Berlin Short Fiction and Interview with Anja Tuckermann

Every few years, I roam through the recent publications about Berlin and select some highlights that are worth mentioning and interview a few Berlin-based authors. This time I focused on collections of short stories and short fiction. Here are my picks:

Lost in Gentrification

Lost in GentrificationSebastian Lehmann’s anthology Lost in Gentrification (2012) presents short stories by authors who have experienced gentrification in Berlin’s neighbourhoods first hand.

In his introduction, entitled, “We built this city, we built this city on rock’n’roll,” Lehmann describes the “gentrification of life-style” (p.16) that takes place in the city, and presents himself, along with the authors selected for the anthology, as the producers of the very “creative potential” (p.15) that has transformed Berlin into what Richard Florida termed a creative city.

As real-estate investors are transforming affordable apartments into expensive condos, not only the poor are displaced from the trendy neighbourhoods, but also the students, hipsters, and artists. Lehmann rightly points out that “gentrification devours her own children” [die Gentrifizierung frisst ihre Kinder]. (p.17)

Berlin’s Best 10-Minute-Stories

The short story anthology Berlin’s Best 10-Minute-Stories (2011), ediZehn-Minuten-Geschichtented by Horst Bosetzky has two stories that caught my attention. The first one is by Felix Huby, entitled “A Look Back from Berlin” [Ein Blick zurück aus Berlin], written in the first-person narrative by a Swabian, who came to Berlin in 1990. Currently Berlin has 170,000 Swabians, to whom the author refers to as the second largest “ethnic minority” after the Turks (p.106). Furthermore, Berlin is becoming increasingly more international, which Huby believes makes it easier to be a Swabian there, which was not always the case. (p.107)

Anja Tuckermann’s story “Sunsets” [Sonnenuntergänge] is perhaps the strongest in the anthology, and is from her short story collection, Nowhere, Somewhere [Nirgendwohin Irgendwohin]. Born in Selb, Bavaria, in 1961, Tuckermann grew up in Berlin-Kreuzberg. While still in her teens she began editing a girls’ magazine, worked for a youth organization, established a meeting place for girls, and was involved in girl empowerment activities between 1980 and 1987. Her first novel Mooskopf was published in 1988. She has won awards for several of her books, and has been teaching creative writing seminars and workshops for prose and theatre around the world.

“Sunsets” is a first-person narrative of a young woman examining the language we use to describe our experience of love, as well as the associative emotions that often accompany the feeling, such as fear, longing, nervousness, agony of waiting, fear of rejection. “Is it when there is fear that it is love?” [Ist es so, wenn Angst dabei ist, heiβt es Liebe?] the narrator asks (p.171). She describes the disappointment of first love of a school girl, whose blasé boyfriend leaves her and starts dating her friend, and the many empty hours she has to fill, without him, and without her friend (p.172). She describes the experience of the overwhelming feeling of being in love, and feeling so consumed by it that “even if 95 wars broke out in the world, and people are killing each other, and houses collapse, nothing hurts as much as loving someone and thinking they don’t love you back. Or worse, that they no longer love you” (p.173).

As the narrator describes her experience with different boys in her life, she is at once a young girl and a maturing woman. In her quest to understand her experiences, she learns to understand herself – her need for belonging an attachment, her acute sense of longing, her desire, her adamant refusal to be patient and to have to wait, her impatient hunger for experience and togetherness, which no amount of sunsets can replenish (p.175).

Tuckermann creates a vivid emotional landscape of a young woman’s experience of longing. Her prose constructs a powerful framework of clarity, honesty and vulnerability of the narrator’s perspective that feels raw and naked, and makes us self-conscious of our own vulnerabilities and longing. By making the feminine experience, the psychic and the personal public, she gives a voice to not only to young women, but to the universal tender vulnerabilities that are so often crushed by patriarchal codes and narratives.

Interview with Anja Tuckermann

Anja Tuckermann, photo by Bernd Sahling

You often write about Berlin. How would you describe that city?  Sie schreiben viel über Berlin. Wie würden Sie diese Stadt beschreiben?

In my novel To Save the Skin (2000) the city is a kind of protagonist. The plot is created by describing the city. Every ten years, the city seems to be utterly transformed. However, the current development is moving in the direction of selling-out, immobility, and static. By converting the apartments into condos we lose the mix of young and old, rich and poor, for good. In meinem Roman Die Haut retten (2000) ist die Stadt so etwas wie eine Protagonistin. Indem ich die Stadt beschreibe, wird die Handlung beeinflusst. Alle zehn Jahre scheint die Stadt sich völlig umgekrempelt zu haben. Die Entwicklung zur Zeit allerdings geht in Richtung Ausverkauf, Unbeweglichkeit und Starrheit. Durch die Umwandlung der Wohnungen in Eigentum geht die Mischung von jung und alt, arm und reich, ein für alle Mal verloren.

