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Twenty Years On

Twenty Years On: Competing Memories of the GDR in Postunification German Culture

Renate Rechtien
Dennis Tate
Volume: 110
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Twenty Years On
    Book Description:

    Twenty years on from the dramatic events that led to the opening of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the GDR, the subjective dimension of German unification is still far from complete. The nature of the East German state remains a matter of cultural as well as political debate. This volume of new research focuses on competing memories of the GDR and the ways they have evolved in the mass media, literature, and film since 1989-90. Taking as its point of departure the impact of iconic visual images of the fall of the Wall on our understanding of the historical GDR, the volume first considers the decade of cultural conflict that followed unification and then the emergence of a more complex and diverse "textual memory" of the GDR since the Berlin Republic was established in 1999. It highlights competing generational perspectives on the GDR era and the unexpected "afterlife" of the GDR in recent publications. The volume as a whole shows the vitality of eastern German culture two decades after the demise of the GDR and the centrality of these memory debates to the success of Germany's unification process. Contributors: Daniel Argelès, Stephen Brockmann, Arne De Winde, Wolfgang Emmerich, Andrea Geier, Hilde Hoffmann, Astrid Köhler, Karen Leeder, Andrew Plowman, Gillian Pye, Benjamin Robinson, Catherine Smale, Rosemary Stott, Dennis Tate, Frederik Van Dam, Nadezda Zemaníková. Renate Rechtien is Lecturer in German Studies, and Dennis Tate is Emeritus Professor of German Studies, both at the University of Bath, UK.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-780-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    Renate Rechtien and Dennis Tate
  5. Introduction: The Importance and Diversity of Cultural Memory in the GDR Context
    (pp. 1-20)
    Dennis Tate

    From the perspective of cultural memory, one of the most unexpected publications marking the twentieth anniversary of the GDR’s collapse was the anthology of essays Die Nacht, in der die Mauer fiel (2009).¹ This volume, subtitled Schriftsteller erzählen vom 9. November 1989, includes contributions from twenty-five authors equally divided in terms of their East and West German origins and offering a range of generational perspectives, from the seventy-year-old Volker Braun to the thirty-five-year-old Antje Rávij Strubel on the eastern German side.² In his introductory overview the editor, Renatus Deckert, acknowledges that there are problems inherent in attempting this kind of...

  6. Part I: Media Constructions of 1989 and the Elusiveness of the Historical GDR

    • 1: Visual Re-Productions of the Wende: The Role Played by Television Images in Constituting and Historicizing Political Events
      (pp. 23-38)
      Hilde Hoffmann

      The fundamental changes in world politics in the early 1990s — the breakup of the Soviet bloc and the subsequent reconfiguration of eastern Europe as new constellations of power emerged — dominated television programming internationally for many months. Live news coverage shaped the way people perceived these events. Television as a medium was an important part of these processes and has determined how they are remembered today. West German television played a particularly crucial role during the weeks of political turmoil in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the fall of 1989. There was complex interaction between the political protagonists,...

    • 2: Remembering GDR Culture in Postunification Germany and Beyond
      (pp. 39-54)
      Stephen Brockmann

      Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the culture of East Germany seems more remote than ever. Exactly what communism or Marxism or even socialism was is hard to even imagine now, let alone know in detail. Shortly after the fall of the Wall, the West German author Patrick Süskind, writing in the quintessential West German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, declared that almost any other country in the world was closer to him and his generation of West Germans than the country on the other side of the German-German border:...

  7. Part II: Challenges to the Dominant Discourse of the Wende

    • 3: “Das waren wir nicht!”: The Image of East Germans and the GDR as a Narrative Problem after 1989 in Klaus Schlesinger’s Die Sache mit Randow
      (pp. 57-68)
      Daniel Argelès

      In 1998 the German author Klaus Schlesinger recalled the phase of suspicion against East Germans that marked unified Germany’s public life in the years following the fall of the Berlin Wall:

      Mit einemmal standen alle, die bis zum Ende im Ländchen geblieben waren, im Verdacht der Kollaboration mit einem verbrecherischen System, es sei denn, sie hätten nachweislich Widerstand geleistet . . ., und als die Archive in der Normannenstraße geöffnet wurden, begann so etwas wie eine Neuerschaffung der DDR. Es entstand nichts weniger als eine Welt aus Aktennotizen des Geheimdienstes. Und nun wurden die Leute aufgefordert, ihre Geschichten zu erzählen,...

