From the Feuilletons


From the Feuilletons

Writing on the Wall

Neue Zürcher Zeitung

The East German writer Volker Braun remembers the time, in the run-up to 1989, when writers played an important role in the GDR: "The relationship between literature and politics was a precarious one, particularly because literature was taken seriously, because new books were awaited anxiously and feared. Not since Horace and Ovid had literature so concerned or outraged those in power, or empowered the man in the street. People did not read the printed books, they read the banned books. Discussions and conspiracies alike all centred around the fundamental issue of how to define our role in society?" But then history turned 'on its heels' and Braun was forced to face the fact that "it was our own movement only for a moment. The GDR disappeared just as it was starting to get interesting and our readers and audiences became speakers and actors themselves."

Frankfurter Rundschau 03.11.2009

Cultural studies academic Olaf Briese talks, in an interview to Andreja Andrisevic, about the aesthetics of the Wall which, in the West, was seen as a symbol of power and death and in East, was hidden away in embarrassment: "White, smooth, grouted. The concrete aesthetic. Unlike the early wall which was a wobbly, cobbled-together affair, this was industrially constructed, from vertical concrete slabs. Their compulsive orderliness gave them an air of geometry, seriality. I call this the aesthetic of standardisation and objectivity. No-frills construction, very much in the spirit of modern architecture. The Bauhaus aesthetic you might say."

Frankfurter Rundschau 04.11.2009

The East German writer Reinhard Jirgl does not mince his words when Nicole Henneberg asks his opinion on the fall of the Wall: "One thing we should clear up is that this was no revolution. The heroic rhetoric of those weeks was mixed, in typical GDR fashion, with Christian undertones. I found it utterly disgusting, that whiff of sacristy. People today are proud of the so-called 'peaceful revolution'. It's idiotic. There was no coup, no revolution, just a semi-hostile civil-service takeover of a concern called the GDR, which was economically, militarily and morally bankrupt. The Federal Republic of Germany, which was slightly more solvent in these areas, performed the takeover and changed itself in the process, as is the case with all factory takeovers."

Die Welt 05.11.2009

Gerhard Gnauck talks to the author Andrzej Stasiuk about the fall of the Wall, which (he was living in the depths of the Polish countryside at the time) was of no interest to him whatsoever. Today Stasiuk admits to having posthumous sympathies for the GDR – up to a point – he does accuse its people of not protesting since 1953. "Those in the Federal Republic seconded this silence to the letter. And both sides were keeping a timid ear out for any angry outbursts from the bear in the East towards those awful, idiotic Poles. It was not enough that the Poles were tormenting and torturing the bear, wearing him down psychologically – no, they also had to listen to the cowardly instructions from the West. So you could say that there is a certain amount of bad blood in Poland. We never came to terms with communism, we took to the barricades, spilled blood, created an underground state like during the Second World War, and in the end, the Germans won."

From the blogs 06.11.2009

Kultiversum trawled through the archives of Theaterheute magazine and fished out a conversation between Michael Merschmeier, the dramatist Heiner Müller, and two other key figures from the GDR theatre: Ulrich Mühe (the Stasi protagonist in the "Life of Others") and Hilmar Thate - just after it was announced that the now famous November 4th demonstration had been authorized. "Question: Do those in power still have control over how much they will have to yield in order not to lose everything, or is the opposition movement gaining such momentum that it can no longer be stopped?
Ulrich Mühe: They are only moving forward to avoid having to change the constitution.
Hilmar Thate: Things are not going to plan pretty chaotically.
Mühe: And they know that the only issue is the fundamental one of whether the GDR will exist in the future or not.
Müller: It would be boring if it no longer existed."

Other stories:

From the blogs 03.11.2009

In her acceptance speech for the Franz-Werfel human rights award, Herta Müller sharply criticised the German Evangelical Church for continuing peace talks with the Romanian regime after bowing to pressure to disinvite her and her husband, Richard Wagner, from attending the Church Congress back in 1989. In his Achse des Guten blog, Richard Wagner remembers: "The representative of the Geman Evangelical Church in Hermannstadt at the time, was the late Bishop Joachim Heubach von Schaumburg-Lippe. He was known to the public for his opposition to women priests and for his equally forthright denial of Ceausecu's destruction of the villages. It was official Romanian policy to deny the destruction of the villages. All this was reported at the time, but it has been buried now, and no one thinks about these things when the same people do the same things all over again. The communist sympathisers have given way to the Islam sympathisers. They, the sympathisers, deceive us with collective amnesia. It's as if Mephisto had become a democrat and God suddenly sympathised with him."

Süddeutsche Zeitung 05.11.2009

Catrin Lorch is relieved to see that the German artist (b.1926) Gustav Meyer is at last getting the credit he deserves, with a series of international exhibitions, one of them in London's Serpentine Gallery. "His sketches, models, designs and manifestos have come together to form an oeuvre which is not sparse and conceptual in its monumentality and unfailing radicality, but rich, vivid and beautiful. Like the project 'Stockholm June 1972' which, at least as a conceptual sketch, made it into the catalogue of Harald Szeeman's legendary Documenta in the same year. The idea was to back up 120 cars around a square plastic cube, which would gradually fill with exhaust fumes during the duration of the exhibition, until it became an opaque grey. The materials were collected together last year for the first time at the Sharja biennial, but phase two has yet to be realised ('The cars will be driven into the tent where they will explode.')

Die Tageszeitung 06.11.2009

Christian Semler and Stefan Reinicke talk to the Nazi historian Susanne Heim about the 9th November pogrom night of 1938. She has just published a book on the event, which largely draws on previously unpublished sources. She comments: "I know that an 850-page volume of documents is not going to be an airport bestseller. But if you look a little more closely, you see there is so much that we still don't know about this event. Take, for example, the question of how many Jews were killed in the November pogrom. The official figure is 91, but no one really knows. There are just so many unanswered questions." - let's talk european