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Writing the New Berlin

Writing the New Berlin: The German Capital in Post-Wall Literature

Katharina Gerstenberger
Volume: 21
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Writing the New Berlin
    Book Description:

    The wall was still coming down when critics began to call for the great Berlin novel that could explain what was happening to Germany and the Germans. Such a novel never appeared. Instead, writers have created a patchwork imaginary -- in the form of about 300 works of fiction set in Berlin -- of a city and a nation whose identity collapsed virtually overnight. Contributors to this literary collage include established writers like Peter Schneider and Christa Wolf, young authors like Tanja Dückers and Ingo Schramm, German-Turkish authors Zafer Senocak and Yadé Kara, and the Austrians Kathrin Röggla and Marlene Streeruwitz. The non-arrival of the great Berlin novel marks the reorientation in German culture and literature that is the focus of this study: the experience of unification was too diverse, too postmodern, too influenced by global developments to be captured by one novel. Berlin literature of the postunification decade is marked by ambiguity: change is linked to questions of historical continuity; postmodern simulation finds its counterpart in a quest for authenticity; and the assimilation of Germanness into European and global contexts is both liberation and loss. This book pursues a nuanced understanding of the search for new ways to tell the story of Germany's past and of its importance for the formation of a new German identity. Katharina Gerstenberger is associate professor of German at the University of Cincinnati.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-810-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
    K. G.
  4. Introduction: Newness and Its Discontents: Berlin Literature in the 1990s and Beyond
    (pp. 1-23)

    Even before the Berlin Wall had been fully dismantled, critics began to call for the one comprehensive novel that could explain what was happening to Germany and the Germans. This novel never appeared. Instead, writers created a patchwork body of about three hundred texts about a city whose postwar identity was disintegrating virtually overnight.¹ In many ways, the experience of German unification was too diverse, too ambiguous, and too influenced by global developments to be captured by one novel. Moreover, beginning in the late 1980s, the idea of literature as a source for national identity and the writer as the...

  5. 1: Erotic Sites: Sexual Topographies after the Wall
    (pp. 24-51)

    The city as an erotic site has a long literary tradition. Historically, such plots range from the male traveler seeking erotic adventure in the foreign city to the single female professional hoping to find an appropriate companion in her home town.¹ The particularities and the intent of erotic scenarios in city literature change over time, but they have in common that they first delineate and then push the boundaries of convention. The metropolis defines contemporaneity and is thus bound up with notions of change. Depictions of sex and sexuality are one way to measure and to analyze such changes for...

  6. 2: Bodies and Borders: The Monsters of Berlin
    (pp. 52-76)

    This chapter explores the significance of the numerous references in literature, the visual arts, and scholarly essays to the pathological specimens on public display in one of Berlin’s oldest hospitals, the Charité. Founded in 1898 by the pathologist and politician Rudolf Virchow, the Berliner Medizinhistorisches Museum der Charité was closed for decades after it sustained severe damage in the Second World War. It reopened its doors to the public in 1998 in a flurry of publicity.¹ Recognizably human, the deformed fetuses on display inspire reflections on borders — geographical, physical, moral, symbolic, historical, and conceptual — and their meanings for...

  7. 3: Multicultural Germans and Jews of Many Cultures: Imagining “Jewish Berlin”
    (pp. 77-108)

    The intense and often contentious attention lavished on Jewish Berlin brings decades of German engagement with the Nazi past and the Holocaust into the post-unification period.¹ In the 1990s Jewish Berlin began to play an important role in Germany’s claim to normalcy, which required both acknowledging guilt and bringing the process of atonement into the amalgam of post-wall identity.

    Two main themes drive the discourse about Jewish Berlin. The first is the quest to explore, describe, and illuminate the realities of Jewish life and experience in Germany, past and present. The second is to sort out the place of Jews...

  8. 4: Goodbye to East Berlin
    (pp. 109-140)

    East Berlin literature after 1989 is about a vanishing subject — a defunct political system and a disappearing way of life. The wall, after all, was a dramatic and palpable reminder of the divided Germany. East Berlin, where some of the most drastic changes in the urban structure took place, embodies the city’s transformation into the New Berlin. While East Germans contribute the majority of texts, West Germans, immigrants, and writers from other backgrounds also add to a body of work whose timeline and geography are defined by life before and after the wall.

    With few exceptions East Berlin texts...

  9. 5: Looking for Perspectives: The Construction at Potsdamer Platz
    (pp. 141-169)

    The post-unification decade was as much about the physical rebuilding of Berlin as it was about the interpretation of this process and its outcomes. Berlin texts of the post-unification decade attempt to capture a city in transition, participating in the interpretative process that accompanied the massive building projects. The engagement with national history is one contested arena in this construction of meaning; the pressures and opportunities of globalization are the other.

    In the 1990s Potsdamer Platz was Europe’s largest construction site. It was also one of those most analyzed. The tension between tradition and innovation in this new architecture inspired...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 170-176)

    After more than a decade of transition following the wall’s fall, Berlin has assumed its political and representative function as united Germany’s capital. The rebuilt city projects completeness and attainment. Its strategy of investing millions into historical as well as new architecture, most notably museums and a new government quarter, but also to promote commerce and entertainment, has paid off, placing Berlin firmly on the international tourist map. The 2006 Soccer World Cup showcased Germany as a hospitable nation and conveyed Berlin’s image as a welcoming and cosmopolitan city. Berlin, by these standards, has approximated the self-image it constructed for...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 177-198)
  12. Index
    (pp. 199-209)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 210-210)