    • 4: “Der Schrei des Marsyas”: The Mythic Voices of the Subaltern in Reinhard Jirgl’s Mutter Vater Roman
      (pp. 69-84)
      Arne De Winde and Frederik Van Dam

      “Um ein Publikum am Lesen von Büchern, die des Lesens wert sind, festzuhalten, dazu bedarf es wahrlich eines Stein-Kopfes!”¹ This assessment of the reading public may well be considered a defining characteristic of Reinhard Jirgl’s writing. Not only does the expression “Stein-Kopf” refer to the eponymous peak in the Taunus mountain range, which Jirgl became acquainted with during his time as writer-in-residence in Bergen-Enkheim, it also captures the ethos of obstinacy that characterizes his poetics. It can of course be argued — as the satirist Gerhard Henschel has — that such self-positioning is pompous or elitist.² Those familiar with Jirgl’s...

    • 5: An Early Challenge to the Construction of Cross-Border Romance in Post-1989 Film: Andreas Dresen’s So schnell es geht nach Istanbul
      (pp. 85-98)
      Rosemary Stott

      Depictions of relationships between partners who lived on opposite sides of the German-German border before the events of 1989 have maintained an enduring appeal for producers of film and television feature films commemorating the Wende and German unification. This is not surprising given that narratives involving cross-border romance have the potential to engage wide audiences from both the former East and West Germany. They therefore provide the scope to explore barriers to unification such as distinctive identities, values, and attitudes. At the same time they can act as metaphors for the dominant popular perception that unification was somehow natural and...

  8. Part III: Textual Memory

    • 6: Mediating Immediacy: Historicizing the GDR by Bringing It Back to Life in Postmillennial Works of Fiction
      (pp. 101-113)
      Andrea Geier

      The twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 2009 was marked to a much greater degree by a spirit of celebration than the tenth anniversary. Whereas shortly before the turn of the millennium the consequences of German unification were still judged critically, it was now the euphoric mood of the “peaceful revolution” that was commemorated. Indeed, the fact that the term “revolution” is now being used again is in itself an indication of a change of attitude: during the latter half of the 1990s it appeared as though the consequences of the fall of the Wall had...

    • 7: “Eine Armee wie jede andere auch”? Writers and Filmmakers Remember the Nationale Volksarmee
      (pp. 114-125)
      Andrew Plowman

      This chapter explores the memory of the Nationale Volksarmee (NVA) of the German Democratic Republic in contemporary films and texts. It examines the origins of contemporary representations of the NVA in pre-unification works and offers readings of the following: the novel NVA, by Leander Haußmann (2005), and the film version of NVA, directed by Haußmann and co-authored with Thomas Brussig (also 2005), Jörg Waehner’s memoir Einstrich-Keinstrich: NVA-Tagebuch (2006), and Uwe Tellkamp’s novel Der Turm (2008). The NVA did not feature prominently in cultural production in the decade that followed unification, which focused rather on the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (MfS, Stasi)...

    • 8: Matter Out of Place: Trash and Transition in Clemens Meyer’s Als wir träumten
      (pp. 126-138)
      Gillian Pye

      As these opening quotations indicate, the questions of waste and discarding are central to the experience of transition in the former East Germany. The legacy of the destruction wrought in the Second World War and the infrastructural and material deficits of the GDR — the environmental impact of heavy industry and the rapid rate of obsolescence not only of material things, but also human skills and networks, in the turn from socialism to capitalism — mean that both physical and mental topographies have been profoundly affected by trash in the broadest sense of the term. It is hardly surprising, then,...

