[This page by Ernest Schonfield]
This novel explores the consequences of German economic expansion to the East by focusing on the character of a used car salesman, Bernd Willenbrock. For Willenbrock, trade with Eastern Europe and Russia brings huge profits but also new risks. Most of Willenbrock’s customers are from Eastern Europe: mainly Poland, but he also does business with a sinister Russian businessman called Krylow.
Willenbrock’s only employee is a Pole called Jurek. Jurek is a workaholic who complains about too many Poles coming into Germany and claims that Germany will go to the dogs because of all the immigrants (pp. 185-86). Later, after a break-in at the yard, Willenbrock also employs a night watchman called Fritz Pasewald.
The East is described as a place where law and order has broken down. One of Willenbrock’s friends, Genser, is a computer salesman who often travels to Russia on business trips.
Willenbrock and his wife are the victims of a break-in at their country house. The two attackers are Russian. When Willenbrock finds that the chief suspects have not been charged, but have been sent back over the border, he decides that he can no longer rely on the authorities and that he will have to defend himself. First Willenbrock buys a flare pistol, then he buys a real gun from Krylow, a Smith and Wesson (pp. 260-61).
The East is thus a source of customers and criminals, new markets and new threats to security. In Willenbrock, the lawlessness of the East threatens to spread to Germany itself. Willenbrock, the charming German businessman, starts to fantasize about killing people. At the end of the novel, he does kill someone.