The desire was great – but then it was there: summer. And there’s also a romance that matches that carefree, raging season. “The Big Summer” by Ewald Arenz has been on the bestseller list for weeks. But for him, that was about 40 years ago. Young Frieder lives his first love, his first mourning and his first jump from the seven-and-a-half-meter tower of the swimming pool. A seditious and touching book. Jan Draeger spoke with writer Ewald Arenz.
Free Press: Mr. Arenz, this summer you can feel a great sigh of relief. Do you feel the same?
Ewald Arenz: That sigh of relief still seems a bit reserved to me, but I think it will grow stronger. In the street, I often hear old people shouting, “Well, have you been vaccinated? That seems to be this year’s greeting.
What do you associate with summer?
A feeling of anarchy and freedom. A feeling of “You could do anything”.
In your novel, you look back at a summer in the early 1980s. Your protagonist, young Frieder, experienced many things for the first time during this period: love, death, grief and the first leap of life. seven and a half meter lap in the pool …
For me as a teenager, it was the time when I was always on the go for the first time, seeing friends and chatting about nights. But at that time, I also felt that those first times could be fewer. And I asked myself: what do you get out of life when the tension is gone, when you’re 28 or 29?
Are there any first times for you today?
Not as often, but a lot more often than I thought. Unlike my novel, for example, I only jumped from a seven-and-a-half-meter tower into the pool for the first time when I was in my 50s. In Nuremberg, a club had organized a celebrity jump, with the aim of promoting learning to swim for children from socially disadvantaged families. In my pride, I accepted.
What were you thinking when you were standing?
The shit is so high! But then I thought others had already jumped. It can’t happen to you. There is only water there. But I only go down on foot.
How – no head?
I didn’t dare to do that. But I also described this feeling of immersion in my book. Because it’s much deeper than you might think. It’s four or five meters below. And that scares you a little.
Now with your hand on your heart, like your fictional character, did you also go to the pool at night as a teenager?
Naturally. With a big throbbing though. It was a twelve minute action: over the fence, briefly in the water, and immediately again. But then I got the feeling: I did it!
Did you write your summer vacation novel during summer vacation?
(laughs) I started in the summer, that’s true, but most of it was done in the winter. In the great nostalgia for summer.
You are not only a writer, you are also a teacher. What subjects do you teach?
English and history. Being a teacher can very well be combined with writing. For the past 20 years, however, I have been writing mainly on my books during school holidays and on weekends. Which was a bit to the detriment of the family.
If you compare that summer 40 years ago in your novel to a summer today, what is different for young people now?
Meetings have become much more fleeting. Before, you were really stressed out when you didn’t show up for a date. Today you just write on your cell phone: “I can’t now.” It also seems to me that at the time we had a lot more time and the experience of friendship was more intense.
Why did you want to write a summer novel?
When I spoke to my editor I said it would be exciting to write about a time when everything gets so intense because you change, grow. Twenty years ago, I couldn’t or wouldn’t have written this novel. I always felt that as a writer I drew on my childhood and youth, but the older I got the more that feeling grew.
Writers often say that their novels are fiction and have nothing to do with their own life. But has there been a summer in your life that you will never forget?
Like Frieder in my book, I come from a large family. I am the oldest of seven siblings. Once, in 1980, my mother took us to the Baltic Sea in an old Hanomag bus. In addition to us brothers and sisters there were three friends, two Irish setters and two Siamese cats. We felt like a circus troupe. And the freedom that you felt there, that “being alone and being able to do what you wanted”, it was exciting. We could talk forever about how to make the world a better place after you grow up.
And you fell in love this summer?
Not until a year later. It was not a summer love, but a summer love. I waited for hours in front of my beloved’s house. But she did not come out. When I wrote my novel, I wanted this love to come true.
So has your own summer been a disappointment?
Like Frieder in my novel, I was with my grandparents. Unlike him, I was pretty much alone. But it was a kind of awakening experience. I just toured the city on my bike in the afternoon. And I made discoveries that later influenced my life as a writer. Not much happened outside, but inside I found it very exciting. During this time, I started to write poems and short stories.
