Menschenleer ist die zum Rathaus und zum Markt führende Nikolaikirchstraße in der Innenstadt.

Norwegian writer Erik Fosnes Hansen is a cosmopolitan man. Born in White Plains/New York in 1965, he grew up as the son of a travel agency manager, with whom he used to tour remote Norwegian hotels as a child. Such an enterprise, heroically driving towards ruin, was the scene of his last novel “A Hummer’s Life”.

However, Fosnes Hansen also lived in Germany for two years – which is probably one reason why his new novel “Zum rosa Hahn” is now set in Jüterbog. Even if the city has little to do with the Jüterbog that can be found on the reality map a good seventy kilometers south of Berlin.

Two gold makers on a sandy Brandenburg country road. In Jüterbog they want to show off their alchemical art. Only much later is it explained what the circumstances of gold are in this world, which at first appears to be quite medieval. This already changes at the city limits, where the gold miners get caught up in a Kafkaesque border bureaucracy.

Fosnes Hansen’s most famous book is the 1990 Titanic novel Chorale am Ende der Reise, a well-researched historical panorama of Europe on the eve of the First World War. “Zum rosa Hahn” follows a completely contrary concept: it is a piece of fairy tale art that wants nothing to do with the limitations of historical reality and, with a wink, also overrides physical and biological laws.

In the living environment of Jüterbog, the modern mixes with the archaic and the astonishing in a bizarre way. One marvels at telephones that change color when they ring for a long time, at a loudly wailing bread dough, flying newspapers, a chatty nose wart and flowers that bloom at the clapping of hands.

Things are full of stubbornness and stubbornness, which is why the waiter at the “Zum rosa Hahn” tavern advises caution when ordering: the asparagus has proven to be bad-tempered this season, when harvesting it bites with its serrated leaves, and the anger lends a bitter taste in his mouth.

One of the main characters is a single mother who is plagued by social exclusion measures and official harassment. A cold generator set up in front of her house lets an icy draft blow through the defaulting taxpayer’s apartment. Her daughter was bitten by an angry rubber duck (!) during swimming lessons and has been chronically ill ever since.

Her son has a rebellious temperament, so that his angry class teacher advises selling the boy, while the responsible pastor of the distraught mother even suggests “putting him to sleep”, especially since the church has a great “special offer for children’s burials”, including a touching boys’ choir. Incidentally, the clergy here have to take an exam in acoustics to ensure that they hear the voice of God.

In the first two hundred pages, one is enraptured by the author’s macabre wit and ingenuity and has fun with him in the surreal world of horror of his novel. Fairytale ingredients such as talking cats and dogs are accepted because the fantastic – as with E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “Kater Murr” – at the same time has many moments of a certain heightened sharpness of reality. For example, when the corrupt, cumbersome bureaucracy of Jüterbog is described with biting comedy, a malicious system of government in which monitoring and punishing the citizens has become an end in itself.

Margravine Clotilde, the regent of the city, combines the virtues of boredom and incompetence in her person. When punishing a popular minister, she accidentally kills the man, forcing the government to take populist countermeasures. The passages in which the two gold makers, worried about their chances of performing, over and over again outsmart the authorities, also read cleverly.

Unfortunately, the enthusiasm dwindles in the second half when it comes to leading the plot towards the finale. The otherwise resourceful Erik Fosnes Hansen only came up with a rather conventional conspiracy and criminal plot despite all its fantasy. Jüterbog is suddenly teeming with agents who steal messages from one another. Above all, it is teeming with white mice underground who are after revolution. The gold makers’ show turns into a disaster. An assassination attempt on regent Clotilde goes wrong and leads to her final gilding, which is all too complicated explained by alchemical processes.

Unlike the surreal details before, this plot seems made up in a less good sense. The great mouse conspiracy leaves you cold. Suddenly you miss logic and sense, which you previously gave a damn about together with the good-humoured author. It’s a shame about a book that has so many ideas and wit.