Merle Kröger The traditional, the luxurious and the discovered

Merle Kröger
Merle Kröger | Photo: © Rainer Schleßelmann

In her works, the author and filmmaker Merle Kröger combines a realistic view of our times, an unwavering sympathy for those suffering hardship and a penchant for exuberance

Merle Kröger brought a great word back with her from the Congo: kizoba-zoba. A wonderful-sounding label for an extravagant fashion style in Kinshasa that cleverly combines colourful traditional fabrics with second-hand designer wear and fake branded clothing from Asia, containers full of which land on the African market. As an ensemble, this blend of the traditional, the luxurious and the discovered gives rise to a very individual style. It is a playful response to the absurdity of global textile production – and tremendously glamorous.
 
A Goethe-Institut project, the Kinshasa Collection functions in much the same way, interweaving Congolese fashion with European cultural policy and German filmmaking. The “Kinshasa Collection” presents not only the brash fashion of the Congo but also, with considerable self-mockery, cultural education’s noble intention of painting a modern picture of Africa: a Web series takes centre stage, with Congolese artists intervening in various pop-ups to ensure it does not become a closed narrative.

Kinshasa Collection Kinshasa Collection | Photo: © Catherine Trautes

Breaking with all boundaries of the crime fiction genre

“Kizoba-zoba could also be my motto”, says the author and filmmaker Merle Kröger, who helped design the project. Sitting in a pub in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district, she doesn’t know whether she’s coming or going because yet again she is supposed to be finishing off a hundred different things at once: writing texts, revising translations, planning trips and editing films. Yet her heavy workload does nothing to impinge upon her self-effacing and friendly nature.
 
Ever since, Kröger has been producing an idiosyncratic body of work that combines her own ideas with those of others, and new things with things she discovers. Together with her partner, the director Philip Scheffner, she makes documentary films. As an author, she turns the material into novels that are among the most innovative of the present day: in their open form, her feminist crime novels break with all boundaries of the genre. They are not driven by the plot but by a realistic approach to our world and a penchant for Bollywood.

Honoured with the German Crime Fiction Award

Born in the North German town of Plön in 1967, Kröger made a name for herself with her books about her heroine Mattie Junghans, who does not keep particularly tight control over her own life. She investigates out of idealism, political necessity or an unwavering sympathy for those suffering hardship. Her detective work takes her from the Baltic Sea to Romania and, via India, back to Berlin. Kröger’s works are always underlaid with a soundtrack that really gets under one’s skin: in the rapeseed fields of North Germany the wind turbines whir softly, while the colourful pop songs of India can be heard on the most miserable fringes of Europe.
 
Kröger won the 2013 German Crime Fiction Award for her novel Grenzfall. It is based on a real event that Kröger and Scheffner researched for their documentary film Revision: two Romanians were shot in the state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in 1992, hunters claiming that they thought the two refugees were animals. They were acquitted by a court. It never even occurred to the authorities to inform the families of those killed, let alone to offer them any compensation. It is around this shocking fact that Kröger weaves her story: 20 years later, the daughter of one of the victims is suspected of having killed one of the two hunters in revenge.

Refugee boat collides with cruise ship

Kröger caused an even greater stir with Havarie, one of the most sensational and important novels of recent years. It was published in 2015, just a few months before tens of thousands of refugees arrived in Germany. Havarie is also based on an actual event, and a film adaptation was also made of the novel. In the book, a cruise ship with the highly symbolic name “Spirit of Europe” collides with a shipwrecked rubber dinghy packed to the rafters with Algerian migrants.
 
The novel is no refugee drama. Kröger uses one fateful moment to bring a number of different lives together. In an intense dramatic composition, she turns the spotlight on people who embark on a journey across the sea in hopes of a better life: young Algerians seeking an opening in Fortress Europe; simple Europeans wanting to forget their own loss of socioeconomic status at the cruise liner’s bingo table; the workers at sea who argue about their standing in the hierarchy of the globalized economy. And yet all have long since been assigned their places: on the sun deck, in the engine room or in the dinghy.
 
Merle Kröger, a north German woman with an Indian father, broadens the horizons of literature and  her own existence through her novels. She looks out to sea, across the sea to the world and from there back on her own life.