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Michael Kumpfmüller: "Man only learns when it's up to his neck"

Michael Kumpfmüller: "Man only learns when it's up to his neck"
Foto: © Joachim Gern

Michael Kumpfmüller is a Berlin author and is shimmying from success to success - starting with his debut novel "Hampels Fluchten" in 2000, continuing with "Die Herrlichkeit des Lebens" and "Nachricht an alle". We asked ourselves: What does an author do in times of Corona? Does everything remain as before? What changes? A conversation.
 

INTERVIEW   Boris Messing   


 

CCB Magazine: Mr. Kumpfmüller, good day! Already written today?

Michael Kumpfmüller:Yes, of course. Like almost every day. 

CCB Magazine:As a writer, you spend a large part of your time alone in a room or in a quiet place. Has the Corona crisis changed anything about your work situation at all?

Michael Kumpfmüller:At first sight, no, but actually yes. It depends on the point at which a person is hit by the crisis. In my case, I had just published a new book and suddenly all my readings were cancelled. And I was already a bit desperate - and started working on a new novel overnight, which I probably wouldn't have done without despair and lockdown! I had been planning the novel for quite some time, but the general situation, which wasn't very nice, gave it a premature push. From this point of view, the crisis was favourable for me, especially since all my social contacts were limited. I really can't remember ever having written as concentrated and joyful and, above all, as quickly as in the past three months.

CCB Magazine:A writer, painter or composer may be used to being alone. Others are not. How much time with himself can a person take? Can't too much self-reflection become an ordeal?

Michael Kumpfmüller:Let me put it this way: the more addicted you are to the possibilities of consumption, and here I include opera and theatre just as much as cinemas or shopping malls, so the more you feel dependent on these things, the more unhappy you are in such a situation. That's not an accusation, that's just the way it is. The astonishing thing is that when things disappear, they only regain their value. In principle, I think this is a good lesson. 

I really can't remember ever having written as concentrated and joyful and, above all, as quickly as in the past three months

Photo © Joachim Gern

CCB Magazine:Some of your readings are now cancelled. How important are readings for an author's self-advertising and wallet?

Michael Kumpfmüller:First of all: I love readings, they give me great pleasure! I had about forty dates, most of them were cancelled, a few were postponed, three took place on the net. A reading in Switzerland was paid for, although it did not take place. Economically, of course, it was a catastrophe. But when I realized that I could not change things, I gave in - and started writing the new book.

CCB Magazine:Do you think that the Corona crisis has led to people spending more time reading? The total turnover of the book trade in Germany last year was around 9.13 billion euros - compared to the previous year, that was an increase of around three million euros. There are 80,000 new publications in Germany every year. Will book sales go through the roof even more now?

Michael Kumpfmüller:No. I don't think so. Well, we'll see. As far as the cultural industry is concerned, it remains to be seen whether everything that was before will still be - from the bookstores to the performers. The Corona crisis is hitting bookshops and publishing houses particularly hard. 

CCB Magazine:You have a PhD in history and have lived in Berlin since 1986. You probably experienced the fall of the Berlin Wall and much more. How do you place the Corona Crisis in German history in comparison to other incisive events? 

Michael Kumpfmüller:It's hard to say, given the state of affairs today. But if it is true that in the age of globalization we are all linked together in a mode of dependance, then the Corona crisis is an experience that makes this explicit in a very drastic way. If at some point there is a vaccine, Corona may disappear from our minds relatively quickly, but then the much bigger question remains of how we can save our planet from us humans. And here we can be curious whether the current pandemic will lead to a new global solidarity or to a strengthening of nationalist impulses. There are signs of both. Crises, whether private or social, are learning options to avoid the word opportunity for once. But they only become an opportunity when more people learn from them than do not learn. We now know how vulnerable we are. This is a good prerequisite for an awareness that is ready to learn.

CCB Magazine:I also find it interesting that the climate crisis, which is the much more existential crisis, has remained relatively invisible to us compared to Corona. We have hot summers, of course, but the consequences are still hard for us to comprehend - the devastation of whole swathes of land, conflicts over water, mass migration and so on. This is still very abstract and much more difficult to grasp than Corona deaths. And - oh, now I have no question about it.

Michael Kumpfmüller:That's all right. What I can say about the question you did not ask is that, as a matter of principle, we must take note of the fact that the individual, in our case the inhabitant of a highly capitalist zone of wealth, currently has no concrete reason to change anything, because the consequences may not affect him or her at all during his or her lifetime, or just the others elsewhere. Unfortunately, people usually only learn when they are personally affected. The central question is whether the phase of ignorance can be shortened by the Corona experience. Because we know that we are vulnerable - as individuals and as society. My feeling tells me that there will be a moment of acceleration.

We can be curious whether the current pandemic will lead to a new global solidarity or to a strengthening of nationalist impulses. There are signs of both

CCB Magazine:Let's hope so. Mr. Kumpfmüller, finally, tell us what you are writing about? 

Michael Kumpfmüller:Well, that's half a secret. I'm writing an extensive social novel, which is set in Berlin and, above all, will hopefully be one thing: very funny. 

CCB Magazine:Oh, I always find funny difficult. 

Michael Kumpfmüller:That's why I'm doing it. If it was easy, I wouldn't do it, then I don't care. I'm very happy writing, so I'm confident.

Rubrik: Im Profil

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