Last Thursday, just after ten, on Hufelandstrasse in Prenzlauer Berg. Not much going on, not to say: nothing at all. No nocturnal urban hustle and bustle, let alone a metropolitan one, and then the thought: What is the Berlin novel actually doing, the great, at best ultimate metropolitan novel that was demanded again and again around the turn of the century and then in the 1990s?
Thorsten Nagelschmidt’s “Night Work”
If you look around the publishers’ programs, the Berlin novel is only at the bottom of the agenda, even though many authors naturally live in Berlin and some books are also based in the capital. And even when thinking about the past few years, you have to make a lot of effort, since only Thorsten Nagelschmidt’s “Night work” stands out, a multi-perspective story from the service and low-wage sector of the city.
But just the most important publications of the past few weeks in German-language literature: Arno Geiger’s excursions to Vienna, Raphaela Edelbauer’s novel “Die Incomensurablen” about Vienna on the eve of the First World War, the Juli Zeh Simon urban discourse novel “Between Worlds”, Peter Stamm’s autofiction game “In a midnight blue hour” or Wilhelm Genazino’s posthumous notes “The Observer’s Dream” (generally, Genazino, when reading it you immediately ask yourself: Where have all the Berlin flâneurs gone?) – no Berlin, far and wide.
In fact, a Berlin novel worthy of the name shouldn’t just be about Berlin being the setting, a few bars, clubs, restaurants or other distinctive places appearing in it. No, Berlin should be the main character, the city itself should dominate everything and make the characters what they are or want to be or claim to be or whatever.
That can be the sadness of a district like Hohenschönhausen or Gropiusstadt just as much as a single bar (i.e. Felix Lobrecht’s “Sonne und Beton” or Ju Innerhofer’s Bar-25 novel), and of course a certain literary brilliance is also necessary.
Only: It’s not the time for Berlin right now, maybe the city is too far away from being a metropolis again, and certainly not if you walk around the Bötzowviertel after ten o’clock on weekdays. One would rather immediately write a village novel.
Gerrit Bartels lives in Prenzlauer Berg and sometimes still has a little longing for his old rear building on Sonnenallee.
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