Gender, Utopia, and Ostalgia: The Pre- and Post-Unification Visions of East German Science Fiction Writer Alexander Kroger

Article excerpt

Science fiction authors from eastern Germany have begun to publish after a hiatus of more than ten years that followed reunification with the West on October 3, 1990. Almost without exception, these titles come from writers who worked in East Germany. Where many books are slightly revised versions from East German times, a few new novels and anthologies have also appeared. (1) On the whole, former eastern authors, who previously published in a protected market, now have joined science fiction authors all over Germany in their effort to find a national audience amidst heavy competition from Anglo-American translations.

There is, however, one major exception to this rule. Alexander Kroger (pseudonym of Helmut Routschek) is an established author from the former East, who has managed to consistently publish a number of novels since his retirement from the natural gas industry in 1994. Like the majority of science fiction authors in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Kroger wrote in his spare time. Despite this status, he became one of the genre's most prolific writers in East Germany. Since 1969, he has written some nineteen novels and numerous short stories. In the GDR, many of his titles appeared in multiple editions. Like most East German science fiction, his books continuously sold out. His total circulation now reaches upwards of 1.6 million copies. Kroger's novels have been translated into Polish, Hungarian, Russian, Sorbian and, most recently, into Chinese. Since 1995, he has published seven new novels and five new editions. This productive capacity in a time of relative silence merits notice.

The overarching purpose of this article is to mark the change in the political project present in Kroger's science fiction before and after reunification. To this end, I have chosen two novels, one Der Untergang der Telesalt (The Downfall of the Telesalt), published immediately prior to November 9, 1989, and Der erste Versuch (The First Try), published in 2001. Both novels represent what was known in East Germany as a Warnungsroman or novel of warning. This genre incorporates the misfit protagonist and societal critique of Tom Moylan's critical utopia, but its form retains a closed narrative structure. Downfall of the Telesalt comments on the real-existing socialist society of East Germany, yet preserves its ideological ideal. The First Try responds to today's globalization with a socialist utopia on Mars.

The female protagonists in both novels provide a useful marker with which to analyze the change in Kroger's utopian writing. From one perspective, these two disaffected characters challenge their surrounding societal norms. The first, Fanny McCullan, finds her own voice in the middle of a decaying civilization; the second, Alina Merkers, ends a relationship on Earth and leaves to further her own career on Mars. A closer look at these two incarnations of the socialist superwoman reveals their function as utopian signifier within a greater Marxist project. The "emancipated" woman becomes the vehicle and measure, rather then the true subject, of progress towards socialism.

Consequently, on the surface, The First Try represents a conservative return to socialist-realist narrative strategies of the early GDR. However, my final assertion links Kroger's recent publication to the current phenomenon of "ostalgia" or nostalgia for the East. The incorporation of anti-globalization and environmentalist themes signals a move away from the past and towards a future other than that of today's Federal Republic. In this way, I maintain that Kroger's novel The First Try serves as a site of resistance in opposition to a western free market economy that "so frequently foreclose[s], or at least dismiss[es], the radically different social and historical experiences of the New Federal States" (Blum 231). The study of Kroger's writing lends itself to a greater understanding of identity formation and cultural change in contemporary Germany. …