On the stream
Wolf Erlbruch (Illustrationen):
Auf dem Strom
Hamburg: Carlsen Verlag, 1998
Herman Schulz's novel takes place in the british colony of Tanzania in the 1930s. Friedrich Ganse, a German missionary, comes back from a journey and is faced with the fragments of his family life: His wife died of a deadly fever and his daughter Gertrud is also seriously ill. People from that village had taken care of the girl. They adviced the apathetic Ganse to take the child as fast as possible to the town, in a european hospital.
Thus he soon sits in a small log Canoe to paddle his daughter down ward the stream to the next bigger town. The journey last 5 days and 5 nights. During the nights Ganse lies on the shore so as to refill his stock and to find a place to sleep. Although he hadn't money anymore and speaks none of the African languages which he met on the way, the white missionary is well received all over, his daughter is cared for with local medicines and herbs. The girl is almost well as both finally arrive the town.
The end of the novel remains open, however father and daughter reflect to stay in Tanzania. Therewith they are not alone - during their nights in the bush they meet the German geologist, Goldschmitt who is married to an african woman and later an african woman who is born in Europe and has returned to her homeland. Her parents were carried to Germany as living exposition for the colonial ethnological exhibition (used for translation and possibly for colonial exhibition). Through these two figures whose historical examples are written in the epilogue the German colonial history proceeds to the focal point of the action.
Hermann Schulz: Auf dem Strom (On the stream)
Ganse's journey on the river takes place in Tanzania, however it strongly calls to someone's mind Joseph Conrads Congo-novel Heart of Darkness, an English african-classic from 1902. However the perspective which both authors develope in their books could not be contrary: Even Conrad was critical of colonialism, however his novel reflects the colonial presentation of Africa as a "dark" continent - the journey from the colonial settlement into the african bush, the colonial adventure all end up in madness and doubts. Herman Schulz's main character travels to the opposite direction, from the forest to the coast in the next town. Ironically with his arrival the civilisation has moved forward, the hospital no longer exist. However neither the German missionary nor his daughter needed the blessings of european medicines or culture for their healing: It is the african enviroment which cures Gertrud and helps Ganse to overcome his life crisis. During the endless time on the river and his nights in the bush, the German learns to appreciate the warmness and hospitality with which people receive him and he begins to question the values of civilisation and missionary activities for which he came to Africa. Even the supposed supersitition with which his daughter is treated proves itself soon to be a european discovery: The scar on Gertrud's throat is only a medium of communication, it stands for the name of the illness against which the girl was treated.
Ganse's new pattern of a pragmatic, on the needs of the locality orientated engagements in Africa, is transformed in the vision of an alternative development co-operation. The prerequisite for it is a withdrawal from precomposed opinions and categorisations, infact a new humility and modesty as always required by Chinua Achebe, the receiver of the Nobel Peace Prize of the German Book Trade (2002) and other defenders of an alternative dialog.