Do you know what happened to the girl?
No. At one point, I googled the name. But it was a common name. So I don’t know what happened to her. Then I was no longer in the class she was in. I was not a good student. It took me 15 years to go to school.
Have you been stuck twice – and still become a teacher?
It relaxes my students a lot. If I have to give someone a five in English, I say, “I failed Grade 10 in English, Math, Physics, Latin and French.
How do you bring literature to your students?
For example, in high school, they have to read “Romeo and Juliet” in English. First, I try to make the entrance scene acceptable to them – the way the guys over there explode with their swords. Then, when my students hear all the jokes Shakespeare makes to lure his audience, they get a little excited. And then you can take them with you in this tender love story that suddenly arises.
Do your students read your books?
No one in class would openly say that they have read one of my novels. Then he would be reproached: “So you read Arenz’s book! Probably only to get 15 points …” But it happens that one of my students says in passing: “M. do you still need it?”
Rather easy …
We have a laid back tone. I like this.
You described summer in your novel in three beautiful but succinct sentences: “We looked at the sky out the window. A contrail has passed into the blue. Summer. You don’t like long elegiac summer contemplations?
It depends a bit on the context in which I find it. In his novels “Rheinsberg” or “Schloss Gripsholm”, Kurt Tucholsky also throws such small images when he walks past. Two or three sentences, then summer is already sketched out and taking shape in the mind’s eye. Right now, however, I’m reading a book by a young author, Lorenz Just, which means “Rooftop” and it also talks about a summer when I was young. And the summer descriptions are much more complete, I like that too. It’s not cheesy at all, it’s very intense.
What other summer reading can you recommend?
Can you also recommend science fiction? There is a very nice novel called “Summer Goes” by Michael Coney. It takes place in a parallel world, on a planet where summer lasts for many decades and is now gradually coming to an end. I also like “Hard Land” by Benedict Wells. We are often compared to each other and thought I should read it now. But for me the ideal summer story remains “Rheinsberg” by Kurt Tucholsky.
Your sister Sigrun Arenz and your brother Helwig Arenz are also writers. How is it that three children in a family write books?
It has to do with my father being a pastor. The word counts there. But it’s also because my mother read us a lot.
Who can read one of your books first – your brother or sister?
More like my brother. Because he is also an actor and therefore has a very good sense for the development of the character. It helps me a lot. My sister is allowed to read it too, but she does not give such specific comments.
How and where are you going to spend this summer?
Mainly in the office. At the end of August, I will combine a reading tour with a bike tour through Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Brandenburg. I really like this region. It’s summer for me too …
… like chive bread too? Reading about it in your novel will whet your appetite.
There is nothing like simple pleasures. My bread dough is already made, and it’s going to be baked tonight. And when my son comes home, I go down to the garden and cut some chives. Then he gets the last piece of freshly baked bread with butter and chives.
What should we remember from this summer to fall and winter?
A smile. And a little summer relaxation. It would do us good in many ways
He was born on November 26, 1965 in Nuremberg.
After graduating from high school, he first studied law. However, he later decides to become a teacher and takes the subjects English, American and history.
Today he is professor of English and history at the Johannes-Scharrer-Gymnasium in Nuremberg.
He first appeared as a writer in 1994 with his collection of stories “Der Golem von Fürth”. In the years that followed he also wrote novels, such as “Le parfum du chocolat” in 2007. In 2020, his novel “Old Varieties” will be one of the best-selling paperback books in Germany.
He is today one of the most productive and successful writers in southern Germany, with a total circulation of over a quarter of a million books sold.
Arenz received the Bavarian Art Prize in 2004, the City of Nuremberg Prize for Art and Science in 2005 and the City of Fürth Prize for Culture in 2007.
In addition to his literary work, he hosted for many years the literary program “Das Ferienfeuilleton” on the Bayern 2 radio station and organized numerous literary events in his home country.
He has three children, the eldest son is 31, the daughter 27 and the youngest 17.
The writer lives near Fürth.