Who Dares Wins: Barbara Fellgiebel

Lynne Booker for Algarve Goodlife



... but not without vision, energy and determination. These are the qualities displayed by Barbara Fellgiebel - she has succeeded in so many different roles here in the Algarve. Sometimes she herself has chosen them and sometimes fate has provided her with an opportunity to show the qualities required for success. Barbara likes to say that she has a German head and a Swedish heart and she started her working life as a language teacher at Lund University in Sweden. During one long cold, snowy and depressing Scandinavian winter, Barbara and her friend Ulla determined to take a year long sabbatical in the sun. The sun they found was in Portugal, in the Algarve, and Barbara never went back. In 1981, she and Ulla opened the restaurant Marcelo in Portimão. This same year Barbara met Colin (whom she was to marry) and together they opened the Restaurant Bubbi in Carvoeiro four years later.


Barbara Fellgiebel
Barbara Fellgiebel

A chance encounter led to Barbara´s work as a disc jockey first on radio Lagoa and later on Kiss FM where she provided programmes of interest to German and English speakers alike. Hearing her style on the radio, Dan Hefferman the Canadian publisher in 1988 decided that she had the style to run a magazine. Wanting to move into the German speaking market, he approached her in 1988 to create and edit Entdecken sie Algarve, the German language magazine. She successfully began this publication and edited it for over 7 years, and Entdecken sie Algarve is still running in the same format 22 years later, which is a tribute to the design and style with which she set it up.

Barbara has always been interested in culture but particularly in literature. She would prefer to live in a big city with rich cultural opportunities - possibly Frankfurt, which she visits every year for the book fair, or Leipzig, Cologne, Matera Sassi or Dublin, which she has also visited for their book fairs. But because her family lives here in the Algarve, she is determined to bring big city culture here to the Algarve. She has made great strides with her successful German language literary group called ALFAcultura (the Association of Literature, Culture and Film in the Algarve). Every month ALFA audiences have the opportunity to hear authors talking about and reading from their books. The German language group of ALFA attracted so much success that Barbara´s English speaking friends begged her to run ALFA in an English version, which she has now done for more than 2 years. Barbara also arranges film screenings, concerts, theatre productions and an annual multimedia competition.

 The fifth ALFA multimedia competition, with the theme ´Traces´ attracted nearly 200 entries from a wide selection of nationalities. Barbara publishes the work of the entrants in book form, and this year´s entries may be seen in the book Spuren (Traces), obtainable from Barbara herself. The standard of both the artwork and the written entries is very high, and the book itself is a very professional production. The themes of the previous four competitions have been Red Shoes, Black Bras, Blue Garden and Algarve Impressions and each of them has given the budding author or occasional artist and their more marketable cousins a chance to exhibit their work. There has been an increased participation in these competitions and the quality of the entries has been improving each year. And every year, Barbara has the pleasure of presenting to each of the winners Alfa´s equivalent of the Oscar - a model of Roland Rat - an ALFI!

A highspot in her life with ALFA was the visit of Günter Grass to address and beguile his ALFA audience in March 2008. "To attract a Nobel prize winner to my salon gave me a real boost," she says. And there was an audience of three hundred who agreed with her. Sadly, her dream of holding a joint session with Günter Grass and José Saramago will now not come true, because of Saramago´s recent death.

The popular impression of the Algarve is of sun, sand, sea and golf, but Barbara´s activities now ensure that there is yet more. With her determination and imagination, and the cooperation of many Portuguese, German, Swedish, English friends and colleagues, the best in culture is beginning to be available for people here. In June, for example, ALFA showed the film documentary Alicia Bustamante, the film making début of Hanna Schygulla, Germany´s most prominent actress, known particularly for her work with Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The Cuban actress and filmmaker Alicia Bustamante is a close friend of Hanna. Her film was first shown to a full house at the Universum cinema in Braunschweig earlier this year and on 9 June, in the presence of both actresses, it was shown at the Auditório Municipal de Lagoa.

With Colin´s support, Barbara has been fighting now for 29 years to make Algarvean cultural life more diverse. Not put off by many of the difficulties she has encountered as she creates new activities, her latest and most ambitious project yet is to hold the Algarve´s first literary festival, Lit.Algarve, which will take place between 16 and 19 September 2010. The festival will provide a meeting place for authors, poets, literary agents, translators, publishers, editors and readers to get together through the media of workshops, lectures, seminars and presentations. So far over 40 authors have agreed to participate from eight nationalities - Portuguese, German, Irish, Swiss, Dutch, Austrian, British and Swedish. Many British fans in particular are keen to see the return of Alentejo resident Robert Wilson (A Small Death in Lisbon, The Company of Strangers). Robert provided a very entertaining presentation of his work to ALFANS (supporters of ALFA) in May 2009.

Exhibit from 5th ALFA Multimedia Competition
Exhibit from 5th ALFA Multimedia Competition

Barbara Fellgiebel delights in calling ALFA Europe´s most southerly literary salon and she is now committed to Lit.Algarve - Europe´s most southerly Literature Festival. The ALFA effect as Barbara calls it, is certainly growing. She hopes that people of all nationalities will join in and share their passion for books and writing and that they will organise local activities under the umbrella of Lit.Algarve. In Tavira, Liz Beaupied, owner of the bookshop Lura dos Livros, is already planning events that will include presentations by local writer Lisa Selvidge and Barbara-Marie Mundt, author of The Portuguese Water Dog .

We form a multilingual community and because the majority of the Algarve´s 450 000 permanent residents are European with a European culture and background we should consider ourselves members of the same European Cultural Community. Barbara herself would be the first to confess that it is not easy to find a way through the continuing difficulties, even though the aim is culturally to enrich the lives of everyone here.

On the other hand, we can all agree that cultural life here in the Algarve owes much to Barbara´s trailblazing efforts, and our lives would be the poorer without her.