heikamp’s forehead. He takes off his jacket and switches off his mobile phone: Ready to get to work.

Just a few minutes ago, Heikamp thought he was about to translate words from speakers talking about Somalia or the African continent. Now the man from Engelskirchen has to talk about blogs and the internet.

But since Heikamp has been an interpreter for over 25 five years, last minute changes like these don’t unsettle him.”I just hope they don’t quote any poetry. But I think have the necessary vocabulary just from the name of the topic. That’s all experience.”

Look out of Norbert Heikamps cabin.

The view out of Norbert Heikamp's booth.

Heikamp is fluent in German, English, Italian and French. The four languages are his net value, but he can’t only rely on his skills. He says the most important part of his job is the preparation: “Some topics need up to two days of preparation and it’s good if we get the drafts of the speeches or the powerpoint sheets.” Sometimes Heikamp says he even prepares a dossier with key vocabulary, for special interest or delicate topics.

As the speakers begin to take the stage, Heikamp fills his glass of water. For half a day of work, he needs at least one big bottle. Some of his colleagues need three or four liters, but others are like camels and do not seem to need any liquid at all.

Translating for 90 minutes straight is exhausting — but not physically. Heikamp says the concentration is the biggest challenge. That’s why he is accompanied by a female colleague, who will take over after 30 minutes.

After the actual work is done, Heikamp says is looking forward to listening to some musicĀ  — Mozart. “When I listen to music, I can control the sound, I decide what I want to listen to. And that is great,” says the interpreter and closes the door of his translation booth. The panel is about to begin. Mozart will have to wait — at least for the next hour and a half.

Listen to the translation of Heikamp’s colleague in French:

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