Bitterne Parker

Bitterne Parker: Elke Papp

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Elke was born 1973 in Austria, and has just moved back to Vienna. She says she was “desperate” to move away from Bitterne Park. She came to live in Southampton in 2012 with her partner, who got a research post at the University of Southampton, and her two sons. She’s a writer and performance artist, and performed twice at Il Picchio, where she used to be a regular. She was also involved in running a creative art workshop at The Old Chemist, held some “very delightful women’s dinners” at her house, and taught German during her time here.

The Qs & the As

What's your link with Bitterne Park

I have only just moved back to Vienna, Austria, from Bitterne Park where I and my family lived for almost four years. I was very desperate to move away from Bitterne Park – and would tell everybody so – and back to “my Vienna”. Now I am already missing the river which kept me alive there. Now, for the fourth time, I have to set up a “new life” with the blue, but a bit too far away, Danube.

What’s your earliest memory of the area?

My earliest memory is probably the Il Picchio café where I had my first cappuccino – and many since - after signing our tenant’s contract for a huge but very cold, damp and in many other ways difficult house in St. Catherine’s Road. We would find ourselves moving out again a year later and moving into a much smaller house down the road. My first memory is the, sadly, now dead Sandro talking to Akua in Spanish; Akua was a woman from Argentina, whom I would almost become friends with before she suddenly moved away to Australia.

How could the area be better?

I should know as I moaned quite a bit. I always wished the area was car-free. Less dogs should eat people’s picnics in the park, meaning many dog owners should look better after their dogs. There should be more cafés with longer opening times. There could be a park café, something lots of mums were dreaming about after hours in the playground with their children, desperate for coffee. There could be more public space(s) in Bitterne Park - the area is hugely residential and dull at times, after five o’clock when the cafés have closed.

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Tell us something we probably didn’t know already about Bitterne Park

Probably you don’t know (or you do?) how many creative/artistic spirits live in that residential area which is at times quite dull: people you bump into at school pickups and say “hello” and “how are you?” to.

Probably everybody knows some of them. But really, there are so many more. And I was very fortunate to meet quite some of them. I was perhaps one of them as well.

‘I found the city shocking in many ways’

What’s good – or not so good – about the wider city?

I found the city shocking in many ways, the city centre especially, not only when comparing it to Vienna, Cambridge or Leipzig where we lived before. I found that public space was neglected although people repeatedly said it had already improved a lot. The buses you could never rely on and the many companies you always had to pay separately make the city not appealing for a non-car person like me.

The sea: a good thing, but too far away! Southampton could make the seafront so much nicer instead of building new shops!

What’s your passion in life?

My passion in life is writing. And performing. Although I never do quite as much as I want. For many reasons. Having even more excuses. But I am most myself when doing one of these two. Another passion is being outdoors and writing or exploring places, talking to people, watching nature. With my children, seeing this passion grow in them as well. Or on my own.

How do you put bread on your table?

I took that very literally first and wanted to get started on bread and how English bread made me suffer and how I started baking my own bread in England. But no, it is about earning my breads… In these last years I have been largely depending on my partner’s salary who is a scientist. I have been teaching German here and there and a bit of French. And did some copywriting and translation work. And unpaid art.

What has your career taught you?

If I had a career… Teaching has become a bit of my career in these last years. That was never planned. I studied Comparative Literature and French back in Vienna and never felt like going into teaching but staying more on the “intellectual side”. So, my career, if I had one, taught me that life often takes its unexpected turns. Sometimes for the good. I am highly enjoying teaching now and hope to be able to continue here in Vienna.

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What really gets your goat?

The buses not turning up, endless queuing, bureaucracy, endless texting to arrange to meet up with people, advertisements all over the place, completely unnecessary air conditioning everywhere, trains (very unreliable services), being asked “How are you” and the person walking on without wanting to hear the answer…

How do you relax?

I did relax in Bitterne Park walking down to Riverside Park and looking onto the water, watching the waves, the sparkles, making Qigong (receiving comments from passers-by); I also did relax in Marion’s Yoga/Pilates class which I frequented once a week in St. Denys Church.

Which is your favourite pub?

I like the Butcher’s Hook especially since I took to craft beer and started copywriting about it professionally, although the Butcher’s Hook is too crammed at times. I recall a few delightful evenings with my German friend Anna in The Crown in Highfield: a very genuine, cosy pub.

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Elke performng in Il Picchio

What are you drinking?

Coffee (good coffee!!!), herbal tea, wine, beer (no ale though), water (lots here in Vienna where we have tab water coming from the mountains).

What do you listen to?

Music of all sorts; radio features about everything; nature; people; my inner voice (not often enough).

Can you recommend a really good read?

Alice Munroe (all her stories) – my dear friend Anna introduced me to her; ‘The Wall’ (‘Die Wand’) if you want to read something from an Austrian female writer (you probably know the film with Martina Gedecke); stories from Clarice Lispector that Anna suggested for our book club; and my own texts some of which you can find on

What’s a great day out?

Mudeford (great panorama from the plateau); West Wittering (most treasured memories of days on the beach spent with dear Michele and the boys); London (walks and talks there with my buddy Albert).

What scares you?

The world scares me at present with all the violence going on. Most of all my being scared scares me. Hopefully all my fears are not going to rule out all my enjoyment and lightness.

What would you most like to change - in the world and in yourself?

I would like to be more accepting, perhaps less critical, more positive even, more hands-on with changing things, instead of criticising and moaning. And I think if everybody aimed to be more accepting and to work on change instead of trying to eliminate the other / the unwanted, there would be more peace in our world.


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What’s on your bucket list?

Do I have a bucket list…? I do have many lists but… Yes I probably still want to become famous one day…. I also really would like to see all present wars end which seems as unlikely as becoming famous….

Tell us a joke

I don’t like jokes as they are always on the expenses of somebody else one is supposed to laugh about (while feeling bad about laughing about somebody / a distinctive group of people).

Finally, what would be another great question for other Bitterne Parkers?

How/where do you get to know people?

Thanks so much for taking part!

Some of Elke's texts scan be found at

Tune in next time when another Bitterne Parker answers our searching questions.

Read about other Bitterne Parkers

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