Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Herr Lehmann Fever

Berlin is sick. Obsessed, crazed, in the grip of a burning fever for the third and final installment of Sven Regener's Herr Lehmann trilogy, Der kleine Bruder. Everywhere you turn, Sven Regener is staring bullishly at you from magazine covers and the like. Regener's first public incarnation was in the indie-ish band Element of Crime. He published his first novel, Herr Lehmann, in 2001 - and it was an instant hit, plugged on the influential Literarisches Quartett TV show and selling zillions of copies. The almost inevitable film followed in 2003, starring my absolute fave German funny-man Christian Ulmen. Plus the novel was translated into 15 languages, including English as Berlin Blues. (I liked John Brownjohn's translation in general but spotted a couple of nits to pick that suggested he wasn't overly familiar with Berlin.)

Oh yeah, the book's about this guy, Frank Lehmann, who lives in Kreuzberg in 1989 (although the fall of the wall is a mere side note at the end of the book and doesn't even remotely touch on the characters' lives). He works in a bar, falls in love, his parents threaten to visit, and not much happens all in all. But in such an evocative way, it seems, that anyone who ever even dreamed of living in pre-89 Berlin is completely captivated by the whole thing. Regener is considered a master of naturalistic conversation, and it's funny too, in a quietly despairing way.

Regener followed up on Herr Lehmann with Neue Vahr Süd, about Frank Lehmann's time on national service. Our anti-hero leaves home and moves into a shared house in Bremen, then fails to opt out as a conscientious objector and bumbles around incompetently a bit more. All this is actually the first part of the trilogy, chronologically.

So now we have the third part, Der kleine Bruder, which tells the story of Frank Lehmann leaving Bremen and reaching Berlin in around 1980(?). According to the blurb, it's "a parallel universe full of artists, squatters, dogs, punks and owners and proppers-up of bars. Beer, opinions, speeches, traitor swine — they're all there." I haven't read it, can you tell?

Regener is a huge star over here. He doesn't give readings in book shops or libraries or even literary centres - the guy fills theatre-size venues. His upcoming reading tour could just as well be a list of venues played by a major indie band. I assume the reasons why the English-speaking world hasn't been treated to the follow-ups to Herr Lehmann are that a) Berlin Blues didn't sell as well as someone hoped, and b) Neue Vahr Süd is set in Bremen and thus not as sexy from the marketing point of view. Shame really. Assuming this third part will be a megaseller, I hope it will help sell the rights to the previous book too.


Anonymous said...

how can I find the book (if possible herr lehmann and berlin blues) in english? Do you know?
My Email:

kjd said...

Cathrin - you can get Berlin Blues on amazon uk, de etc. Or you can order it at the bookshop of your choice. Berlin Blues is the title of the English version of Herr Lehmann, in case I caused any confusion.

Emily said...

Hey! I had to watch the film Herr Lehmann for my German class and came across your blog while googling it (to assist in answering Qs over it). I enjoyed the film quite a lot, and am glad to hear that there were follow-up novels!

kjd said...

Hi Emily, I wish I had got to watch films for my German classes. Herr Lehmann is definitely a good one.

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