Academic journal article German Monitor

Perspectives on the Borderline: Julia Franck's Lagerfeuer

Academic journal article German Monitor

Perspectives on the Borderline: Julia Franck's Lagerfeuer

Article excerpt

This chapter focuses on Julia Franck's novel Lagerfeuer (2003), which is set in the emergency reception camp in the Berlin district of Marienfelde in the late 1970s. As this analysis will show, Franck's narrative uses the borderline space of the camp to interrogate the relationship between the two Germanies during the Cold War era. Moreover, both its shifting narrative perspective and its focus on surveillance allow this relationship to be examined from a variety of different viewpoints. Finally, with its inclusion of a Jewish character and its incorporation of a number of Jewish elements, the novel also raises questions regarding the way in which Jews are viewed by East and West German society in the post-war era.

In the course of the first decade of this century, Julia Franck (b. 1970) has established herself as one of the most important female voices on the German literary scene. Although the writer was tarred with the brush of the so-called ?literarische [s] Fräuleinwunder' in the late 1990s,1 her critical and commercial success in recent years has ensured that she is now seen as more than a mere wonder girl. In particular, the award of the prestigious Deutscher Buchpreis in 2007 for her epic tome Die Mittagsfrau catapulted the writer to international fame. Franck has published five novels and two volumes of short stories to date, a number of which have now been translated and very well-received abroad.2

Franck's work often involves a retrospective view on certain historical epochs, and it frequently features characters who are outsiders, figures who defy social norms or who are excluded from or live on the fringes of society. Her writing questions accepted narratives of history by focusing on the fate of those people who are not usually the subject of historical enquiry.3 Thus, Die Mittagsfrau (2007) offers an alternative perspective on the history of the two World Wars by depicting the personal struggles of the mothers, daughters, and sisters who are left to hold the fort whilst their men are fighting on the front.4 Franck's most recent narrative, Rücken an RJicken (2011), depicts life in East Berlin in the late 1950s and early 60s from the point of view of two children neglected by a mother who is committed to the socialist state. These novels offer a type of ?history from below' that both complements and challenges the dominant historical narratives of the twentieth century.5

Although Franck's third novel Lagerfeuer (2003) has been largely overshadowed by the international success of Die Mittagsfrau, this critically acclaimed narrative likewise offers a view of history from below. This time, the focus is on the relationship between East and West Germany during the Cold War era, as seen from the perspective of four peripheral individuals attempting to navigate its complexities. Lagerfeuer is set in the refugee camp of Berlin-Marienfelde in the late 1970s. Franck's narrative taps into a broader trend in post-Wende German literature that involves looking back on the period of division as a way of coming to terms with contemporary issues of Heimat and belonging. Her novel uses the fictional stories of four characters that make the move from East to West to challenge prevailing images of the German-German relationship.

The Marienfelde refugee camp was initially set up in 1953 as an emergency reception centre to deal with the vast numbers of East Germans leaving the oppressive and impoverished East every day to begin a new life in West Berlin and in other parts of the Federal Republic. These refugees were given temporary accommodation, food, and clothing while they waited for their applications for West German residency to be processed. After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the numbers of refugees declined significantly, but right up until its closure in 1990, the camp continued to offer shelter to those who managed to leave East Germany and other Eastern bloc countries, whether through legal or illegal channels. …

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