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Sven Regener: 'Berlin Blues'

Aygül Cizmecioglu ct
October 8, 2018

Featuring a world of melancholy urban neurotics and bon vivants in Berlin's Kreuzberg of the 1980s, Sven Regener has created an authentic, amusing snapshot of the time. The novel's main character has long been cult.

Sven Regener
Image: Charlotte Goltermann

Allow me to introduce Herr Lehmann — one of the nicest do-nothings in contemporary German literature. It's actually Frank Lehmann, but even his friends skip the first name. With no ambitions and no big goals, this man has made himself comfortable in his small world in Berlin's Kreuzberg neighborhood.

"I ought to be more positive — better-tempered, somehow," reflects Herr Lehmann.

Staggering through the night

He shuffles through life rather than picking up the pace. He works in a rancid corner bar, drinks too much schnapps on the weekend and drags himself to a hangover brunch the next morning.

'Berlin Blues' by Sven Regener

While most people working in a bar underline that they're actually an artist or in a band, Herr Lehmann searches no further:

"What's so bad about a job that consists in serving people with something they like? Fulfillment, pah!" 

This melancholy urban neurotic celebrates his 30th birthday on November 9, 1989, the day the Berlin Wall comes down. But the winds of history can blow wherever they want to — Mr. Lehmann has problems of his own. For instance, when on his way home he meets an ugly aggressive dog that won't let him pass by.

It is the beginning of a brilliant journey through the night. Mr. Lehmann plies the street dog with whiskey. He later goes on to bite the finger of another pub-goer and acts in a way that leaves bus drivers and customs officials speechless.

The Kreuzberg universe

Only someone who has experienced this quirky neighborhood, the alternative "Universum Kreuzberg" of the 80s can write about it like an insider. Someone like author Sven Regener, the singer and songwriter of the band Element of Crime. He paints the world in shades of gray, a world inhabited by people who continually stand up after being knocked down.

A film scene shows 3 men in a bar
The book was made into a movie in 2003Image: Delphi Filmverleih

In 2001, the writer landed a literary summer hit with his nonchalantly brash debut novel which showed how beautiful the aches of the ages could be for hungover school dropouts. Even if Mr. Lehmann himself is shuffling through this novel, it's an amusing book that puts readers in a good mood.


Sven Regener: Berlin Blues, Vintage Books/Random House (German title: Herr Lehmann, 2001). English translation: John Brownjohn.

Born on January 1, 1961 in Bremen, Sven Regener's debut novel, Berlin Blues, sold around one million copies. The Berlin-based author was later awarded a prize to adapt his book into a screenplay for a film released in 2003. Regener is also renowned as a musician, most notably as the singer-songwriter of the rock band Element of Crime, in which he also plays guitar and trumpet.