Capturing the Zeitgeist: On Human Experience and Personal Historiography in Helga Königsdorf’s 1989 oder Ein Moment Schönheit 

in German Reunification and the Legacy of GDR Literature and Culture
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Abstract

Arguably one of those to engage most intensely and personally with the events of autumn 1989 was the GDR mathematician and writer, Helga Königsdorf (1938–2014), not least in 1989 oder Ein Moment Schönheit, her collage of letters, poems and texts published in 1990, where she seeks to represent, and engage critically and honestly with, the myriad of thoughts, emotions and experiences generated by the Wende, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the ultimate move towards the dissolution of the GDR. In the foreword to her collection, the author argues for an appreciation of the uniqueness of the mo­­ment, of the human experience and the creativity it fosters; all these, she recognises, will inevitably be lost in future renderings of events: “Die nach uns kommen, werden die Ereignisse historisch betrachten. Sie werden ihn suchen, den roten Faden durch das Geäst der Zeit. Aber was sie finden, wird nicht das Eigentliche sein” (p. 5). Within this chapter, I explore how Königsdorf configures her collage and some of the themes she raises therein: self-expression and creativity, artistic freedom and responsibility, celebration and mourning, human dignity and reason – and I argue that, in its conscious juxtaposition of text-types and themes, the very genre of “collage” both challenges the normative historiography of events Königsdorf predicts and simultaneously represents in itself a creative historiography predicated on individual experience.


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