When the German teacher becomes the boss
Playing “Age of Empires” all night long and reading Stifter at school in the morning? Anyone who thinks that this can’t go well should read Tonio Schachinger’s “Echtzeitalter”, a coming-of-age story of the present.
SAs long as you’re a student, school is terrible. However, once you have finished school, you remember her more wistfully from year to year. All the harassment, detentions, afternoon detentions, teacher jokes at the expense of the students, all the fear that has been endured again and again, of being tested, shamed, reprimanded, rejected as at a daily judgment day, all of this congeals into a treasure trove of scary-funny stories and anecdotes ready for class reunions. Or a novel.
In Tonio Schachinger’s new novel “Echtzeitalter” the ruthless judge of the world is only called “the Dolinar”. At the Viennese high school Marianum he is a teacher for German and French, a pedantic, sadistic, Austrian-arch-conservative drummer of the old school, who lets his defenseless victims draw genealogies of the deceased imperial family for afternoons when they mistake a ruler. His highest praise for the thoroughly teachable student Till is: “Why not always like that?”
Despite his intelligence, Till has a particularly difficult time, because he is a passionate gamer and a real size in the small, elite “Age of Empires” community. Nothing worse for the dolinar than a passion beyond his control. Conversely, the more depressing everyday school and family life becomes, the more tempting it is for Till to flee into the “real-time” world of strategy games.
However, this vicious circle is not presented as a problem in the novel, but as a normal development phase of contemporary biographies, to which adults naturally cannot have access. When Till proudly shows his mother – who was single after the early death of his father – the complete YouTube video of his triumphantly won competition, it’s like contact with extraterrestrials for them. The great appeal of the novel lies in its linguistically zoomed-in schoolyard perspective between PC, smoking corner and shisha bar.
In terms of narrative, Schachinger remains obedient in the chronological and dramaturgically simple genre scheme of the Bildungsroman, as if the book had to be presented to the Dolinar for the literary history examination at the end: Coming of Age of Empires.
The experimental possibilities that could result from a total immersion in virtual worlds are not used in the slightest, game world and reality always remain clearly distinguishable, despite the novel’s title. Generation colleagues like Juan S. Guse (“Miami Punk”) or Sascha Macht (“Spyderling”) went further here.
The attractive idea of reading the school itself as a map, as a horror video game or escape game is at best alluded to: Till and his fellow sufferers overcome the school wall and other obstacles several times in extreme time trouble in order to get a reclam booklet from the boss Dolinar in time for the German lesson To find Stifter’s “Brigitta”. In the end, however, everything turns out the same as always: first love, last exam, school is over, and the horror can become harmless narrative material.
Tonio Schachinger: “Real Age”. Rowohlt, 368 pages, 24 euros.
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