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.
This chapter explores the responses to the momentous changes taking place as the East German state collapsed, looking in particular at the ways in which people struggled to make sense of the seemingly unimaginable. It considers the ways in which these responses were articulated, and concentrates on one frequently-heard simile, namely that the events were “like a dream”. The oneiric, it suggests, underpins some of the filmic representations of the Wende. The focus here is on Grönland (Jens Becker, 1990), which traces one man’s increasing alienation and abstraction from society, a film that is certainly as distinctive and genre-defying as some of the better-known films that counted as the last DEFA (East German) films. This chapter revisits and contextualises Becker’s film, the first to be nominated for a Student Oscar and the last DEFA production to be banned, paying attention to its formal properties – the hybrid styles (film noir, carnivalesque, grotesque), the excess and exaggeration – and to the thematic concerns underpinning the critical and surreal account of the regime’s final days and the dystopian vision of a unified state.
Uwe Johnson’s first novel Ingrid Babendererde: Reifeprüfung 1953 provides a fascinating picture of some of the tensions under the surface of GDR society barely a month before the uprising of 1953. Yet it was rejected by serious publishers in both German states. The reception history of this text allows a reconstruction of the past much broader than the GDR background alone. It highlights aspects of the West German reception of GDR writing, while also demystifying some of the dominant clichés of the period. The relationship between Johnson’s novels Ingrid Babendererde and Mutmaßungen über Jakob may also be illuminating in the context of West German literature. Similar conclusions can also be drawn from the different receptions accorded to Christa Wolf’s novel Nachdenken über Christa T. and to Ingrid Babendererde – texts which, apart from their reception history, show considerable affinities with one another. The essay works with Jaußian concepts of reception aesthetics.