From ‘What might have been’ by Gregor Sander translated by Robert Gillett

This is the last of the six extracts from the SIX TRENDSETTING GERMAN AUTHORS.

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From ‘What might have been’ by Gregor Sander

As I put the kettle on the gas, I heard Jana coming down the corridor from the bedroom to the kitchen. The kitchen was right at the front of the flat near the front door. Next to it there was a small loo with a shower, and behind that two rooms with old tiled stoves. In front of the kitchen window there was a small round wooden table. I sat down at it and looked out into the dark courtyard. Jana appeared in the doorway. She was wearing a New York Yankees tee-shirt over her black knickers. She stretched, sighed, went over to the tap and drank a huge gulp of water. ‘That posh plonk we had yesterday gives you as much of a headache as the cans of beer we had the day before. So is the sun shining?’ She opened the window – which I had deliberately not done because I didn’t want the whole courtyard crawling into the flat. Jana leaned out and craned her face towards the sky. ‘Well, well. Quality sunshine. Yet in here it’s as cold as in winter.’

She spooned liberal quantities of coffee into the glass jug, added the boiling water and let the plunger rest on the thick black layer that formed on the surface. I had already learned that you mustn’t push the coffee down immediately, but only after it has had time to draw for a few minutes, and I wanted to have that kind of push-down coffee maker at home as well, for Tobias and me. Jana brought over two red cups with the word Eduscho on them in white writing, put them down on the table, lit a cigarette at the gas flame and came and sat down beside me. She put her feet on the table and looked out into the rear courtyard. ‘If we move in together, then we would be able to afford something in Kreuzberg too, and I really would like to live with you, sweetie. Or would you want to get a flat with Julius straightaway? And will you be staying in Berlin at all?’

‘Jana, I am not staying here’, I said, and slowly pressed down the thick layer of coffee, which gave me a curious feeling of contentment. I stood up, took a carton of milk from the fridge and poured a dash into my coffee. ‘It’s out of the question, Jana. I don’t want to stay here. Then I’ll never be able to go back to the GDR. Then I’ll maybe never see my parents again, or not until they are pensioners. And my mother wouldn’t be allowed out after that, they would even stop this little trip to visit Aunt Inge. And what about my place at Uni to do medicine? I don’t suppose they give those away here either. And besides, it’s Tobias I live with, not Julius. He is shacked up with that Karin, may I remind you.’

Jana flicked her cigarette end into the courtyard. A thin wisp of smoke rose up from it into the sky and dispersed after a few metres. ‘Supertobi and your wrinklies. That would of course be a devastating loss. But what are you going to do if in a few days’ time Julius really is standing here. For your sake, according to Sasha? Your big fat love Julius Herne in Bur’lin City. What then, Assi?’ […]

By Gregor Sander

Translated from the German by Robert Gillett


Gregor Sander – Writer in Residence Spring & Autumn 2013 at the CAGCR. Gregor Sander was born in 1968 in Schwerin and trained as a metal worker and qualified nurse before taking up his studies at university. He studied Medicine at the University of Rostock and then read German and History at the Humboldt University of Berlin from 1992 to 1996. From 1996 to 1997 he attended the Berliner Journalistenschule. In 2002, Gregor Sander started his literary career with Ich aber bin hier geboren, a collection of short stories. In 2013, Gregor Sander was awarded the Deutscher Erzählerpreis. His latest novel Was gewesen wäre was published in 2014. He now lives and works in Berlin.


Gregor Sander was one of Six Trendsetting German Authors who took part in the ‘Waves of Difference’ German Literature Festival organised by Queen Mary, University of London and Goethe-Institut London.

Thank you to the Centre for Anglo-German Cultural Relations at the Queen Mary, University of London for allowing us to publish this translation.

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