Between #wirsindmehr and #bodypositivity
More or less voluntarily, Gisela moves to Chemnitz to study. As a leftist political science student, she becomes quite frustrated there – yet finds the best friends for partying, protesting, and forming a band.
By Natascha Holstein
Most go to Hamburg, Berlin, Cologne, or Munich to study – or at least to Leipzig. But Gisela heads to Chemnitz. The Dresden native can’t afford to live in a big, western German city, and she didn’t do well enough in school to expect a scholarship. Never mind; all that really matters is to get away from her familial rut and be on her own. It also helps that political science in Chemnitz has no entrance restrictions.
Paula Irmschler’s debut novel Superbusen doesn’t begin in Chemnitz, though, but in Berlin. After a sleepless night stressing out over a deadline for a class paper, Gisela flees to the capital, leaving everything behind in Chemnitz: her clothes, her friends, her room in the flat share. Gisela is not really the name of the first-person narrator. Readers never learn her real name, but only that during one night of partying she tipped back one vodka with lime juice after another, a drink called, especially in the east, a “Gisela.”
Anti right-wingThe novel takes place in late summer 2018. There is a stabbing in Chemnitz, a German dies, the right wing mobilises. Gisela returns to the city hoping to demonstrate against the right-wingers with her friends. As she describes the situation, “The Nazis call it funeral march. But everyone on our side knows that there’s no mourning in Chemnitz. In Chemnitz, people either repress their grief or march, depending on the origin of the victims.”
Chemnitz, that’s the city with a bad train connection (the second worst after Trier!), cheap rents (cheap enough that the €120 for the uninhabited flat share room doesn’t make a dent) and, since 2018, #wirsindmehr (we are more). However, apart from media and musical attention, they are rarely more. Only a few days after the spectacular concerts against the right-wing marches, over 2,000 populists – AfD or PEGIDA supporters and right-wing extremists – face about 1,000 counter-demonstrators.
Gisela stays longer than the concertgoers and remembers parties, protests, and the evening when she and her best girlfriends had the mad idea to form a band called Superbusen. After all, music has always been part of Gisela’s life: from Die Ärzte to Britney Spears to Kraftklub. One or two of these girlfriends can even play instruments, so it’s decided: Let’s get on stage! They have merch before they have any finished lyrics and before they even appear in Chemnitz, they tour across Germany.
Dreaming of a better worldPaula Irmschler’s debut reads as if it was written for people who were socialised in 1990s Germany: the Tic Tac Toe girl group cult and Die Pfefferkörner TV show, memories of Diddl sheets, Sailor Moon and Bravo magazine’s star cut-outs. Superbusen is not a novel that imposes references and cues on the reader in order to be relevant to modern and pop culture; the author is able to incorporate her own youth. Reading will either transport you back to your own time as a student, including library night shifts, flat share balconies full of deposit bottles, and dreaming up idealistic world-betterment fantasies at the kitchen table with the remainders from last night’s party. Even non-students will remember road trips with their best friends, rubbish-filled cars, and their own crazy stunts.
And yet Superbusen is not just a fun novel with funny anecdotes. It is also a political exploration of being leftist and why Gisela was not surprised by the Nazi march in Chemnitz and can’t understand why others were. Gisela also always describes herself as “fat” and struggles with her own – but mainly society’s – ideal body image. It’s about feminism and mental health. In spite of all this, in Gisela, Irmschler creates a protagonist who isn’t cautionary, but who learns, fails, and reflects. She’s someone you’d like to have a beer with in a smoke-filled pub.
Paula Irmschler: Superbusen
Claassen, 2020. 311 S.