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Book cover The endless city

Ulla Lenze Die endlose Stadt
[The endless city]

Ulla Lenze
Die endlose Stadt
[The endless city]

Published in Arabic with a grant from

Rumblings of a world without borders. Ulla Lenze’s novel of the beauty and terror of global culture

When German artists or writers receive cultural funding for a long stay abroad, it is expected to inspire and stimulate their creativity, but they need not produce a work directly tackling their experience of living abroad with a fellowship. Yet Ulla Lenze, born in 1973 in the Rhineland, has done just that: her novel The Endless City is both a document and a creative transformation of this experience of the foreign. It is all the more fascinating for having emerged from stays in two different cities that are far remote from each other geographically and culturally, but that struggle with similar problems under the brunt of globalization.
Ulla Lenze lived in Mumbai on the invitation of the Kunststiftung NRW and the Goethe Institute, while the Cologne Cultural Office sent her to Istanbul. She has found a compelling way to conjure the literary fusion of two megacities that are worlds apart from each other, by telling her story through two female characters in whom two urban experiences, as powerful as they are disturbing, mirror and interpenetrate one another in multifarious fashion.
Holle Schulz is a visual artist who photographs cities, or to be precise: architectural ensembles that are absent, as far as possible, of people. She comes to Istanbul with a fellowship, falling in love not only with the metropolis that straddles Orient and Occident, but with Celal, owner of a kebab shop – or at least with his beautiful body and his ingenuous passion. At the same time, she feels drawn toward the rich German building contractor Christoph Wanka, who is fascinated by her work. What connects her with him is, in a sense, a reluctant intellectual resonance, for on the surface he embodies everything he despises – the unscrupulous elegance of the “new colonizers” in a world where capitalism has dissolved all borders. He uses his company’s culture budget to purchase her pictures, financing a stay in Mumbai which she abruptly breaks off, however, when she feels pressured by her benefactor.
She sublets her apartment to the German journalist Theresa, a socially-critical travel reporter, more grounded than the hypersensitive Holle, but similarly alert to the crass contradictions of life in exploding urban areas such as Istanbul and Mumbai, and to the fundamentally dubious nature of all western cultural and economic activities in these environments.
In an ingenious interplay, Ulla Lenze intercuts the two women’s perceptions and reflections, sending each on adventures that illuminate the country around them and juxtaposing the impinging reality of their everyday urban life with the cynical attitude of the gentrifiers and profiteers represented by Christoph Wanka and his omnipresent corporation.
Alongside essayistic observations that sharply define these young cosmopolitan women’s perspectives on the lands of the near and far east, a deep impression is made by the vividly sensual, densely atmospheric descriptions of street scenes, residential environments, traces of the past and scars of the present in these two rumbling megalopolises. The romantic elements lend an additional tension to the precisely-told, fast-paced novel while maintaining its artfully constructed balance.

Extract in Al-Kaheera

Translated by Isabel Fargo Cole

Book cover The endless city

By Kristina Maidt-Zinke

Kristina Maidt-Zinke is a book and music critic at the Süddeutsche Zeitung and also writes reviews for Die Zeit.