Communist rulers in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) fostered a literate society, but also imposed heavy restrictions on literature.
The people of East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic (GDR), are said to have read classics such as Tolstoy’s “War and Peace,” Boccaccio’s “The Decameron,” and Hugo’s “The Riddle.” Loved reading about places in science fiction that could only be seen in imagination due to travel restrictions.
Politics, like many other areas of social life, dictated this literary choice in a society controlled by the ruling Communist Party of East Germany.
To the outside world, the GDR presented itself as a literate nation, promoting the “Liese Land dei Dei Er” (Reading Nation GDR) to highlight its fondness for the use of literature. coined the term. The city of Weimar maintains monuments to the famous German poets Goethe and Schiller, their works proudly displayed as cultural assets of the GDR.
“What a wonderful time it was for literature,” writes Stefan Wolle, author and curator of “Leisen Land Day Day Er,” an exhibition organized by the Federal Foundation for the Study of the Communist Dictatorship in East Germany. Queues of customers formed in front of bookstores and book markets were filled with literature lovers.
“But on the other hand, what a terrible time it was, when every printed word was subject to strict censorship,” he added, “the party believed in the world-changing power of the word and at the same time perhaps Necessarily feared the impact of the critical text.”
The ambivalence between fostering literature on the one hand and petty censorship on the other is at the core of “Leisure Land Day Day Ar.” Highlighting daily life in East Germany, the Berlin exhibition includes 20 panels, inviting visitors on an illuminating literary journey behind the wall. Although the exhibition is partly about the country’s writers. is, but also shows how citizens opened up the world to themselves through reading, including places they could not travel to.
“The exhibition is a heroic story of people who always found ways to get the literature they actually wanted to read,” historian and foundation staff member Ulrich Mehlert told DW.
East German youth training
Every child’s bookshelf in the GDR probably contained volumes about Alphonse Satterbakke, or Alfie, a bright and courageous boy who wanted to be an astronaut. These stories survived the fall of the Berlin Wall and became popular in the West.
According to Mehlert, Alf was the epitome of the GDR’s youth policy, “The educational message of the story is that no one can walk the path of the universe alone. The individual has to submit himself to the collective.”
The contents of GDR youth bookshelves were scrutinized. Comics featuring Donald Duck and Uncle Scrooge, gangster stories, or Western romance novels were considered immoral literature. Bag checks were not uncommon at school: anyone smuggling banned literature was noted in the class register—or parents were called in to talk.
The GDR first banned Nazi literature in the immediate post-war period. But soon books from the West that were not politically compatible with the government, or literature that disagreed with communist ideals, were banned. Some libraries had so-called ‘poison shelves’ and The literature may be used as a reference only with special permission.
GDR Literature in the West
The literature of Christa Wolff and other dissident writers was enthusiastically received in the West. “A political standard was applied. What the authorities in the GDR would have been unhappy about would actually have been interesting,” said Wolle, from the organization Conception of GDR Literature in the West, on the other side of the wall. was It was done on the cultural page of newspapers on those topics.
According to Wolle, although the GDR no longer exists, it lives on in the people who lived in it. “That old country presents itself through books, films and stories,” he said.
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