Translator’s note: Taking its name from the feminist punk band co-founded by the main protagonist, Superbusen follows Gisela, a woman in her early twenties who moves from Dresden to Chemnitz to study. Paula Irmschler’s debut novel blends pop culture with politics, exploring female friendships, music, and heartbreak against the backdrop of life in post-reunification Saxony. In this extract, Gisela returns to her hometown to attend a protest against a neo-Nazi march and reflects upon her relationship with the city’s history.
Whilst Leipzig was the cool city you traveled to for concerts and parties, we only ever visited Dresden for demonstrations. We usually went to protest against the big neo-Nazi march on 13th February, when Nazis from all over Europe gathered to ‘mourn’ the bombing of beautiful Dresden by the evil Allies. The middle classes were always sad too, for the same reason; they lit a sea of candles, warning against the horrors of war in general. Together with those on the right, they fought against their common enemy: Antifa, who dared to name the chief culprits.
Every year this day was either one of celebration or mourning for all Saxons, and you had to pick your side. February 13th is coming up. It’ll be February 13th again soon. What happened on February 13th again? Will you be there on February 13th? And so on and so forth. In school we collected money for the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche. We had to. There was a bake sale, and you also had to bring at least three euros. If you forgot, you were told to bring three euros with you the next day, or else. After all, it was for us, for our city, for our Dresden, our heritage, our duty, our future. When I was very young, there was still some rubble lying around Neumarkt. It actually looked really cool. Then as the rubble disappeared, there were endless discussions about what the new Frauenkirche should look like and whether it was even a good idea to rebuild it, or whether it shouldn’t just be turned into a memorial. I didn’t give a shit about buildings and three euros wasn’t exactly a small sum of money. They made a similar fuss about the Waldschlösschen Bridge, and again the issue was whether or not our beautiful Dresden was now becoming more beautiful or uglier thanks to the new architecture. In spite of all the fuss, the biggest argument of all never went away; whether Dresden had been the victim or the perpetrator in 1945.
As a child, I was still sure that we were the victims. There were those horrible stories told in kindergarten and primary school: the air raid alarm that had come from nowhere and forced everyone out of bed and into the cellars. The animals in the zoo had perished in the most horrible way, which for me as a child was the worst imaginable thing about it all. The bombs had dropped just like that and then at some point people had copies of Richard Peter’s Dresden: a Camera Accuses on their shelves, but they themselves accused the British above all. The fear that we could be struck by bombs overnight left such a mark on me that I would lie awake at night, listening out for an alarm anywhere. I had laid out my dolls and other possessions close enough to my bed so that if the worst came to the worst, I could quickly pack them up and take them with me. Then, twenty years later, we raged against this supposed victimhood with the cry “Bomber Harris, do it again.” Well, that’s one way of growing up, too.
The nicest February 13th was in 2013. A few weeks earlier, a group of women had publicly begun to call for it to be made into a day of remembrance to commemorate the split of Take That. After all, the band had broken up on 13th February 1996, and in doing so had claimed countless victims. They called for a memorial and an hour of commemoration at the Frauenkirche. Of course, nothing came of the memorial, but the hour of commemoration did take place. They laid down teddy bears, lit candles, and sang ‘Back For Good’. Needless to say, the police chased the group off. This was how ‘Back For Good’ became the 13th February anthem for Antifa, until the day became less important thanks to successful efforts to block them.
Then the anti-Islamic group Pegida became a thing and with it came trouble every week. Whilst some people from Chemnitz still traveled to Dresden for this as well, I gave it a miss. After all, we soon had our own spin-off: Cegida.
We are driving towards Dresden in Stefan’s car. When we arrive at the state parliament building, there are some 50 counterprotesters there; we don’t see any Nazis. Eventually there are around fifteen of them, on our side there are around 100. Perhaps there aren’t any more Antifa members than that in Dresden these days. Konstantin, who we know from earlier protests, tells us that support has declined and they need new blood. In the end, the people running Dresden Nazifrei were completely burnt out, he says. According to him, these days many of them want to campaign for a ‘colourful Dresden’ and to feel like they’re doing something positive, but no one wants to be seen as a ‘left wing extremist’. Lots of people on the left just come here to study and then move on. I feel seen.
Luckily nothing more happens that day. There’s lots of empty talk and everyone’s on the alert, but the Nazis aren’t that dumb. It would be tactically stupid to take to the streets again today because this time there really are a lot of police about. Old Philipp traipses through the frame again and takes his photos. A couple of Pegida grandads tell us that we should get jobs. Whatever.
On the way home, Stefan, Selma and I want to stop at McDonald’s, but Jana doesn’t because she wants to lose weight. I’m annoyed, but then my embarrassing thoughts from last night cross my mind again. Who am I to judge her?
Excerpted from Paula Irmschler, Superbusen, Claassen-Verlag, 2020.