Gregor Sander searches for ‘east in west’

Berlin (dpa) – After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many writers headed to East Germany with a curious look. East was laid on the sofa, and the mental life of “Ossis” was analyzed according to all the rules of art.

Over time, a completely new species appeared. While this type of literature can now fill bookshops, the reverse perspective of the West is almost completely absent. So it is time for an East German writer to visit the West.

An expedition to the impoverished west

Gregor Sander, born in Schwerin and living in Prenzlauer Berg, dares an expedition into the unknown. Inspired by his old friend Schlube, he sets his sights on the old working-class stronghold of Gelsenkirchen in the Ruhr region. Why Gelsenkirchen? Schlubi has strong arguments ready: “They are leaders in all statistics. So from behind. The poorest city in Germany, the highest unemployment rate, and the lowest per capita income.” It is precisely for this reason that Gelsenkirchen stuck to the dubious nomenclature of ‘East in West’. so let’s go!

Gregor Sander’s Lenin of Schalke is a mixture of fiction, social reporting and travel guide. The main role is played by narrator Gregor Sander, with supporting roles played by kiosk owner Omar and his girlfriend Zonengabi, a fictional character who became famous when the wall fell when she ate her first “banana” on the cover of “Titanic” (actually an option).

In Sander, the cousin of Zonengabi Schlüppi from Saxony, for whom the story “Titanic” was the starting signal for a modeling career. The author expertly guides to the highlights of the former mining town: the coal dumps, which today serve as a platform with panoramic views of old coal-mining views, former miners’ settlements like Flüss Decbank or the colorful architecture of the 1970s like the Hamburg-Mannheimer rises. This sky-high ‘Memorial to the Dreams of Gelsenkirchen’ is now a despicable work center for a city plagued by high unemployment and thus a symbol of decline.

Statue of Lenin in Gelsenkirchen

One of the most unusual chapters, which also inspired the title of the book, tells of the erection of a statue of Lenin in the summer of 2020 in front of the “command center” of the MLPD (Marxist-Leninist German Party) in Gelsenkirchen. -Horst. The two-meter-long monster is said to have been manufactured in Czechoslovakia decades ago. Construction in front of the Communist Party headquarters was preceded by a bitter legal battle with the city of Gelsenkirchen, who had never wanted to see Lenin as an impeccable democrat worthy of a monument. But the city lost.

The ghostly inauguration ceremonies of old communists involuntarily conjure up images of a distant past in the East German observer, reawakening memories of his first meeting with a mummified Lenin in Moscow. But what is the point of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Gelsenkirchen everywhere? “There is hardly any business here.”

The decline of the once proud city of Gelsenkirchen makes it bleak. Thus a trace of sadness runs through this journey of discovery, for example as the author wanders the empty shopping streets or frequently looks at the dilapidated facades that stand in sharp contrast to the beautiful cities of the East.

But Sander’s sense of situational comedy, his sympathy and, last but not least, his heartfelt affection for the people rooted in Gelsenkirchen, absorb these dark moments again, so that the book makes for an overall enjoyable read.

In the end, Sander visits a very special cemetery, since in 2012 a cemetery was opened for loyal Schalke 04 fans. 1904 burial sites have been reserved here. This way, the die-hard fan can keep in touch with the football club after death. This is only available in Schalke.

Gregor Sander: Lenin Auf Schalke, Penguin Verlag, Munich, 192 pages, €20.00, ISBN 978-3-328-60187-6

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