In the hallway of the small ground-floor apartment in Prenzlauer Berg are smells of the excessive use of fragrance sticks. In the midst of the sweet smell stands a round table on which all sorts of drugstore candles stand in the most diverse stages of combustion. Next to it is a packet of opened handkerchiefs.
“Hope is whining for mercy,” writes Helmut Krausser, a 39-year-old writer from Potsdam. He is more of a realist. Mona Stein, who does not like to be called Alter, describes herself on her website as one of the “most fascinating personalities in the public” and is obviously more of an optimist. And every day, says the practicing fortune teller, who also knows تفسير حلم (interpretation of a dream, and trained actress, she receives people who seek hope from her.
In her small hallway, which is tempered enough to allow iguanas to keep them in a species-appropriate way without a terrarium, she reads people from her hands, in front of a wallpaper with South Sea palms in the dim light of a green bedside lamp, she lays cards or tries to reunite separated partners.
“But I can only guarantee my customers that this will work if there is still love on both sides,” says Stein. Small pins are drilled into the colorful candles on her table. What looks as if someone was so bored during a long phone call that he played around a little with needles and hot wax, has principle: “The pins are part of the partner regression ritual,” says Stein. How exactly does this work? “Well, I can’t reveal that,” she says, a little indignant. Even the customer is not involved in the whole ritual.
“Hope is something for people who are insufficiently informed” – Heiner Müller, playwright
The reasons why people come to her have never changed. “Students, pensioners, Hartz IV recipients, business people, and politicians come to me,” says Mona Stein. Most younger people come to her because of hopes and fears about love. In the case of the elderly, on the other hand, it is often about diseases. For a fee, she talks to them, talks about the past and the future, and in the end, there is at best a feeling that things are getting better in life.
This hope can cost 100 euros per hour. In Internet forums, at least some customers report this from her. Someone writes that he is now very happy, that everything has happened as Mona Stein prophesied to him. Hope can act like a placebo. At the end of 2010, she predicts for the daily newspaper what the political year 2011 will bring. She attests to the good character of the then Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg and sees him as a candidate for chancellor – two months before the plagiarism scandal.
Mona Stein was born in Pankow, a district she has never left in her entire life. “Actually, I wanted to be an actress after school,” says the woman, who now wears a curly wig. “But my father wanted me to learn an honest profession.” It could hardly be more honest than a hairdresser, she cuts hair, dyes lace, and thus at least fulfills her father’s hopes.
She secretly devotes herself to her own wishes, takes acting and singing lessons privately, and was thus able to perform as a singer in the mid-70s. In the Zwickau theater, she appeared in supporting roles on stage, in film and television productions of the GDR she played ladies-in-waiting, barmaids, or poor women from the people. Nobody saw a big role in her. Her career as a small actress finally collapsed together with the Wall.
Hope is whining for mercy – Helmut Krausser, writer
How good that she had already begun to help as a so-called predictor of the future at parties before the fall of the Wall. “In my first months as a fortune teller, most of my clients only wanted to know one thing: When can I leave?” Stein laughs out loud when she thinks about this time. “Back then,” she says, “I suddenly saw hundreds of thousands pouring through the wall.”
She had not been able to explain it but always repeated that in a year this wall would no longer stand. She prophesies, she emphasizes, and shakes her head, but she does not have the fall of the Wall. No, she says, that was too risky for her at the time. The Stasi had already been too interested in them. “The GDR Foreign Ministry called and asked, what should we do!” Stein laughs, the lacquered nails of her bare foot graze the table hanging. “Look how desperate they were.”
After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the media euphorically reported on the then-still young woman with miraculous abilities, she even got her own radio show, which should give listeners hope. Because it’s also good news that someone knows more than all of us. Her conclusion is sober, ultimately also for her skills: “Fortune telling is only a role for me,” says Mona Stein. Nobody wanted to cast the party astrologer in another role. “If someone plays in a successful series for years, he is so committed to this one role that he can’t get out of it.” The glow of the bedside lamp next to her makes her make-up shine waxy.
