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Loveable losers in the Ruhrpott

Author and cabarettist Frank Goosen talks with Iris Alanyali.

Tumult in Germany's ruling SPD. First Chairman Franz Müntefering breaks ranks by launching a damning critique of capitalism (in which he compares hedge funders to locusts). Then the party suffers a dramatic defeat in the state elections in North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany's most populous state and a former stronghold of the "worker's party". As a result, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) has decided to push federal elections forward a year, to the fall of 2005. Overnight, Germany finds itself in the midst of a federal election campaign that the conservative CDU seems guaranteed to win. But according to writer and comedian Frank Goosen, those who set the process in motion have greater things on their minds: like soccer.

Die Welt: Since "Liegen lernen" ("Learning to Lie") and "Pokorny lacht", novels about the fight for survival of lovable losers in the Ruhrpott, you have been named a "brilliant raconteur of manly abyss". What's going on in Bochum at the moment?

Frank Goosen: I think Bochumers are more concerned about the totally unnecessary descent of the VfL (the Bochum soccer club) into the second league than the results of the election, from which nobody expected very much - other than the CDU supporters.

NRW soccer teams never have much luck. Is misery also an opportunity, after which things have to get better?

Don't forget: Borussia Dortmund was German champion twice and it won the Champion's League, and Schalke (the team of Gelsenkirchen) has also shown Europe a thing or two. And misery is never an opportunity. It sucks when your own club drops down a league - no denying it. Then you can be sarcastic with songs like: "We do down, we go up, and in between the UEFA Cup!" But we shouldn't just make fun. A very good film on the VfL fans asks: Who needs a champagne breakfast with Real Madrid? I say: me!

And how does one feel after having brought the Chancellor down? Do you think some voters are regretting their vote after the new federal elections were announced?

No, it was too decisive for that. This kind of surprising, cocky offensive defence goes over well, especially here in the Ruhrpott. Whether it's enough to keep a 60 year old from premature retirement is doubtful. But anyway, Schröder could go down in German history as the first Chancellor to make a graceful exit. That counts for something – even in Bochum.

Like the capitalism critique...

The shocking thing about the so-called capitalism critique was that the locusts act as though they were caught red-handed, while it should be most clear to precisely them that no policy will ever result from all the blabber. Meanwhile the evilly-gagged members of party known as the SPD heaved a collective sigh of relief. A tough case of an oppressed personality reached a head: finally we could say what we actually mean! The SPD can finally be the SPD again!

Did the Ruhrpott take vengeance on its own party? Why now? After all, the last 39 years weren't exactly rosy.

When you stand on the Gasometer in Oberhausen with the Audio Guide in your ear, a friendly voice invites you to look around and imagine that in Oberhausen alone, 120,000 people once worked in steel – and today nobody does. If you think about the fact that in the 50s, almost 500,000 people were mining and today it's about 40,000! The fact that this region is not a total slum, and that the much talked-of "structural change" occurred without blood being spilled is an accomplishment that social democracy can wear with pride. But that's not to deny the massive problems. Today it's being said that the whole process was too softly cushioned but I don't even want to think about how things would look here if it had been done differently.

CDUer Jürgen Rüttgers says, "I am the Chairman of the workers party in North Rhine-Westphalia!". Where is the the authentic Ruhrpott to be found?

Is Bavaria still a state of Alpine farmers? No. Nonetheless, they still like to dance around, slapping their lederhosened asses. What I mean is this: they stylise themselves and what they consider to be traditions and customs. And that's exactly what's happening now in the Ruhrpott. For several generations, life was nothing more than work, and this attitude was passed on in the genes. Our generation watched our fathers destroy themselves with work and we don't aspire to that. And still, we climb up to the top of the former blast furnaces at Meiderich North and get all proud. Sometimes I feel as though I myself drove into the Prosper Haniel to dig the black gold out of the earth's lap with my bare hands. For decades the talk was of bad air, ugly cities, ugly people who only had fries, beer and soccer on their minds, while the municipality countered: "A strong piece of Germany". And so green! Today there's a new self-confidence: we're audacious, we're loud and we get things done. Whether it's true or not – we're stylising ourselves. With mining lamps rather than lederhose.

Your new novel "Pink Moon" is the sad story of a man looking for his lost father. That seems symbolic now, somehow. Has the Ruhrpott lost its legal guardian with the loss of the SPD? Is this the beginning of a new kind of seriousness?

Yeah, for sure. And the fun society is dead, and the postwar era is finally over - for the twelfth time. All nonsense. The Ruhrpott grew up and left home long ago.


The writer Frank Goosen was born in 1969 in Bochum, grew up there and continues to live there. He is both a writer and an award-winning cabaret artist. "Liegen Lernen" was made into a film: "Learning to Lie". His latest novel "Pink Moon" from Eichborn will appear in August.

This article
was originally published in German in Die Welt on Wednesday May 25, 2005.

translation: nb

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