Regenbeins Farben (2020); Regenbein’s Colours
This short novel or ‘novella’ (of around 250 pages) explores themes of love, death and art. The main protagonist, Karline Regenbein, is a painter, and the title refers to the earthy, mineral-rich colours of her works. Karline, although not yet fifty years old, is a widow, recently bereaved. Her husband Rüdiger Habich was a well-known photographer. He was possessive and overbearing, but she loved him. She often visits his grave, in a graveyard in a northern suburb of Berlin, probably Pankow. The graveyard is in the flight path of an international airport – probably Berlin Tegel airport, which finally closed down in the year 2020. At the cemetery she meets up with three other characters who are also connected to the Berlin art scene: Lore Müller-Kilian, a rich industrialist’s widow in her seventies; Ziva Schlott, a Professor Emerita of Art History who is 85 years old – she escaped Nazi Germany as a child refugee; and Eduard Wettengel, a widowed gallery owner in his mid-fifties. Wettengel is an object of desire: his lips have a cupid’s bow; his shirt cuffs are loose, suggesting intimacy; and he rides a blue Schwalbe, an iconic East German moped. Karline soon develops a crush on him which helps her rediscover her lust for life. In spite of (or because of?) their shared attraction to Wettengel, the three women become close friends. The four-way relationship is depicted in Karline’s masterpiece, a powerful reworking of Arnold Böcklin’s paintings of Tritons and Nereids of the 1870s. There is a sense of growing menace, too, as Ziva Schlott becomes the target of anti-Semitic abuse on three separate occasions.
The novella may contain some autobiographical aspects. The main character’s first name, ‘Karline’, sounds a bit like ‘Kerstin’; Karline Regenbein’s paintings use earthy pigments and mythical figures; and Kerstin Hensel’s literary works use earthy natural imagery and mythical figures. Also the name of Karline’s husband, Rüdiger Habich, could be an allusion to Kerstin Hensel’s late husband, the poet Rolf Haufs (1935-2013). Is the text a roman à clef? This biographical reading is anticipated when Ziva explains that art is a ‘parallel world’ (Nebenwelt) and that: ‘Kunst lehrt uns die Wirklichkeit verstehen, indem wir sie verlassen’ (235; ‘Art teaches us to understand reality by leaving it’). The biographical reading is also anticipated when Eduard asks Karline if she has painted Lore’s portrait, and Karline replies: ‘Alles Mögliche kann sein, wenn man sehen will’ (249; ‘Anything is possible, if you want to see it’).
Regenbeins Farben is a deeply personal fictional work in which Hensel reflects on her own artistic practice and persona, and on her own position within the ‘art market’ and, by extension, the German publishing industry.
Further Reading in German
Review of Regenbeins Farben in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, by Kristina Maidt-Zinke
Web Links in German
Kerstin Hensel reads an extract from Regenbeins Farben (17 minutes)
Video of book launch of Regenbeins Farben (1 hour 17 minutes)