Literature: Dörte Hansen drives in her new novel "Zur See"

Ryckmer Sander freezes beforehand.

Literature: Dörte Hansen drives in her new novel "Zur See"

Ryckmer Sander freezes beforehand. The no longer quite young North Frisian with lost captain's license, who works as a deckhand on an island ferry, is never dressed warmly enough.

He always wears only a jacket that looks like it belonged to his ancestors - hat and gloves are definitely not an option for the son of the unnamed island.

Despite the salty icy cold that prevails in the small ports. With clammy fingers, a cigarette between his lips and his alcoholism, Ryckmer, who is attractive to women, feels prepared for "the great freeze" - the ultimate catastrophe that will come one day.

Good and bad changes

"The big storm, the big flood or the one big wave. If you can't freeze then, you're already lost." This is how Dörte Hansen writes it, the 58-year-old North Frisian living near Husum in Schleswig-Holstein and the author of two bestselling novels that describe the structural change in the north of the republic ("Altes Land" and "Mittagsstunden", as a film with Charly Hübner currently in the cinemas).

Well, "Zur See" (Penguin Verlag, Munich, in stores from September 28) is about life by and on the sea - in the present, in the past and a little bit in the future. In fact, the existence and togetherness of islanders have long been subject to major changes.

Not only because of the existential fact that the men no longer go whaling for months, during which many of them lost their lives. And at the end of which they brought their wives, who were probably waiting for them with the children, the big whale teeth that have been used as garden fences for thatched Frisian houses ever since.

Many an islander saw "the great white wall" before he died at sea, which Ryckmer also encountered - and which is in his bones. No, nowadays, as Hansen realizes, it is the tourists who, with their fun on the beach, their twilight cruises with crew dressed as sailors, their purchases of old houses (which then often stand empty), are destroying the traditional, but not quite so noble island life.

And with their demands - especially on the weather. Because these "tourists" are usually people who can't freeze. And that's exactly where the author, who according to interview statements ("Hamburger Abendblatt" from September 24) has decades of experience on the North Sea island as a holiday guest, is divided.

Polished Characters

Hansen, who studied Frisian at the university in Kiel, among other things, talks about the ancestors in particular. About their mental imprints and the very ambiguous consequences that the change has for them. As well as some new additions like the torn pastor family Lehmann, whose wives go back to the mainland. At its core, the story, told in artistic, concise, sometimes breathless language, revolves around the completely differently dysfunctional, but somehow - each in their own way - also brave Sander family.

There is the mother Hanne Sander, who hyperactively wants to hold the fort. Which let vacationers live in their children's rooms during the season - as long as they were still satisfied with private accommodation and didn't want a wellness spa. Today, Hanne runs a local museum in part of her house, which is considered to be the oldest and most beautiful on the island. Her husband Jens, who used to go to sea, has been living alone in the Vogelkoje for 20 years and preparing dead animals.

Son Ryckmer, the deckhand, has moved back in with his mother at the age of 40 - and she buys him his bottled beer, strictly rationed. Daughter Eske, a heavy metal fan, full body tattooed, wistfully protective and loving, works in a retirement home and has a shaky relationship with a tattoo specialist on the mainland.

Hanne's youngest son Henrik also didn't really find his place. Always a bit strange, he makes figures out of flotsam in a shed that others consider art and pay a lot of money for. One day - it almost seems like an omen - a dead young whale strands on the island, causing a lot of excitement. And then it really comes to the great catastrophe. Against which, however, no warm coat would help. That's life - not only at the sea.

Dörte Hansen: "At sea". The book will be published by Penguin Verlag, Munich, on September 28th. 256 pages, price: 24 euros.

Dorte Hansen