Brilliant political novel: Christoph Peters’ “The Sandbox”

Brilliant political novel: Christoph Peters’ “The Sandbox”

Kurt Siebenstädter is actually called Tobias Armbrüster. Or Thielko semolina. You know them. So their votes. Between five and eight in the morning and interrupted by the news, terribly funky music, morning prayers and the press review, they drive political Berlin up the wall on Deutschlandfunk. Or the people who listen to them. Gladly both. “Information in the morning” is the name of the program.

Kurt Siebenstädter is invented. He is the moderator of “Magazine in the morning”. Christoph Peters, winner of the 2018 Wolfgang Koeppen Prize, invented both. “The Sandbox” is the name of Kurt Siebenstädter’s novel about the Way of the Cross. He is 51 years old from Siebenstadt, married, one child. A man in midlife crisis in a country in crisis.

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Kurt Siebenstädter serves Peters as a drone through the West German, the Berlin greenhouse of the present. And as a kind of mental national body. As Siebenstadter and all its certainties dissolve, society dissolves.

Disintegrates into something in which he can only drown, on which he can only suffocate. That leaves him no more excuses, in which everything flexible and fluid has suddenly hardened, in which there is no room for someone who believes in nothing, a skeptic who equally doubts everything. In which, who does not take a side of certainties, is crushed on all sides. Siebenstadt time is running out. Is over. And in the end he knows that just as much as Felix Keetenheuve. Doesn’t turn out well either.

Christian Doermer as Felix Keetenheuve in the film

Christian Doermer as Felix Keetenheuve in the film “The Greenhouse”

Quelle: picture alliance / Keystone

The thing about the Koeppen Prize is important. Koeppen had a significant influence on Peters. “The Sandbox” is a kind of remake, a razor-sharp, modernized paraphrase of Koeppen’s first and mercilessly nasty portrait of the early Federal Republic.

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“Das Treibhaus” was published in 1953. Felix Keetenheuve was called Koeppen’s Siebenstädter. The city was Bonn. The SPD politician Keetenheuve – a trained journalist who returned to the young democracy from exile as an idealist – perished in it, in the burgeoning intrigues of the political system and in himself. Felix Keetenheuve suffocated in the swamp of corruption and restoration. Didn’t end well.

24 hours to go down

Not for Keetenheuve. And not for the country. In the “Treibhaus” – the beginning of a “trilogy of failure” – Koeppen allowed wild shoots into the poisonous weed of what he found in the narrow world of West German democracy, analyzed the morass on which it all grew. The novel exploded in the young republic.

Wolfgang Koeppen followed his probe into the sinking for two days. Christoph Peters is enough with his 24 hours, everything has just become a little faster.

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It’s November 9, 2020. It’s been 31 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The date is more or less coincidental. Peters wanted the novel to take place on the exact day he began writing it. The news of the day accompanies Siebenstadter’s inner and outer odyssey through a crumbling public sphere like a breaking news bar.

Peters uses Koeppen’s novel as a kind of game manual, builds the “sandbox” like Koeppen’s “Treibhaus” from five chapters, uses quotes from the same authors for the motto of the novel that Koeppen put at the beginning of his novel. Like Koeppen, he assembles his reality from the material of political reality.

Peters turned the game material, the characters as well as the thought figures of the system he is talking about, much more resolutely into the grotesque, but without going too far from the true and at least journalistically guaranteed reality in the broadcasting stations and in the parliamentary offices and the party headquarters to move away.

Wolfgang Kubicki is also in it

Wolfgang Kubicki sits barely camouflaged in Christoph Peters’ “sandbox”.

Source: Martin UK Lengemann/WELT

Almost everyone who plays along in this sandbox and scrambles for the biggest molds are reflections from the current present. The SPD health expert, a “hypochondriacal obsessive-compulsive” with a penchant for British tailoring.

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The party leader of the Liberals, whose name is Buchner, considers the man from Siebenstadt “an ice-cold power man, a hard-nosed tactician, a vain pretty boy”, but somehow likes him. In contrast to his colleagues from the north by the name of Radunski, who – the upper puke of the liberals – operates as a “gentleman’s joke incarnate”.

The SPD headquarters appears in Peter’s purgatory of political depravity as the kind of slaughterhouse for left-wing ideals and careers. Jens Spahn appears barely camouflaged and Christian Drosten. Incidentally, “The Sandbox” is of course also perhaps the first serious Corona novel.

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In any case, one cannot accuse Peters of partiality. There are no bright spots in his panopticon of German democracy. Because they don’t exist. This has hardly changed in the decades since the “greenhouse”. Or it’s just leveled back to him now.

The political system is spinning in and out of itself. What happens in the world, in the country, doesn’t really matter. Democracy is a power machine without conscience and reason. And everyone involved in it, shaping it, leading it, defending it or accompanying it critically, only works for their own benefit.

By the way, the most enigmatic figure in the game is Marie Andriessen, the hope of the left in the SPD, a – don’t be alarmed, please – difficult to describe mixture of Sahra Wagenknecht and Andrea Nahles in the body of Dorothea Bär. Siebenstädter – basically sexually receptive like Felix Keetenheuve – fantasizes about having an affair with her.

The new greenhouse: view from the bridge that connects the Paul-Löbe-Haus with the Jakob-Kaiser-Haus.  In the background the Reichstag

The new greenhouse: view from the bridge that connects the Paul-Löbe-Haus with the Jakob-Kaiser-Haus. In the background the Reichstag

Source: picture alliance / akg-images / Foedrowitz Collection

What makes him shy away is the moral rigor that has returned to the country, especially on the internet. A new restoration rears its head from social media. It eats him up, the skeptic who doesn’t believe in anything, who pokes the sting against all certainties, doesn’t mince his words, who wants to cast doubt on everything with his questions.

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He is crushed between the fronts of the absolute certainty of the present. His business model – asking all sides inappropriate questions regardless of position and positioning – is dead, it is under suspicion on all sides. No matter what he does from his favorite position between the chairs, what he asks – he’s sure of a shitstorm.

Where this has to end is not only foreseeable for the few scattered people who still know the fate of Felix Keetelheuve in the “Treibhaus”, which was told to the end in a similarly consistent manner. One follows the movement profile of Kurt Siebenstädter into the downfall with a strange enthusiasm.

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Strange, because one wonders why one now has to encounter in a novel what one can hardly endure in the television news or the “information in the morning”. That comes quickly. The pull sets in early.

Christoph Peters playfully intertwines Siebenstädter’s biography with urban sociology and political satire, edited, blinding. Find a fabulous tone for this shifting world. And creates scenes that cannot even be admired in “Borgen” in terms of analytical sharpness and satirical system exposure.

Peters will not explode Berlin with the “sandbox” like Koeppen Bonn did with the “greenhouse”. However, he will drive it up the wall. Hopefully.


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