Academic journal article German Quarterly

Play Zones: The Erotics of the New Berlin

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Play Zones: The Erotics of the New Berlin

Article excerpt

wenn man fickt, vermeint man doch was zu erleben, fremde raume bekommt man dabei zumindest zu sehen, andere Wohnungen sozusagen, beinahe schon andere stadte. daß sie so berlin kennengelernt hatte, wurde sie nicht behaupten, und auch jetzt steht sie nicht wirklich vor neuen aussichten, sie tritt mehr so auf der stelle, immerhin auch diesmal ganz sony-trunken das gelande da draußen, sieht sie, ganz sony-frisch auch seinehande [...].

-Kathrin Roggla, Irres Wetter (2000)1

If recent literature is any indication, Berlin is a place where people pursue sex. Peter Schneider's Eduards Heimkehr (1999) intertwines the story of an inherited house in Friedrichshain with the protagonist's quest to bring his wife to a sexual climax; Bonn politician Victor Kliesow ventures into the unknown territory of Prenzlauer Berg in pursuit of a young waitress in Gudrun Blankenburg's Jeanne d'Arc der Hauptstadt (1997); in liebediener (1999) julia Franck's heroine Beyla becomes obsessed with a male prostitute living in the apartment below hers in Prenzlauer Berg; and Judith Hermann's figures in Sommerhaus, spater (1998) experience Berlin as a city where male artistic creativity and female sexual desire form a problematical alliance.2 In some cases, such as Elke Naters's Koniginnen (1998), Berlin serves merely as a setting for the protagonists' love affairs. In others, as in the above cited passage from Kathrin Roggla, an Austrian-born writer living in Berlin, the protagonist's perceptions interpret the city for the reader. In all of these texts, Berlin is clearly identified and identifiable through realistic descriptions of its streets and subway stations, its neighborhoods and squares, its parks and departments stores.3

Since the fall of the wall more than a decade ago, united Germany's capital has inspired numerous city texts that probe the New Berlin through the topos of sex and sexuality. Even though the sexed body has been a focal point in cultural theory and practice for more than a decade, its conspicuous prevalence in Berlin literature of the 1990s demands further inquiry into the connection between this particular city and plots in which sex and sexuality play a central role. Division and unification have often been expressed in sexual terms.4 Moreover, Berlin has been cast as a location of sexual freedom or decadence, depending on the observer's moral attitudes, since the fin de siècle? The reemergence of post-unification Berlin as a sexualized space raises the question how these recent texts respond to the tradition of erotic city writing and, more importantly, whose sexuality and what kind of sexed bodies writers rely on as they imagine Berlin of and for the 1990s. The semantic construction of the city as a gendered space that instills both sexual desire and fear has a long history.6 From Goethe to Thomas Mann, the male traveler's experience of Italian cities, for instance, would have remained incomplete without its erotic component (Schaff 176). Since the 19th century, the male flaneur has been the quintessential urban subject who makes a city his own by walking its streets and taking note of its buildings, streets, and inhabitants.7 More often than not, the women he observes become the objects of his sexualized gaze. The position of women in the city, by contrast, has always been precarious, as is evidenced in Irmgard Keun's 1932 Berlin novel Das kunstseidene Madchen, whose protagonist is forced to barter sexuality for material survival. In 1990s Berlin, gender difference continues to structure the sexualized city space.8

Despite its short history, the textual construction of unified Berlin can be divided into two phases: the fall of the wall and its immediate aftermath, and, toward the end of the 1990s, the search for the "New Berlin." In both cases the descriptions of the city draw on gender, sex and sexuality in specific ways. Thomas Brussig's irornchelden wie wir (1996) envisions the fall of the wall as an act of male sexual conquest, and in Thomas Hettche's Nox (1995) the same event becomes a sadomasochistic nightmare. …

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