Loyal Dissidents and Stasi Poets: Sascha Anderson, Christa Wolf, and the Incomplete Project of GDR Research

By Hell, Julia | German Politics and Society, Winter 2002 | Go to article overview
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Loyal Dissidents and Stasi Poets: Sascha Anderson, Christa Wolf, and the Incomplete Project of GDR Research

Hell, Julia, German Politics and Society

Sascha Anderson, Sascha Anderson (Cologne, 2002)

Jorg Magenau, Christa Wolf. Eine Biographie (Berlin, 2002)

Christa Wolf, Leibhaftig. Erzahlung (Munich, 2002)

Volker Weidermann, a journalist writing for the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, seemed somewhat puzzled when he reviewed the spring 2002 literary season. After having just told his readers that for many years the GDR had been curiously absent from discussions in the Federal Republic, he exclaimed with a palpable sense of surprise: "But now it's back again, the GDR." (Doch jetzt ist sie wieder da, die DDR). (1) Weidermann is not the only journalist to have reacted this way to the sudden accumulation of books about life in the former GDR, which included the first postwall biography of Christa Wolf, written by Jorg Magenau; Christa Wolf's novel Leibhaftig, and several autobiographical novels by the former GDR's most unsavory authors: Hermann Kant, the long-time president of the GDR's author's union and an active Stasi collaborator, Fritz Rudolf Fries, author and Stasi informer, and, finally, Sascha Anderson, the infamous poet and cultural manager of the Prenzlauer Berg, who presented his autobiographical novel Sascha Anderson to a public eager to learn the details of his strange life as avant-garde artist in the service of the Stasi. Finally, a group of younger authors entered the scene with stories about everyday life in the GDR of the 1980s. (2)

The reception of the younger authors was mixed. Their books about growing up under Honecker were often criticized as documents of historical revisionism, nostalgia, or even "cuteness." (3) Why are these younger authors suddenly so interested in the former east? Weidermann asked Jana Hensel, an editor living in Berlin, who explained that after 1989 young East Germans were initially deeply invested in getting to know the west. During these years of assimiliation, they wanted the east to disappear as quickly as possible. In recent years, however, this attitude has changed with people of diverse ideological views increasingly recognizing that the former GDR was their Heimat. (4)

So is the "invisible east" reemerging as a "country of memory," an Erinnerungsland, as Weidermann concluded in his article? (5) Anyone familiar with the cultural landscape of Germany since 1989 knows that this is not a new phenomenon, nor is it one that should surprise us. As early as 1995, Michael Rutschky wrote about the coming-into-being of an imaginary GDR after its dissolution. We were witnessing, Rutschky argued, the production of cultural identities rooted in a country that no longer existed, and he asked us to understand this "new" GDR identity as the product of a new community of experience and narration. This community simply did not exist before 1989 because the GDR lacked the unrestrained public sphere that would allow such a culture to arise. (6) Weidermann's observation that the GDR is reappearing in literature as Erinnerungsland thus does not tell us much we didn't know before. What is new, however, is the fact that a younger generation is now involved in this memory work-as if this imaginary GDR needed to be reconstructed by each generation. We have given this phenomenon different names: in the early 1990s, we spoke of Ostalgie; now we are witnessing a much simpler, less politically charged process: the rediscovery of a childhood at once banal and exotic.

This imaginary postwall GDR sometimes had the idealizing glow of PDS nostalgia, sometimes the melancholic hue of an utopian ideal never realized, and now an ironic, postmodernist coloring, with a more or less explicit antiwestern edge. But I think there are signals that the change in sensibilities runs deeper. More than twelve years after the implosion of real existing socialism, some authors are starting to describe this vanished country as a landscape of ruins. (7) In Das erste Jahr, for instance, Durs Grunbein reflects on what it means to have grown up on the easternmost edge of Germany--that is, what it means to have an East German imagination marked by a past that has its own particular dates and sites.

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Loyal Dissidents and Stasi Poets: Sascha Anderson, Christa Wolf, and the Incomplete Project of GDR Research


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