Can East Berlin in the mid-1990s be the only place where History isn‘t over? Recent college graduate Christina from New York City seems to believe so.
At the Humboldt University in the former East Berlin she meets the free-spirited Meta, who runs a “salon” in an otherwise abandoned back building behind an old tenement. Young squatters had taken over the entire complex in the final years of the German Democratic Republic; now the front building has been renovated, and the former squatters have moved back in with socially subsidized leases. For Christina, the tightly-knit alternative community revolving around Meta’s salon is virtually a socialist utopia.
There she falls in love with Wolfgang, a former border guard, and spontaneously moves in with him. The East German past is omnipresent, fascinating Christina yet baffling her. Some of the ex-squatters, like Wolfgang, feel like strangers in the new Germany; others, like Meta, plunge optimistically into new projects, partying, dabbling in art or exploring the virgin territory of the Internet.
When a documentary film project takes Meta to Israel for six months, the utopia begins to deteriorate. With Meta gone, the salon falls into disuse, and there are rumors that Meta’s back building is going to be sold. Then a stranger moves in above the salon – the young, preternaturally gifted painter Vera Grünberg. Could she be the building’s new owner? Wolfgang gains the shy painter’s trust, but Vera’s background and motivations remain enigmatic. The others watch from a safe distance as she alternates between manic bouts of work and attacks of depression.
Meta returns from Israel filled with fresh energy and plans. She manages to coax Vera out of her shell and into the doings of the salon – but her interest in Vera is bound up with a new obsession. In an archive in Jerusalem Meta has learned of a miracle rabbi by the name of Grynberg who supposedly lived in this very house before the war. This revelation has catastrophic effects on Vera’s mental health, coming to a head when a genuine “miracle” occurs: during renovations in the salon, a wall begins to exude water that produces mysterious visions. The inexplicable phenomenon pulls the salon community together and sparks creative energies. Meta is inspired to create an art installation: a room with walls made of honeycombs, built in a collective act of beekeeping. At the same time, the group begins to fracture, with fears and tensions emerging and Vera withdrawing into her own world. With the arrival of Meta’s new Israeli boyfriend, Yuval, the tensions culminate in a final grisly miracle.
“Das Gift der Biene” is to be published in september 2019, galleys are available.