Gipshut; Plaster Cap

Gipshut; Plaster Cap (1999)

The epigram to this novel is taken from Theodor Fontane’s novel Der Stechlin; The Stechlin, about a lake in Brandenburg which shakes and rumbles when great historical events are occuring. The central motif of the lake also alludes to Christa Wolf’s novel Nachdenken über Christa T. ; The Quest for Christa T. (1968) – in which the protagonist plans to write a novel about people living around a lake – and Ingeborg Bachmann’s novella ‘Drei Wege zum See’; ‘Three Paths to the Lake’ (1972). The volcanic lake in this novel thus has an impressive intertextual literary pedigree.

The novel begins in August 1950, as Veronika Dankeschön gives birth while swimming in the lake. The event is witnessed by a surprised group of members of the Free German Youth (FDJ). Her son is given the name Hans Kielkropf, and he grows up to be a journalist. The high point in Hans’s journalistic career is when he discovers a schoolboy with hypertrophic growth syndrome, Paul Norg, whom he takes to be the embodiment of ‘the new Socialist man’. While Oskar Matzerath in Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum is a dwarf, Paul Norg is a giant whose enormous size alludes to the overblown ambitions of the Socialist state. The action switches between Hans’s youth and his career as a journalist during the GDR, and the present – namely August 1997, in which two geologists, the adult Paul Norg and his colleague Anna Fricke, are conducting a survey of volcanic activity near the lake.

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Hans loses his job as a journalist and gets a job guarding the decaying Palace of the Republic in central Berlin. Things go from bad to worse for him, as he is required to remove asbestos from the building before its demolition. In its place, the new Berlin City Palace (Stadtschloss), is rebuilt on the model of Kaiser Wilhelm’s palace. Paul and Anna trace the source of the volcanic activity to central Berlin, but no one believes them: when they report their findings, they are fired. They end up working in the Public Relations department of the new Berlin City Palace. Hans gets cancer. He returns to the basement of the Palace and breaks off the plaster cap. The volcano explodes.

Further Reading in English

Reinhild Steingröver, ‘“Not Fate – Just History”: Stories and Histories in Tanz am Kanal and Gipshut’, in Kerstin Hensel, ed. by Beth Linklater and Birgit Dahlke (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2002), pp. 91-106

Jill E. Twark, Humor, Satire, and Identity: Eastern German Literature in the 1990s (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2007), pp. 126-42