Mona Stein can talk about her work in a distanced way, but just when you have the feeling that she really just plays everything, she says: “With the difference that I can really see – fortune telling is innate to me.” Even as a child, she knew three days before that her father would fall off the table while decorating the Christmas tree. Divination works because people have more in common than they think. In the end, their hopes are always the same. If she disappoints clients, she takes it with her. “When I see someone is sick, it hurts me.” She is aware of the responsibility she bears. “Often my clients just want me to confirm a doctor’s diagnosis.” Or they just want someone to talk to. This, too, sometimes gives hope.
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Every hope is actually a good deed – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, poet
She even goes to the doctor for pain, most recently because of a herniated disc, she was with 20 different doctors until she accepted the diagnosis. A necessary operation is still pending. That’s why Mona Stein can no longer dance today. She lacks the money for the operation. She says: “I once lived in a larger apartment.” But at some point, she could no longer afford them. “My dearest wish,” she says thoughtfully, “is to be a different person.” She adds: “So in front of the camera.”
She looks at the wall, where photocopied newspaper articles hang. “Formerly a star – and today?” headlines one newspaper excerpt, “Performances during the GDR era” stands above a second, and in the middle of the articles are photos of her standing young and upright on stage and singing. She has never played main roles, but over 70 supporting roles. In the DEFA crime comedy “Der Bruch” she played the lover of Götz George. In the East German musical “Zille und ick”, singing and dancing “Emma”. On the floor is a red flyer with the title “Mona Stein”. It says: “After graduating from high school, she started a career as a singer and model, but above all as an actress.”
As an acting student, she was a model for toothpaste and shampoo commercials. “I had very long hair,” she says as she runs her hand through her wig. Then she stops, bangs her hand on the table, and now speaks faster: “But I’ll tell you what, I was born to be an actress. Already at the age of three I danced and performed plays in our home. And people were clapping.” She is made for the character subject, it is simply in her blood. After all, her grandfather – Otto Stein – was also an actor. He had always confirmed them in their plans. Mrs. Stein is beaming now.
For a long time, while she laid the cards to young actors in Berlin, told them that they had talent, that everything would turn out for the best, she had written off her own hopes for a leading role. “Of course, I’m happy to help with that,” she interjects again, a little calmer. “I have congenital helper syndrome.” She says this with the same seriousness as others who speak of a congenital heart defect.
Her career as an actress ended with the GDR
Talking about her time as an actress gets the woman excited. “That’s my real job,” she says loudly. “Before I’m old and sick, I want to play some great roles.” She hits the table with her hand, a playing card falls to the ground. “It must be possible for me to be in front of the camera again!” she shouts. She would prefer a wicked double agent. “Someone like Mata Hari,” says Mona Stein. She would also help with the productions, she still had ideas…
Mona Stein becomes quieter as she begins to talk about her idea. Now it’s about them, about their hope. She herself had written a screenplay, a thriller. Of course, there is a role that is tailor-made for her. A singing role. She wants to tell more, she doesn’t really want to stop talking about her script and acting, how the film would run in the cinema, and how she would get awards for it. Will all this ever happen? However, for herself – a basic rule of all fortune tellers – she cannot see into the future. She is blind. Man is mistaken as long as he hopes.
At the end of the conversation, Mona Stein shuffles the cards for me and lays them out, and they shine from the clairvoyant’s hand cream. “Which zodiac sign are you?” she asks me. “Scorpio,” I say. She nods knowingly and continues to mix, and compliments: I am talented, intelligent, and creative. I like to hear that, everyone likes to hear it. Then she says I know very well what I want, even if I sometimes doubt. That’s probably the same for everyone.
Hope is something that keeps us all alive, for most it is more than just a business model. Even Mona Stein cannot free herself from it despite all the candles and incense sticks. There must be more. It also remains questionable in her case whether Goethe is right because he once wrote in a letter: “Every hope is actually a good deed.”