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Author Christa Wolf Reflects on the Debate about East German Literature (September 27, 1993)

In the following excerpt, author Christa Wolf describes a public reading she gave from letters written during her California exile; she then recounts the question and answer session that followed. The ensuing discussion addressed the dilemma of Stasi collaboration – something that Western literary critics accused her of – as well as the issue of Stasi repression, which Wolf had experienced in attempting to criticize the failures of GDR socialism.

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Monday, September 27, 1993
Berlin Pankow

[ . . . ]

Before eight to the Stauden Gallery [in Potsdam], which already existed when we would come here to see my father, and which has now been taken over by younger people. A long, narrow room with paintings of Mecklenburg landscapes on the walls; two hundred and fifty people have come. I have doubts about whether a discussion will be possible here, which, of course, is what is important to me. Vinke and I must walk up onto a podium; I am naturally seized by doubts again as to whether I should have been willing to involve myself in this undertaking. What am I doing here? I think to myself. Isn’t that simply pure presumption again? We must speak loudly into the microphone in order to be understood in the back. The topic is the volume Inspection of Christa Wolf’s Files that Hermann Vinke edited. Alternately he and I familiarize the audience with the contents; I read from the letters that I wrote in Santa Monica and that are printed in the book. It has only been six or seven months; I still remember everything. It engraved itself upon my mind, and yet that is a completed phase; I sense that even now I can no longer convey my emotions of that time to the audience. Or is it the distance I feel, a shield, unconsciously erected against a new deluge of uncontrollable feelings?

The discussion begins somewhat awkwardly. A man asks me if the sentence in Cassandra – that she is ashamed of having once thought: I just want the same thing that you do! – also applies to me. I can confirm that and I talk about how, in the campaign against Divided Heaven, I at first always said: But I just want the same thing that you do! and how I had to learn, rather difficultly, that that was not true.

Somebody asks me to describe my development since being permitted to inspect the records, especially my Interior Minister records. I try to talk as openly as possible about the different stages, about the initial shock, the horror about myself, the despair about the impossibility of being able to expect a differentiation in public amid the general state security hysteria, about the danger of identifying myself with the characterization that I then experienced in public, about the therapy through writing and the gradual process of working my way out of the depression again until I reach my current state, where I believe that I can explain that episode – which will always remain a sore, even a dark point – on the basis of my development. While I am talking, I notice that I have taken too much upon myself after all, that I really am still too thin-skinned for that sort of forum, but now it can no longer be avoided.

An older woman spends a long time describing what she got from my books before the collapse of the German Democratic Republic; through them she became especially aware of the fact that we live in a male-dominated society; this whole matter of the records did not interest her at all; would I continue to write about women’s themes. I say that I have retained my knowledge and insights, that there are structures that were basic to the East German system, just as they are also basic to that of the Federal Republic. Both were or are patriarchies; both were or are industrial societies – that will remain in the background of my writing, even when I do not treat feminist themes in the narrower sense.

One man refers to the appeal “For Our Country.”* He has read one of my letters thoroughly. I explain there, he says, that in Cassandra I had described that Troy had to fall because it demanded human sacrifices; then, however, in the appeal “Für unser Land” I had apparently demanded the preservation of this country of the German Democratic Republic. Was that not a contradiction? I was rather glad to be able to clarify that. In that appeal, after all, we had not been thinking about the old German Democratic Republic, about its preservation or even about its resurrection. For a very short historical moment we had thought about a completely different country that none of us will ever see. An illusion, and I already knew it was at that time. In spite of that, I participated in the appeal so that I would later not have to reproach myself for having missed an opportunity. For a moment I again feel the atmosphere of those months four years ago, into which I can otherwise hardly place myself anymore.

* “Für unser Land (For Our Country)”: Proclamation campaign by initiators from the citizen’s movement during the last year of the German Democratic Republic, last represented by Volker Braun, Bernd B. Löwe, Sebastian Pflugbeil, Andrée Türpe, Konrad Weiss and Christa Wolf, who put the text into the version that became known, which was introduced by Stefan Heym in a press conference on November 28, 1989 (see: Für unser Land – Eine Aufrufaktion im letzten Jahr der DDR [For Our Country– A Proclamation Campaign in the Last Year of the GDR], Frankfurt/M., 1994). (G.W.) [Footnote taken from Christa Wolf, One Day a Year, trans. by Lowell A. Bangerter. Europa Editions: New York, 2007, p. 512.]

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