What does the city mean to you? Was bedeutet die Stadt für Sie? 

I grew up in Berlin. Many districts and neighbourhoods are very familiar to me, they’re my home. Others have changed so much that I do not recognize them. Ich bin in Berlin aufgewachsen. Viele Bezirke, Gegenden sind mir sehr vertraut, sie sind mir Heimat. Andere haben sich so geändert, dass sie mir fremd sind.

In your short story “Sunsets,” how did you communicate the longing of a girl? What was your inspiration, and what did you want to convey? In der Kurzgeschichte “Sonnenuntergänge” wie haben Sie die Sehnsucht einer Frau in Worte gefasst? Was war Ihre Inspiration, und was wollten Sie unbedingt vermitteln?

When one is in love, one simultaneously feels strong and vulnerable. It’s not an every-day feeling. It can make you so light, that problems around you or in the world have no effect on you. It can overwhelm you, when it’s not returned, or when you fear it. I wanted to try to put the experience of this overwhelming feeling into words. And from the perspective of a young person, who does not yet have a lot of experience of love and tries to understand it. To be young and in love, to yearn and to watch sunsets is a common theme. There were no literary inspirations. At the beginning of writing there is always life and an idea. Wenn man verliebt ist, fühlt man sich gleichzeitig stark und verletzlich. Es ist kein alltägliches Gefühl. Es kann einen so leicht machen, dass einem Probleme um einen herum oder in der Welt nichts anhaben können. Es kann einen umwerfen, wenn es nicht erwidert wird oder man das fürchtet. Ich wollte einmal versuchen, das Empfinden dieses überwältigenden Gefühls in Worte zu fassen. Und das aus der Sicht eines jungen Menschen, der noch nicht viel Erfahrung mit Liebe hat und versucht zu verstehen. Verliebt und jung zu sein, schwärmen und Sonnenuntergänge angucken, ist ja auch sehr geläufig. Es gab keine literarischen Inspirationsquellen. Am Anfang des Schreibens steht immer Leben und eine Idee.

Do you think there is a difference in how men and women experience love and longing?  Wie unterscheidet sich das Beschreiben der Erfahrungen der Liebe und Sehnsüchte der Frauen von den der Männern, Ihrer Meinung nach?

I don’t think so. Women and men also have individual personalities. It depends on the person’s character. Maybe more women talk about their feelings and perceive moods faster. But a lot depends on personal life story – what kind of models of love-relationships the person experienced in childhood. To what extent one is capable of trust, and of connection. Ich glaube, nicht so sehr. Frauen und Männer sind ja auch individuelle Persönlichkeiten. Es hängt vom Charakter der einzelnen Person ab. Vielleicht sprechen viele Frauen mehr über ihre Gefühle und nehmen Mißstimmungen schneller wahr und auch ernst. Ich glaube, da hängt sehr sehr viel von der persönlichen Lebensgeschichte ab – was haben die Einzelnen in der Kindheit an Liebesbeziehungen vorgelebt bekommen. Wie sehr ist man in der Lage, zu vertrauen, sich zu binden.

The story allows the reader to relate to the female protagonist and to appreciate her feelings of love, longing, and belonging. There are so few stories in our media and culture that describe the personal and subjective experience of women so well. What kind of reactions have you observed by male and female readers? Die Geschichte erlaubt dem Leser Mitgefühl mit der Protagonistin zu haben und ihre Gefühle der Liebe, der Sehnsucht, des Zusammengehörenwollen nachzuvollziehen. In unseren Medien und Kultur gibt es so wenige Geschichten die, die persönliche und subjektive Erfahrungen der Frauen so genau beschreiben. Was für Reaktionen haben Sie beobachtet von männlichen und weiblichen Lesern?  

Joy. Consideration. Recognition. Freude. Nachdenklichkeit. Wiedererkennen.

What are you currently working on? Woran arbeiten Sie gerade?

A novel about a father-daughter relationship and the story of different people in Poland and Germany. An einem Roman über eine Vater-Tochter-Beziehung und die Geschichte verschiedener Menschen in Polen und Deutschland.

Anja Tuckermann, photo by DPA

This entry was posted in Art, Berlin, Books, Cities, Cultural politics, Love and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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