New novel by Paula Irmschler: Two women, no drama

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Written By Maya Cantina

Paula Irmschler talks about mother and daughter, with love for neuroses. “Everything always comes through then” sets a new tone in East German literature.

The author Paula Irmschler in front of a quite colorful background

Bestselling author since “Superbuses”: Paula Irmschler Photo: Chris Schalko

The relationship between mother and daughter is charged – psychologically and pop-culturally. But could this relationship be told simply as the story of two women who are somehow linked by chance by birth? And could you also tell an East German story that does not explain every emotion with the GDR or the transformation experiences of the 1990s? That’s exactly what Paula Irmschler tries to do in her new novel ‘It’s all because of then’.

In the second literary work of the mother and daughter from Dresden, they have not spoken to each other for two years. The reason doesn’t seem to be anything special. In any case, as a reader you will not find out. Daughter Karla, 30 years old, moved to Cologne for love. Mother Gerda, 60 years old, still lives in Leipzig, where Karla grew up.

Karla’s other siblings – Gerda’s three other children – give them both a weekend together in Hamburg for their birthday, including tickets to the “Lion King”.

The reaction to the gift characterizes the two women quite well. Overwhelmed, Karla immediately puts the trip aside and takes a long time to accept or reject it. Gerda doesn’t feel like going on a trip either, but she takes it. One person prefers to hide in her apartment, wants to have children and start a family with her partner. The other is happy that he has finally brought the children in and wants to do something, to the so-called Wuling. One is “a boomer in the body of a millennial” – the other is the other way around.

Paula Irmschler, born in 1989, knows her way around Millennials. With your Debut novel “Superbuses” The Cologne native became a bestselling author in 2020. In it she talks about the coming of age of a young woman whose main facts are similar to hers: born in Dresden, studied in Chemnitz. In ‘It’s all because of that’, Irmschler delves into the world of her parents’ generation in detail.

Irmschler can do comedy

These are the people who were left behind in 1989 with small children and had to find their way and function in a new world. And who in the old world were not terribly dissatisfied. Quite the opposite. Shortly before Karla’s birth and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Gerda was at her happiest. But then everything turned out differently. Did that lead to the distant relationship between mother and daughter? There is nothing about this in the book.

The novel ‘It’s all because of then’ is a portrait of two women. Irmschler devotes his own chapters to Karla and Gerda and draws them very lovingly, each separately, as independent people with their own thoughts and not in constant friction with each other. Of course there are similarities. For example, the humor in relation to their situation. Irmschler can do comedy. For a time she was editor of the Titanic, She currently works as an author for “Neo Magazine Royale”.

Irmschler describes young Karla in more detail about her obsessive-compulsive disorder. Everything needs to be further reduced or cleaned up; she’s still quite lost in the world. But Gerda also has her dramas. Another relationship has just ended and she lights a cigarette in a slightly theatrical way, wants to start something new again, is of course interested in her children, but sometimes they just irritate her.

Is this coexistence, this non-fixation on each other, East German? Gerda knows from her new neighbor Aylin that mothers in the West raised their children for a shorter period of time. It was normal for Gerda to work and raise four children at the same time. It was normal for Karla to grow up like this.

Move! Lack of self-perception!

In the book “Three East German women get drunk and found the ideal state,” co-author Annett Gröschner tells about an event with psychotherapist Hannes Uhlemann: “He said that when people from the West come to his practice, the first thing they do is criticize their mother. And if they are people from the East, they say: my childhood was normal, I was outside a lot.”

Friends of psychoanalysis will throw up their hands. Move! Lack of self-perception! And of course: a lack of coming to terms with the past! Paula Irmschler also describes Karla’s childhood with a basic tone of ‘normal’, just like Gerda’s life in the GDR and the violence they both experienced. What happened wasn’t always good, but it happened. This is evident from a very pragmatic attitude to life, much here and now with an East German influence, some of which is not so exclusively East German.

Issues such as housing shortages and lack of money due to a lack of property and inheritances are also a starting point for West Germans. Just like the issue of working mothers. Because not everyone in West Germany can and can afford to be a housewife.

With her sharp look at the desires and fears of her protagonists, Paula Irmschler succeeds in setting her own tone within the ranks of recent East German literature. Here an author talks about people who don’t need to be used for a big story. GDR, reunification, transformation – everything appears in this novel. Also expressions such as ‘mährt’ or ‘abkindern’, which are not immediately understandable without Saxon origins or GDR history.

There is no reconciliation

However, all this comes without pathos or pedagogical demands, but rather as a sober biographical component. Ultimately, “everything is always thanks to then” – we are who we are because of then. This will not change in East Germany for generations, nor in the West.

The great reconciliation between mother and daughter almost logically does not occur in this book. They share a few more stories with each other, and it’s quite forgiving. Perhaps that is the desirable status of intra-German East-West relations: a de facto connection to seasonal anger.

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