Rory MacLean meets Rainer Stenzenberger
Rainer Stenzenberger is a high-flying economist. In 2005 at the age of 42 he left his secure government job in Wiesbaden to chase a dream.
‘I didn’t want to spend the rest of my days only talking about my dreams,’ he told me when we met. ‘I wanted to do creative work. So I moved to Berlin, had a go at television and then realised that what I really wanted to do was to write fiction.’
His first book is Berlin Werewolf, the story of hard-living Gero von Sarnau, a Berliner who has more vices than most people have Facebook friends. But unlike most of the city’s residents, Gero is a werewolf who happens to have a conscience. He only kills people who have dubious morals. Together with three friends, Gero plans a raid on a notorious Kreuzberg bookie, Yildiray – whose daughter is Gero’s secret love interest.
‘The typical vampire story is too romantic for my taste,’ Stenzenberger explained. ‘I wanted my protagonist to be a “real” guy, living in a small apartment rather than a castle, who believes that violence may be sometimes the only way to solve a difficult problem. At the same time the book doesn’t celebrate violence. I am a moral person. In a way its central theme is the importance of friendship.’
Unable to interest a trade publisher in his manuscript, Stenzenberger self-published the book. Almost immediately it caught readers’ imagination, as well as the attention of be.bra verlag, a small Berlin publishing house which took on the book, edited and re-packaged it, and released it last year.
‘As it’s vital in this genre to have a series, the second Berlin Werewolf book was launched last month at the Leipzig Book Fair,’ said Stenzenberger. ‘With luck there will be a third and fourth instalment...but that rather depends on the commercial success.’
Stenzenberger wrote both books using the same technique. His mornings were spent on the street or in Kreuzberg cafés, observing with notebook in hand, while in the afternoon he incorporated his notes into the narrative, drawing elements of contemporary Berlin directly into the story, giving his language a powerful immediacy.
‘Berlin can be like a zoo with its mix of remarkable people and characters,’ he said. ‘I try to get them down on the page so – in a way – all the characters in my werewolf story really exist.’
At the same time Stenzenberger has continued to work as a freelance economic development consultant with clients including the federal German Technical Cooperation GTZ agency, advising governments in countries like Albania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Georgia.
‘I love my professional work and the income enables me to keep writing books,’ he said. ‘Of course I try to keep these two sides of my life separate but – inevitably in our interconnected age – colleagues or clients will google my name, and discover that I write werewolf books. In fact a lot of Berlin Werewolf’s Facebook fans live in Georgia, even though the book is only available in German,’ he added with a laugh.
A film producer has expressed interest in making a movie of the series and Stenzenberger hopes that Berlin Werewolf may soon be available in English.
‘Of course I want to have commercial success,’ he said to me. ‘But above all I want my books to touch people. I’ve received such wonderful emails and comments from fans. I really enjoy how new media – Facebook, email – enables a writer to be in touch with his readers.’
Article by Rory MacLean