  9. Part IV: Literary Generations — Competing Perspectives

    • 9: Autobiographical Writing in Three Generations of a GDR Family: Christa Wolf — Annette Simon — Jana Simon
      (pp. 141-157)
      Wolfgang Emmerich

      My point of departure is as follows: a large number of autobiographical texts (as opposed to formally conceived autobiographies) has been produced by three women from the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) who are related to one another as mother/daughter/granddaughter and who in terms of their years of birth (1929/1952/1972) represent three different generations from the forty-five years of the Soviet Occupation Zone/GDR. That must be rare. The oldest of the three, Christa Wolf, is a well-known writer; the one in the middle, Annette Simon, a committed activist in the citizens’ movement of 1989 and a psychotherapist, has published significant...

    • 10: Accursed Progenitors? Extending the Generation-Gap Debate to GDR Parents
      (pp. 158-170)
      Astrid Köhler

      Literary texts in which a child, usually a son, confronts the relevant representative of the previous generation, though not restricted to German literature, do constitute a particularly strong tradition within it. Even a cursory glance reveals that there have been several waves of this kind of literature over the last hundred years or so; Kafka’s Brief an den Vater (1919) and the notorious parricide texts of Expressionism spring instantly to mind, as does the phenomenon of the so-called “Väterliteratur” that appeared on both sides of the German-German border in the 1970s and 1980s. This “literature about fathers” was mainly written...

    • 11: Parallels and Divergences in Post-1989 Memory Discourse: A Comparative Review of the Slovak Experience
      (pp. 171-184)
      Nadežda Zemaníková

      In June 2009 an event entitled “20 Jahre Freiheit: Deutschland sagt Danke!” took place in Slovakia’s capital, Bratislava. It was organized by the German Foreign Office and the German Embassy in cooperation with the Slovak Foreign and Cultural Ministries and other partners. This was one of a number of commemorative occasions in different parts of eastern Europe: others took place in Prague, Warsaw, Gdansk, and Budapest. Designed to foster dialogue between German perspectives on the recent past and those of the post-communist states, these events sought to celebrate common achievements since the fall of the Iron Curtain while expressing Germany’s...

  10. Part V: Afterlives

    • 12: Dances of Death: A Last Literature from the GDR
      (pp. 187-202)
      Karen Leeder

      This chapter examines what might be termed the last literature of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). It is not so much concerned with the Ostalgie that has governed many films and texts that remember the socialist state or provide a “requiem for Communism,” to cite Charity Scribner’s influential work.² Nor does it consider the texts of the “Zonenkinder” boom that set out, more or less successfully, to re-imagine the GDR in retrospect.³ Instead it gestures toward a body of post-Wende literature that performs the last rites of the GDR more literally.

      I have argued elsewhere that contemporary German culture has...

    • 13: “Die Gegenwart war es nicht”: Irina Liebmann and the Post-Wende Uncanny
      (pp. 203-216)
      Catherine Smale

      The front cover of the first edition of Irina Liebmann’s documentary volume Stille Mitte von Berlin bears a photograph of the Postfuhramt, the historic post-office building in Berlin’s Oranienburger Straße where the horses drawing the city’s mail coaches were once stabled.¹ Taken in the early 1980s as an aide-memoire for Liebmann’s project on the history of this part of the city, the picture is of poor quality, with fading colors and a slight blurring of the focus (fig. 13.1). This creates an air of neglect, which is heightened by the austerity of the subject matter: the street is virtually empty,...

    • 14: One Iota of Difference: Remembering GDR Literature as Socialist Literature
      (pp. 217-232)
      Benjamin Robinson

      Taking my cue from a few telling remarks in Franz Fühmann’s 1973 Hungarian travel diary Zweiundzwanzig Tage, I want to examine the figure of the “iota of difference” in reference to really existing socialism.¹ I come to a discussion of Fühmann’s curious passage in the second half of this essay. To begin with, however, I explain why I find the iota so apt for characterizing the memory of GDR socialism now that so little socialism of any kind remains. In other than a mocking sense the iota might turn out to be indicative to me alone, so I cannot pretend...

  11. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 233-238)
  12. Index
    (pp. 239-244)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 245-245)