Thousands of kids grew up like him: Hendrik Bolz, aka Testo from the rap duo Zuzug Maskulin, spent his childhood and youth in a prefabricated building in East Germany, in the Knieper West district of Stralsund. In his autobiography “Zero Years”, published in early 2022, he describes a world full of anger and fear, hatred and drug intoxication, violence and the desperate search for love. “It was cool to be a tough guy,” he says of the post-millennium era. Bolz finally escapes this world after finishing school towards Berlin.

The Mecklenburg State Theater in Schwerin brought the successful book to the stage as a play. The premiere was enthusiastically celebrated by the audience. Director Nina Gühlstorff and her actors, most of whom are young students from the University of Music and Performing Arts in Rostock, have created a dense, intense, and also disturbing evening of theatre. Bolz seems touched when he comes on stage at the end of the one and a half hour play and bows with the theater people. “Great,” says the 35-year-old in the alley.

The plot revolves around a gang of tough and strong adolescents, or those who want to be tough and strong, whose social environment collapsed after reunification – during their childhood. Built in the 1960s as a model district with over 8,000 apartments for 25,000 people, the Knieper West district of Stralsund – like all East German prefab housing areas – lost everyone after the reunification who could build a house or afford a freshly renovated apartment in an old building in the city center : Engineers, teachers, educators, skilled workers with a job. Those who are left are those who suddenly have no prospects – unemployed, sometimes a one-euro job, sometimes further training, resignation, alcohol. There is no intact economy that could absorb them. Your children are growing up in a hopeless environment.

The result is spread out on stage for an hour and a half: outbursts of anger, excesses of violence, the faecal language of the adolescents. It’s all about sex and drugs and it grabs the viewer almost from the first second to the last. Rap songs also drive the story – until after a few years Hendrik is completely exhausted, collapses, tormented by panic attacks.

Hendrik Bolz finds his way out of the swamp and moves to Berlin after school. West Berlin, as is emphasized. He turns to rap music, writes down his memories, wants to continue writing. Some of his buddies also managed to break out into a better life and others not, as is told in a flashback from 2023. They are still full of anger, have turned to extreme parties or have remained silent.

The M*Halle, in which “Zero Years” is performed, is a newspaper printing plant that was built in 1975 and has since been shut down. The Großer Dreesch prefabricated building area in Schwerin begins right behind it. Similar fates have happened there, and are possibly happening right now. You will also know such stories in so-called large housing estates in western Germany, which have become social hotspots.