22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Steffen Mensching

Portrait Steffen Mensching

Steffen Mensching was born in 1958 in East Berlin. He took cultural studies at the Humboldt-Universität, was a member of the musical theater group Karls Enkel, and together with Hans-Eckardt Wenzel created clownish cabaret programs, including »Letztes aus der DaDaeR«, which was adapted for the screen in 1990. He also worked as an actor, playwright, and director. Since 2008, he has served as the managing and artistic director of the Theater Rudolstadt.

By the end of the 1970s, he had already published his first poems. The collection »Das gewisse Etwas« (2009; tr: That Certain Something) offers a retrospective of Mensching’s poetry over the past decades. His novel »Jacobs Leiter« (2003; tr: Jacob’s Ladder) was inspired by an emigrant library of 4,000 books discovered while Mensching was in New York. »Lustigs Flucht« (2005; tr: Lustig’s Escape) describes a pflegmatic German literary scholar’s retreat behind his own four walls. Mensching spent twelve years working on his 800-page novel »Schermanns Augen« (2018; tr: Schermann’s Eyes). The protagonist of this historiographic, metafictional mammoth project is the eccentric yet eloquent graphologist Rafael Schermann, who, in a gulag, tells his life story to a fellow prisoner, who interprets for him: As a prominent handwriting analyst and careful »physiognomist« and »body language expert« who claims to possess clairvoyant abilities, Schermann was active in the international coffee house scene. The tangled interconnections of the first half of the 20th century are mirrored in his hyper-receptive descriptions and fortified with historical name-droppings, for instance when Schermann meets Sergei Eisenstein at the regulars’ table of Else Lasker-Schüler. The author thus not only appropriates the specific cultural details of the era, but also adapts partially authentic characteristics of his characters’ speech with precision. Mensching pours the episodic recollections infused with fluent parlance and lively descriptions into justified-aligned text blocks depicting trenchant scenes that branch out into digressions, but as whole reveal a historical panorama in which research and imagination complement each other. The Swiss literary scholar and Peter Weiss exegete Robert Cohen compared the – in the best sense – sprawling work with the equally monumental »The Aesthetics of Resistance«.

Mensching has been awarded the Heinrich-Heine-Preis from the GDR Ministry of Culture (1989), the Deutsche Kleinkunstpreis (1991) and the Deutsche Kabarettpreis (1995). In 2001, he edited »In derselben Nacht« by Rudolf Leonhard, which was written between 1939 and 1944 is a book of dreams written down in exile. Mensching lives in Rudolstadt.