The Literature of the German Democratic Republic Part I
1945–1976: From early on, cultural policy was dominated by the ideological and educational mandate of the SED, which also shaped the confrontation with National Socialism. The works of communist literature created before 1945 set standards, v. a. but the works by left-wing writers that were created in exile and have now been published in the GDR: works by Anna Seghers, A. Zweig, L. Renn, G. Weisenborn, F. Wolf, S. Heym, J. R. Becher, H. Mann among others The majority of these authors took up residence in the Soviet occupation zone or in the GDR after their return from exile.
In the beginning there were attempts to recruit more conservative authors (G. Hauptmann, Ricarda Huch, E. Wiechert, etc.), but since the 1950s the endeavor to oblige writers to “socialist realism” and all artistic manuscripts that deviate from it has dominated to exclude as “formalism” and “cosmopolitanism” (formalism debate). “Socialist realism” was considered the only possible method of grasping reality, and grasping reality was considered the only possible goal of art and literature. The cultural-political program included considerable material privileges for writers, opportunities for training (at the “Institute for Literature J. R. Becher” in Leipzig), but also ubiquitous censorship. Until the end of the GDR (loosened only in early 1989) a printing permit had to be obtained from the Ministry of Culture for every text.
The leading authors of early GDR literature were Anna Seghers, Becher and Brecht, who, however, had created most of their work before 1945. Brecht used the favorable conditions that the Berliner Ensemble offered him to implement the theater concept developed in exile. Becher, 1954–58 Minister of Culture of the GDR, strived for a »socialist national literature«: oriented towards the needs of the workers, it should in turn promote the work process. These ideas ultimately led to theBitterfelder Weg.
The works created in the 1950s often deal with the National Socialist past and the experiences of exile (novels by B. Uhse, Anna Seghers, O. Gotsche, W. Bredel), the best known – also internationally – was the concentration camp novel by B.. Apitz“Naked Among Wolves” (1958). Production novels based on the Soviet model wrote, among other things. E. Claudius and H. Marchwitza. The poetry was characterized by pathetic belief in the future, agitational tones and conventional forms (Becher, Kuba, E. Weinert, partly S. Hermlin, L. Fürnberg), more subtle tones can also be found in Brecht and Becher, they predominate in P. Huchel, G. Maurer and E. Arendt. Some authors left the GDR either resignedly or under pressure (U. Johnson, G. Zwerenz); E. Loest, from the cultural-political environment W. Harich and W. Janka, were directly affected by severe legal reprisals.
Since the 1960s there have been attempts to problematize the reality of the GDR in literature, v. a. by a younger generation of writers. In some works, the contradictions between high hopes or illusions and everyday reality in the GDR are reflected (Christa Wolf, “Der teilte Himmel”, 1963; Erwin Strittmatter, “Ole Bienkopp”, 1963; K.-H. Jakobs, “Beschreibung einer Sommers “, 1961; Brigitte Reimann,” Arrival in everyday life “, 1961; E. Neutsch,” Spur der Steine ”, 1964; H. Kant,” Die Aula “, 1965).
Younger poets formulated the deficits of the individual in the “socialist human community” claimed by W. Ulbricht more emphatically than the narrators (V. Braun, Sarah Kirsch, R. Kunze, G. Kunert, Inge Müller, U. Greßmann, K. Mickel). An exception is J. Bobrowski, whose poetry (“Schattenland Ströme”, 1962) and prose (“Levins Mühle”, 1964; “Litauische Claviere”, 1966) opened up Eastern and Jewish traditions in a new way.
For a long time, the example of Brecht applied to drama. A direct influence can be seen in Heiner Müller’s early pieces. Efforts to get the time piece were repeatedly hampered by the SED’s cultural policy (especially visible in the campaigns againstP. Hacks’ play “Worries and Power”, 1959-62, and Müller’s “Umsiedlerin”, 1961).
These attacks reached their preliminary climax in the defamatory criticisms of the 11th plenum of the SED Central Committee in 1965 (including G. Kunert, M. Bieler, S. Heym, W. Biermann). Nevertheless, some interesting works appeared in the second half of the 1960s, the effect of which was supposed to be devalued by manipulated discussions about the admissibility of their characters and conflicts in public (Christa Wolf, “Nachsehen über Christa T.”, 1968; G. de Bruyn, “Buridan’s Donkey”, 1968). The linear narrative style was broken up, the “positive hero” was problematized, the schematic conflict solutions failed to materialize (A. Wellm, “Break for Wanzka or The Journey to Descansar”; Jurek Becker, “Jakob the Liar”, both 1968; U. Plenzdorf, “The New Sorrows of Young W.”, 1973; Brigitte Reimann, “Franziska Linkerhand”, 1974; W. Heiduczek, “Death by the Sea”; Loest, “It goes its way”, both 1978). The Sorbian author J. Brězan was one of the first to deal with ecological problems (»Krabat«, 1976). Historical material has been used since the early 1970s to criticize the GDR reality in a coded manner (Heym, “Der König Davidbericht”, 1972; M. Stade, “The King and His Fool”, 1975). Autobiographical texts, self-reflections (H. Cibulka, »Sanddornzeit«, 1971; F. Fühmann, »22 Days or Half of Life«; F. R. Fries, »Seestücke«, both 1973), tape protocols (Sarah Kirsch, » The Panther Woman “, 1973; Maxie Wander,” Good morning, you beautiful “, 1977). AlsoChrista Wolf’s autobiographical novel “Childhood pattern” (1976) belongs in this context. In the poetry the tones of the uneasiness in the GDR society – now also in modern diction – became increasingly clear (A. Endler, Elke Erb, H. Czechowski, W. Kirsten, R. Kirsch et al., In an original synthesis with forms and contents of Sorbian folk poetry K. Lorenc).