Profile: Ronja von Rönne

Ronja von Rönne: The rise of the millennials and the author as ‘popstar’

By Theodora Danek
Ronja von Rönne Photo: Carolin Saage
Von Rönne achieved instant fame through that tried and tested method: scandal.
The young author had been blogging since 2012 when German daily Die Welt took her on as a columnist. Her blog Sudelheft is like many others: vignettes about life, Berlin, writing, society, all accompanied by (self-) portraits. Von Rönne’s articles for Die Welt aren’t dissimilar from her blog posts. Her distinctive voice colours everything she writes. Her brand of wry, witty observations attracts a wide readership, bolstered by her active presence on social media.

Then, in April 2015, von Rönne published an article entitled ‘Why, as a woman, feminism disgusts me’ and all hell broke loose. ‘I’m not a feminist, I’m an egotist’, she argued, repeating the essentially conservative idea that success is down to the individual. Unsurprisingly this didn’t go down well with the German intelligentsia: Von Rönne had written a thinkpiece that read like a quirky twenty-something had absorbed the ideology of a grumpy middle-aged man. She was attacked on social media, temporarily took her blog offline, and claimed to be blindsided by the negative attention. Columnists dedicated thousands of words to the topic. A women’s organisation associated with the far right NPD (Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands) recommended her article, which added fuel to the debate. Suddenly everybody was talking about von Rönne. The invitation to take part at the prestigious Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in Klagenfurt, a reading contest for young writers which von Rönne described as the ‘Hunger Games of the literary world’, arrived right on time. Her transformation from blogger to the enfant terrible of the German feuilleton was complete.

‘Enfant’ is the right word here: not a single article about von Rönne gets away without mentioning her age (she was born in 1992). Her age, her gender, and the fact that she has occasionally worked as a model, are the prisms through which she is perceived. Recently another author described her in private as a ‘Tussi’ (‘bimbo’) when trying to define what they didn’t like about her. Where is the writing in all of this? After all, von Rönne is three things, a blogger, a journalist, and an author whose first novel Wir kommen (‘We Are Coming’) was published in March. Yet her persona seems to dominate the perception of her to an extent that makes her occupation seem incidental.

Ronja von Rönne: Wir kommen (Aufbau Verlag, 2016)
In fact, von Rönne and the protagonist of her debut novel are the latest reincarnations of literature’s favourite trope: worldweary, sarcastic young people holding up a mirror to society. Wir kommen is about people who have everything and nothing; people who are financially secure, well-educated, surrounded by friends, yet deeply unhappy; people who lead a risk-averse, stable life yet pride themselves on their left-leaning opinions; people so comfortable that their unhappiness is hard to understand. This is a generation that, from Paris to Berlin, is referred to as Bobos: the bourgeois bohemians.

Von Rönne is an astute observer of the milieu she inhabits herself. Her characters buy organic food, vote for the same parties, they work as graphic designers, nutritionists or TV personalities. They reject traditional relationship models and suffer from panic attacks, depression and eating disorders. The plot is incidental, geared towards mild provocation – polyamory, murder, suicide? Sure.

Von Rönne’s book is lampooning, yet at the same time aimed at, a very specific stratum of society. Reading it feels like a distillation of everything that is infuriating about the author and her contemporaries: it is a perfect product of self-absorption, vanity and anxiety, a book about Wohlstandsverwahrlosung, a generation which has grown up lacking nothing but a purpose in life.

In all of this von Rönne is unflinchingly self-referential. The protagonist of her novel is the same one as the protagonist of her blog, presumably an approximation of the real Ronja von Rönne. This is the writer in the age of social media and #selfiecare – a writer who reports on driving an SUV to the Ingeborg Bachmann Preis in Klagenfurt for Die Welt. This is a writer who is not afraid to put herself first, for whom the separation between public and private persona has never existed, whose book reads like a greatest hits of her blog with a plot thrown in, compelling and infuriating at the same time. This is an author whose self-representation is so interlaced with her work that it’s impossible to approach her work neutrally, however hard you try.

In August 2015, months after the row about feminism, months after her appearance at the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize, von Rönne appeared in a music video for a band which, like her, divides opinion. Wanda make music that may or may not be ironic, that may or may not be good, but that is definitely hugely popular. In the video, von Rönne is first seen asleep in bed, then lustily smoking a cigarette. Finally, we see her naked legs in a pool of water, the singer approaching her. The author as a pop star? The author as a sex symbol? Or the author as a passive receptacle for whatever is projected onto her? We don’t know. The music video completes the circuit: Ronja von Rönne is a personality first, an author second, but most of all a millenial who represents her generation in more than just her writing.

Wir kommen was published by Aufbau Verlag in March.

Theodora Danek
divides her time between the UK and Vienna. She was formerly Programme Manager at the Austrian Cultural Forum London, where she organised literary events, and in addition ran a book group at the Goethe- Institut London. She will be acting editorial consultant for New Books in German for issue 40.