Heinz Strunk – Summer in Niendorf – SWR2

The awkward creature man! Heinz Strink’s new novel is also about a middle-aged man who struggles with himself, life and love. Located in Niendorf on the Baltic Sea, Strunk writes a sort of gutter version of Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”: very dynamic and told with a tried-and-true comedy.

Ruth wants to write an interesting family history, perhaps also suitable for a Netflix series

Prospects for lawyer d. Ruth is actually pretty good: Before he starts a new job in September, he has a long summer ahead of him with no work or commitments. He decided to spend three months at the “Ostsee-Appartments” in Niendorf, an area on the Timmendorfer Strand with a bit of a decadent charm.

In this eponymous “Summer in Niendorf,” the 50-year-old hero in Heinz Strunk’s new novel wants to devote himself to a larger private project: record sixty-six hours of raw material about his family’s history on tape. Above all, it has to do with the rise and fall of the family-owned business, which was founded in the 1920s, experienced a long period of success and went bankrupt in the mid-1990s. Ruth wants to write a book of interviews with his mother, uncle and father, who are already seriously ill. He has an interesting family history in mind, and might as well be a good fit for a Netflix series!

“Let’s start with the first tape out of a total of forty-four tapes. He endured his father’s nasal voice for an hour and a half. More bored than he remembered, full of anecdotes (most very embarrassing), neither the interviewee nor the interviewee seemed to have any idea what was important and what was not. Relevant. (…) Feel helpless and irritable.”
(Heinz Strenk: A Summer in Niendorf, p. 27)

You can already guess: the book project will fail, as many things will fail this summer

Inspiration falters. The presence of a memorial plaque commemorating the meeting of the legendary group 47 in Niendorf in May 1952 does not help. You can already guess: the book project will fail, like many things that will fail this summer, which Roth so beautifully imagined.

For the first time, a very bourgeois hero is at the center of the Heinz Strink story. Whereas in earlier novels the losers were more, those who fell short and granted, whom he portrayed with often agonizing looks, we now recognize an upright man of a good family, a beauty and scion of a company dynasty who, of course, enjoys her best times behind.

Strink leads his hero into an conceivable petty-bourgeois environment – which only increases the height of the downfall

But do not let the social status of the main character fool you. Heinz Strunk stays true to his tried and tested environment: he leads his hero into an conceivable petty-bourgeois environment – only increasing the height of the falls. Even the holiday resort of Niendorf isn’t very exclusive. Restaurants have names like ‘primporium’, and on their menus the salad is advertised as ‘something fresh first’. The impulsive owner of Ruth, the local beach chair tenant and liquor merchant, Breda, also comes from this environment: a severely downtrodden alcoholic figure with almost demonic traits, who will drag Ruth further and further into the abyss.

“Watching him and waiting and wanting to control him. Breda kept darkening all of Ninndorf. Ruth now always goes shopping when he thinks the man is patrolling the beach chair. Then Breda also sends him a horrific goodnight text: “I hope you rest well!” You’ve settled well” (…) “Very good brandy is coming on Wednesday.” Plus some stupid emojis. Are we lovers now sending each other sweet dreams?”
(Heinz Strenk: A Summer in Niendorf, p. 35)

Strenk wrote the Chav version of “Death in Venice” by Thomas Mann

Thomas Mann is mentioned several times in the course of the story – and in Strenk’s novel you can actually see some parallels with his famous Death in Venice: it’s about sexual infatuation – in this case to the waitress – it’s about a single character descended and ultimately also about the death.

Rather, Strunk writes the old version of history, one with plastic chairs and cheap wine – and with a near-baroque fixation on humans as shriveled beings with all their odors, foul bodily fluids, gaping teeth and skin irritations. His beauty Thomas Mann would have walked away trembling from such disgusting adventures.

Beautiful ‘sports food’ gets great women. Others are poor, self-pitying, misogynistic cowards

However, like his hero Gustav Aschenbach, Roth became an increasingly silly character. It’s the big theme that Strenk is already working on in each of his novels: the man, the embarrassing creature. He is also very close to his literary idol Michel Welbeck and his treatise on sexual class struggle: only “beautiful athletes eat” – as he calls it in another Sternek novel – get great women. Others are rather attractive types that look in the tube and feel self-pitying like the misogynistic poor sausage.

Ruth also fails on the love front: he lives apart from his wife who has developed a religious pastime, an acquaintance’s visit to the tavern ends in a sexual disaster, and the “fuss” waitress whom Ruth adores – like the beautiful boy Tadzio in Thomas Mann – remains elusive.

The service is young, plump, stupid, somewhat rude and inviting you to dream. “Safina,” says the name tag on her blouse. (…]In a bad mood, Savina wishes you a bon appetit. Ruth thinks that a great voice falls somewhere between electrifying and aphrodisiac. He can’t get over the fact that she’s treating him, who is still very attractive, and distinctly well-dressed, And intriguing, and almost mysterious despite the minor signs of wear, just like any retired retiree.
(Heinz Strenk: A Summer in Niendorf, p. 71)

The novel flourishes with a great sense of comedy and comedy

Sympathy or even pity for Ruth, the hero, does not really want to arise from the reader, he himself looks at the world very lightly. But this does not necessarily conflict with this novel, which develops its great dynamism and lives from a great sense of fantasy and comedy.

In the end, Strunk has a really surprising – and even quite forgiving – sentence. Then suddenly Ruth loves this after all.

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