The Literature of the German Democratic Republic Part II
1976–1990: With Biermann’s expatriation (1976) and the semi-public reactions to it, the regime’s inability to engage in any intellectual debate became evident. The situation worsened again in 1979 after critical works by GDR authors were published by Western publishers (Heym, “5 Tage im Juni”, 1974; Rolf Schneider, “November”, 1979) and SED cultural officials reacted with new defamation campaigns and eight writers (K. Bartsch, Endler, Loest, K. Poche, K. Schlesinger, Jurek Becker, Dieter Schubert [* 1929, † 2008], M. Stade) wrote an open letter to E. Honecker in which they expressed their concern about the “coupling of censorship and criminal law”. The subsequent exclusions from the Writers’ Association, the publication restrictions and bans, prompted many authors to move to the Federal Republic of Germany or other western countries (including Jurek Becker, Sarah Kirsch, Jakobs, B. Jentzsch, Kunert, Kunze, Loest, T. Brasch, S. Schütz, H. J. Schädlich,K. Bartsch). At about the same time, others achieved aesthetic emancipation, which was expressed in the increased appropriation of the formal possibilities of modernity, in an interest in the spiritual world of Romanticism and in a turn to mythological and fantastic subjects (Fühmann, Fries, U. Grüning, Heym). The novels and stories of the writers asked about the limits of the emancipation of women (in an original way combined with surrealistic and fantastic elements in Irmtraud Morgner, Helga Königsdorf, Helga Schütz). The drama of the GDR was still from Heiner Müller (“Hamlet Machine”, 1978; “The Order”, 1979), Braun (“Die Kipper”, 1972) and Hacks (especially the processing of antique fabrics); authors who were not established found it difficult to bring something new to the stage in terms of content and form (P. Gratzik, S. Schütz); On the other hand, the comedies by R. Strahl were very successful. Many authors devoted themselves to the radio play, which gained in independence (Rolf Schneider, G. Rücker, Wolfgang Kohlhaase [* 1931]). The essay writing was poorly developed because the ideological guidelines made playful handling of any topic impossible. The arguments are outstanding Fühmanns with Trakl (“Vor Feuerschlünden”, 1982) and Brauns “Rimbaud. A psalm of actuality ”(published in“ Sinn und Form ”, 1985). The columnist works by Heinz Knobloch (* 1926, † 2003) reached a large readership.
In the 1980s it became increasingly clear that the instrument of censorship was no longer able to regulate the creation and publication of critical literature. As in the Soviet Union (W. I. Below, W. G. Rasputin), fiction in the GDR partly took on the role of socially critical journalism, all works to be taken seriously had a potential critical of the GDR. Literary texts were judged according to this content (by readers in the GDR, but also by critics outside of it). Works as diverse as “Kassandra” byChrista Wolf (1983), “The Foreign Friend” by C. Hein (1982, under the title “Drachenblut” 1983) and “Neue Herrlichkeit” by de Bruyn (1984) show the writers’ intensive examination of the basic problems of GDR society and their perplexity. Younger authors found their own language in poetry, which used various means to keep a clear distance from the regime (including Kolbe, Ralph Grüneberger [* 1951], R. Pietraß, Jan Faktor [* 1951], T. Rosenlöcher, L. Rathenow, in the songwriting and cabaret scene S. Mensching and Hans-Eckardt Wenzel [* 1955]). Bypassing the censorship, many texts were self-published in illegal magazines (»Mikado«, »Ariadnefabrik«, »schaden« etc.) and made available to a limited readership. The resulting illegal literary scene (in Dresden, Erfurt, Jena, Leipzig, Halle, Berlin, there especially in Prenzlauer Berg) was closely connected with other arts, for example with Johannes Jansen (* 1966) and Gabriele Kachold (Stötzer; * 1953). This and the atmosphere of conspiracy created a kind of literary creativity of its own. The intrusion of the State Security into these circles, which became apparent after German reunification, played a subordinate role in literary history in the narrower sense. In the 1980s, new plays by GDR authors became rare in the theater. Outstanding were those pieces that, partly in a metaphorical guise, sought a major confrontation with history: Heiner Müller in “Wolokolamsker Chaussee I – V” (1985–86), Braunin “Siegfried. Women’s protocols. Deutscher Furor “(1986), Hein in” The true story of Ah Q “(1983) and” The Knights of the Round Table “(1989).
Since the 1950s, the literature of the GDR has included a large number of prose works of varying quality, which catered for the entertainment needs of readers and were distributed in large editions. Cultural history (including H. A. Stoll, Jutta Hecker [* 1904, † 2002], Werner Légère [* 1912, † 1998], V. Ebersbach) and historical materials (including Hans Lorbeer [* 1901, † 1973], Rosemarie Schuder) were very popular, Marianne Bruns [* 1897, † 1994]) and any kind of satirical literature (Lothar Kusche [* 1929, † 2016], Renate Holland-Moritz [* 1935], Hans-Georg Stengel [* 1922, † 2003]). Adventure novels often served as a striking illustration of the official worldview (Wolfgang Schreyer [* 1927, † 2017], Harry Thürk [* 1927, † 2005]), and the detective novel also only slowly broke away from these clichés (Hans Pfeiffer [* 1925, † 1998 ], Karl Heinz Berger [* 1928, † 1994], Gert Prokop [* 1932, † 1994]). Some interesting approaches, v. a. under the critique of civilization and ecological aspects, there was science fiction literature (including Günter [* 1928, † 2008] and Johanna Braun [* 1929, † 2008], Karlheinz Steinmüller [* 1950]).
The last few years of GDR literature reflect the deep crisis of the system. The few essential prose works of the established authors are filled with discomfort, refusal, hopelessness (Braun, “Hinze-Kunze-Roman”, 1985; Christa Wolf, “Störfall”, 1987; “Sommerstück”, 1989; Hein, “Der Tangospieler”, 1989; Neumann, »The Guilt of Words«, 1989). This mood can also be seen in Strittmatter’s great autobiographical novel »Der Laden« (Volume 1 1983, Volume 2 1987, Volume 3 1992). Individual authors publicly called for the lifting of censorship for the first time at the 10th Writers’ Congress in 1987. Only now were works of their literature important for GDR history allowed to appear here (Heym, »5 days in June«, Federal Republic of Germany 1974, GDR 1989; Fries, “The way to Oobliadooh”, Federal Republic of Germany 1966, GDR 1989). The lyricists of the younger generation (Neumann, D. Grünbein, B. Papenfuß, K. Drawert and others) opposed the increasingly absurd reality with a radical subjectivity; the prose and radio play authors met this reality partly with extreme objectivity, partly with formal experiments (Brigitte Burmeister, Kerstin Hensel, Angela Krauss, W. Hilbig, J. Sparschuh).
The relative uniformity that was characteristic of the early years of GDR literature had dissolved in 1989. Diverse manuscripts, intellectual experimentation, serious endeavors to answer existential questions were characteristic in the end.