A real estate agent with a past
As a child, Matthias Weber explores the Scandinavian Quarter in the East Berlin suburb of Prenzlauer Berg. As a real estate agent, he tries to halt gentrification by deciding whether someone is “suitable” for the hood or not.
By Holger Moos
From an early age, Matthias, the hero of Torsten Schulz’ new novel Skandinavisches Viertel (Scandinavian Quarter), is a rascal, a twister of truth and an inventor of stories. In the 1970s, as a 12-year-old, he plays his games with the GDR border guards, frightening them by pretending his uncle is a border troops official. In fact, Uncle Winfried is an alcoholic who spends his days in establishments he calls Kummer-Eck (Sorrow Corner), Gute-Laune-Destille (Good Mood Distillery) or Weiber-Bar (Bar of Broads).
This uncle is an important figure in Matthias’ childhood. They share a fascination for Scandinavia, unreachable at the time. But Uncle Winfried once travelled to Helsinki when he worked for the circus and has been talking about his trip ever since.
Lord of the street namesIn his mind, Matthias simply renames the streets of the Scandinavian Quarter that weren’t named for places in Scandinavia: “Later, he imagines, during Communism or whatever, the streets will bear the names pencilled into his city map now.”
His uncle’s life ends in a tragedy. As an adult, Matthias still feels complicit in Winfried’s death and will remain under the spell of various family secrets for the rest of his life.
Love here and thereVarious love stories pop up here and there, the main character slipping into and out of them as randomly as he does into his work as a real estate agent. The humour of this little novel lies in the superimposition of the GDR past with post-reunification times up until the present. The childlike gaze into the past interlocks with the perspective of an “idealistic” real estate agent in modern-day Berlin.
“Political literature, flavour-enhanced with humour – there you go,” Ursula März writes in the ZEIT. Gustav Seibt from the newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper compares Schulz’ novel to Ingo Schulze’s latest book Peter Holtz, in which the property sector is similarly construed as a key to the experience of an abrupt system change in East Germany after 1990. However, Seibt prefers Scandinavian Quarter because: “Torsten Schulz succeeds in achieving levity by using the motif of fibbing as a private counterpoint to the systemic issue of betrayal in a dictatorship.”
Schulz, Torsten: Skandinavisches Viertel (Scandinavian Quarter)
Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2018. 262 pages.
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