Remembering the Wall, 20 Years on…

Short section of Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz, March 2009
Short section of Berlin Wall at Potsdamer Platz, March 2009

For the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall on November 9, 1989, a fair amount of ink is being splattered left, right and center.  Here is the signandsight summing up of the German feuilletons’s dealing with the anniversary (the links of course go back to the articles in the German papers, but the one or two sentence summaries in English do give those without German a glimpse of what’s being thought):

From the Feuilletons is a weekly overview of what’s been happening in the German-language cultural pages and appears every Friday at 3 pm. CET.. Here a key to the German newspapers.

Writing on the Wall

Neue Zürcher Zeitung 31.10.2009

The East German writer Volker Braun remembers the time, in the run-up to 1989, when writers played an important role in the GDR: “The relationship between literature and politics was a precarious one, particularly because literature was taken seriously, because new books were awaited anxiously and feared. Not since Horace and Ovid had literature so concerned or outraged those in power, or empowered the man in the street. People did not read the printed books, they read the banned books. Discussions and conspiracies alike all centred around the fundamental issue of how to define our role in society?” But then history turned ‘on its heels’ and Braun was forced to face the fact that “it was our own movement only for a moment. The GDR disappeared just as it was starting to get interesting and our readers and audiences became speakers and actors themselves.”

Frankfurter Rundschau 03.11.2009

Cultural studies academic Olaf Briese talks, in an interview to Andreja Andrisevic, about the aesthetics of the Wall which, in the West, was seen as a symbol of power and death and in East, was hidden away in embarrassment: “White, smooth, grouted. The concrete aesthetic. Unlike the early wall which was a wobbly, cobbled-together affair, this was industrially constructed, from vertical concrete slabs. Their compulsive orderliness gave them an air of geometry, seriality. I call this the aesthetic of standardisation and objectivity. No-frills construction, very much in the spirit of modern architecture. The Bauhaus aesthetic you might say.”

Frankfurter Rundschau 04.11.2009

The East German writer Reinhard Jirgl does not mince his words when Nicole Henneberg asks his opinion on the fall of the Wall: “One thing we should clear up is that this was no revolution. The heroic rhetoric of those weeks was mixed, in typical GDR fashion, with Christian undertones. I found it utterly disgusting, that whiff of sacristy. People today are proud of the so-called ‘peaceful revolution’. It’s idiotic. There was no coup, no revolution, just a semi-hostile civil-service takeover of a concern called the GDR, which was economically, militarily and morally bankrupt. The Federal Republic of Germany, which was slightly more solvent in these areas, performed the takeover and changed itself in the process, as is the case with all factory takeovers.”

Die Welt 05.11.2009

Gerhard Gnauck talks to the author Andrzej Stasiuk about the fall of the Wall, which (he was living in the depths of the Polish countryside at the time) was of no interest to him whatsoever. Today Stasiuk admits to having posthumous sympathies for the GDR – up to a point – he does accuse its people of not protesting since 1953. “Those in the Federal Republic seconded this silence to the letter. And both sides were keeping a timid ear out for any angry outbursts from the bear in the East towards those awful, idiotic Poles. It was not enough that the Poles were tormenting and torturing the bear, wearing him down psychologically – no, they also had to listen to the cowardly instructions from the West. So you could say that there is a certain amount of bad blood in Poland. We never came to terms with communism, we took to the barricades, spilled blood, created an underground state like during the Second World War, and in the end, the Germans won.”

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