A Romance of the Counterculture
West Germany, 1982: Hans-Dieter and Katrin, both active in the peace and environment movement, meet at a protest march against a new nuclear power station and manage to fall for each other, while fleeing police truncheons, tear gas and water cannons.
Navigating the intricacies of romantic and sexual relationships is tricky in an era where the personal is political, heterosexual penetrative sex is tantamount to rape and he who sleeps twice with the same woman is already part of the establishment. But hormones will not be denied and so Hans-Dieter and Katrin embark on the adventure that is love in the times of the macrobiotic müsli.
Warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual activity using both bad nuclear war metaphors and the sort of words some people might consider crude.
Read an excerpt.
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Some background information:
- Love in the Times of the Macrobiotic Müsli is a short story of 5000 words. This story is a digital premiere and has never been published previously.
- I initially wrote this story for an anthology of breakfast themed erotic fiction by indie authors, hence the müsli. The anthology project fell through, but I still liked the story enough that I finished it.
- The story is a satire set in a very specific milieu, namely the countercultural anti-nuclear, environmental and peace movement in West Germany in the early 1980s. As a kid growing up in 1970s and 1980s West Germany, I had a lot of contact with that movement and its protagonists, mainly at school, because my teachers were part of that movement. If you were alive and aware in West Germany in the early 1980s, you’ll probably recognize Hans-Dieter and Katrin.
- Several touchstones of the early 1980s countercultural movement are mentioned such as the NATO Double-Track Decision which was so controversial in Germany that it toppled a government (which did absolutely nothing to halt the stationing of nuclear weapons on German soil), the conflict surrounding the building of the nuclear power station in Brokdorf on the banks of the river Elbe (no one in the area wanted the nuclear power station, yet it was built anyway and was activated even after Chernobyl, last of the German nuclear power stations to start up), the equally futile conflict surrounding the planned Runway West at Frankfurt Airport (which was built and has been in service for approx. twenty years now), the not quite so futile conflict surrounding the building of the nuclear waste final disposal site in Gorleben (which is still going on thirty years later), the annual Easter marches (peace protests inspired by the British Aldermaston Marches), concerns about acid rain and dying forests (which were to the 1980s environmental movement what the ozone hole was to the 1990s and global warming is to the 2000s) as well as the riots caused by the public pledging of army recruits in the Weserstadium in Bremen (a ceremony that’s creepy as hell), which at least stopped the German army from publicly pledging recruits ever again in Bremen.
- Müsli is a staple of German breakfasts. However, müsli made from freshly ground soaked whole grains is something eaten only by the very health and environmentally conscious, while the rest of us buy commercially produced müsli or mix our own from oat flakes and dried fruits. My biology teacher was one of those very health and environmentally conscious types and took it upon himself to teach us about proper nutrition, usually via scaremongering films about how sugar or meat were evil and caused all sorts of health issues, usually the same health issues. That same biology teacher also made müsli from freshly ground and soaked grain for the whole class. There was no sugar (it’s evil, remember?), no fruits (contain sugar and therefore are probably evil as well), just soaked grain sludge and milk. It looked and tasted about as appetizing as you can imagine and upset the digestion of several students (all our fault – apparently, eating too much sugar had left us unable to digest the fresh grain müsli). I have had fresh grain müsli since and quite like it on occasion, when it’s properly made and served with fruit. The stuff we had at school, however, was just bad.
- Communal flats like the one Hans-Dieter shares with his pals Wolfgang, Udo and Andreas were and are still common among students and people who prefer an alternative lifestyle. Many of these flats are chronically messy and division of household tasks is usually a problem.
- The title of the debate about “The Neutron Bomb – A Perversion of Human Ingenuity”, which Hans-Dieter’s pals attend, was borrowed from a popular book of the late 1970s.
- The US Army Base, where Hans-Dieter’s pals manage to get themselves arrested and which may or may not house nuclear weapons, is based on the former US Army Base “Hoher Berg” in Syke close to where I live, which was always rumoured to (and actually did) house nuclear weapons back in the 1980s. Though as far as I know, “Hoher Berg” never became the subject of spontaneous picketing and protests, probably because it’s rather out of the way. You can see some photos and read a bit about the background of the “Hoher Berg” base here.
- Hans-Dieter’s and Katrin’s concerns about consuming products they consider politically incorrect mirror the concerns of quite a few people in the 1970s and 1980s about politically correct consumption. This ranges from purchasing organic and fair trade products to wholesale boycotts, particularly of American made products in order to protest against the Vietnam War, Ronald Reagan’s nuclear arms policy or both. For the POV of someone who grew up in a family with such views (and could not have Coke or Disney cartoons and was not allowed to take part in schooltrips to amusement parks), check out Lenin kam nur bis Lüdenscheid (Lenin only got to Lüdenscheid) by Richard David Precht. There is a film version as well.
- Other works set in the West German countercultural milieu of the early 1980s are Sven Regener’s novel Neue Vahr Süd (which happens to be set in Bremen and provides an excellent snapshot of what the city was like at the time) and the movie Am Tag Als Bobby Ewing Starb (The Day Bobby Ewing Died), which refers to the fact that the “shocking” death of Bobby Ewing in Dallas (he got better) was broadcast in Germany on the same day that the Chernobyl nuclear power plant experienced a fatal meltdown.
- Jeans, Norwegian style knit sweaters, Army surplus parkas, Birkenstock sandals and long hair for both men and women was pretty much the uniform of the countercultural movement in the early 1980s.
- “The wild freshness of lemons and limes” is a reference to an advertising slogan used by Fa, a popular brand of soap and shower gel in the 1970s, which was notable for showing topless women in its TV spots (here is an example). The fact that Katrin’s hair smells of “fresh herbs picked during a Swedish midsummer night” is a reference to another popular brand of the time, Timotei shampoo whose TV ads always showed Scandinavian looking women with silky long blonde hair frolicking across green fields (here is an example).
- Hans-Dieter’s assertion that he could never hate a woman enough to marry her was borrowed almost verbatim from one of my teachers, who felt very strongly about the misogynist laws affecting married women, some of which were still lingering on in the late 1980s. Coincidentally, this teacher was in a long-term committed relationship with a fellow teacher and never married her, even though she clearly wanted to get married. To be fair to the man, though he never managed to figure out what his own partner wanted, he was the only teacher I ever had who clearly said that marriage and family law had been incredibly sexist well into our lifetimes.
- The rather conventional path that Katrin’s and Hans-Dieter’s life eventually takes mirrors the lives of many of those who were active in the anti-nuclear, environmental and peace movements in the early 1980s.
- “He who sleeps twice with the same woman is already part of the establishment” was an actual slogan of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
- Ton, Steine, Scherben (Clay, stones, shards) was a punk/protest band of the 1970s and early 1980s, whose lead singer Rio Reiser was one of my personal musical heroes. Rio Reiser also wrote what is probably the most beautiful German language love song of the past fifty years or so, “Junimond”. Unfortunately, I couldn’t have Hans-Dieter and Katrin listen to “Junimond”, because the song was not released until 1985.
- The cover is supposed to evoke the hand-drawn and homemade aesthetics of leftwing posters and alternative newsletters of the early 1980s. Several real life examples can be seen here and here (refresh to see a new poster).
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