Academic journal article German Quarterly

"Without Poachers, No Foresters, and Vice Versa":1 Political Violence in Günter Grass's Ein weites Feld

Academic journal article German Quarterly

"Without Poachers, No Foresters, and Vice Versa":1 Political Violence in Günter Grass's Ein weites Feld

Article excerpt

In the months after the Berlin Wall collapsed, Gunter Grass repeatedly called for a slower process of political and economic reform.2 For citizens of the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), German reunification proved difficult as the Treuhand agency, founded to privatize the assets of the former GDR, carried out massive downsizing (Abwicklung) of East German businesses. Grass revisits his criticism of Helmut Kohl's government in the 1995 reunification novel Ein weites Feld, which presents snapshots of post-wall Berlin through the eyes of the East German Theo Wuttke, also known as Fonty. The primacy of the author's focus on the privatization policies after reunification is such that Ein weites Feld initially carried the working title "Treuhand" (Stolz 171). Because the novel explores the plight of disinherited East Germans, the Treuhand appears in a negative, even threatening light. Grass's emphatic critique of reunification culminates in the assassination of the agency's CEO, an allusion to the murder of Treuhand chairman Detlev Karsten Rohwedder on April 1, 1991.3

The fictionalized assassination in Ein weites Feld opens up questions about the causes of political violence in the 1990s in Germany. Instead of examining these issues, the media largely focused on Grass's persona. The novel received heavy criticism from reviewers, culminating in the uproar surrounding the title page of Der Spiegel, which showed the czar of German criticism, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, tearing up Bin weites Feld.4 Grass's novel and his public statements were also met with derision from conservative politicians such as Birgit Breuel, Rohwedder's successor, as well as from Social Democrats, notably Klaus von Dohnanyi, who discounted Grass's ability to assess the political situation.5 Grass points out that reviewers' statements often reflected a desire to play down the political problems the novel uncovers, and instead to present "den Prozess der Vereinigung als geglückt und abgeschlossen."6 The outrage over the novel's political tenor was in part derived from Grass's comment in an interview on the Treuhand's role in the novel: "Wer ein solch menschenverachtendes Instrument wie die Treuhand ins Leben ruft, muß sich nicht wundern, wenn darauf terroristisch reagiert wird."7 However, Grass introduces this admittedly provocative statement in a way that makes clear that he does not wish to legitimize violence, but to explain "wie es zu solchen Anschlägen kommt" (qtd. in Negt 418). Moreover, he pursues a perspective that gives voice to the former GDR: "Ich sitze nicht auf der Bank der Sieger. Ich schreibe die Geschichte der Betroffenen, der Menschen, [...] die den Umwälzungsprozessen ausgeliefert sind" (qtd. in Negt 442). In the novel, Grass expresses his concern for violent escalation not only by showing the East German protagonist's criticism of the Treuhand, but also by demonstrating Fonty's relativistic views on the legitimacy of violence as well as his hostility toward Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Fonty's reactions imply that victims of reunification saw no other way to protest than to engage in violence. In contrast, Grass rightfully objects to the fact that the novel's critics equated statements by characters with the author's opinion (qtd. in Negt 418). It is thus necessary to make a distinction between Grass's desire to explain terrorist violence in reunified Germany and his protagonist's failure to condemn such violence.

The topic of violence in Grass's works, e.g., anti-establishment protests in Örtlich betäubt and the war between the sexes in Der Butt, has been discussed in detail.8 Other works address violence in Grass's oeuvre in connection with Vergangenheitsbewältigung and World War II. The following analysis draws on sociological and anthropological studies in order to interpret the motivations behind terrorism as portrayed in Ein weites Feld. Violence can be thought of as an inherent aspect of human nature, as a reaction to specific situations, as an indiscriminate act or as a deliberate action. …

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