Lecture series on German-language narrative prose since 1989

What remains

2022-11-15 Every Wednesday from 6.15 p.m. until the end of the winter semester, renowned German literary scholars will present novels and stories that they would like to recommend to future readers. Sven Kramer, Professor of Modern German Literature and Literary Cultures, talks in an interview about feuilletonistic desires, German-German literature and Christa Wolf.

"Writing takes time. But some books are read differently when the world has changed," says Sven Kramer, Professor of Modern German Literature and Literary Cultures. ©Sven Kramer
"Writing takes time. But some books are read differently when the world has changed," says Sven Kramer, Professor of Modern German Literature and Literary Cultures.
Professor Kramer, what distinguishes German-language literature after 1989?
    The fall of the Wall influenced German literature in particular. The call for a national literature became loud. People asked: Can the literary traditions of the two German states be united? The feuilleton wanted a great novel about the fall of the Wall that described the new conditions. But the writers did not fulfil this wish and went other ways. Over the last 30 years, interesting new focal points have emerged. On the one hand, they describe German-German conditions: How does the GDR appear in the afterlife - politically, privately and aesthetically - in literature? Wolfgang Hilbig's novel "'I'", for example, looks at the Stasi entanglements and tells the story of a poet who allows himself to be recruited as a Stasi informer. On the other hand, literature deals with migration, flight and racism. After 1989, we are dealing with a changed world. The Eastern bloc disappeared. Not only Germany changed.
Which of these books will be presented in the lecture series?
    For example, "The Comrades" by Shida Bazyar. The novel deals with current racism in Germany. Or "Atemschaukel" by Herta Müller. She describes the deportation of seventeen-year-old Leopold Auberg and his survival in a Soviet camp. The Nobel Prize winner grew up in a German-speaking Romanian village and only came to the Federal Republic later. Iraqi-born Abbas Khider tells a story of escape in his novel "The Wrong Indian". The author himself had to flee Iraq. He only learned the German language afterwards and then wrote his novel in German. The book depicts Saddam Hussein's regime and makes flight and hardship a reality. Language becomes a mirror of cruelty and torture. But the novel does much more than a journalistic documentation. Khider draws on modern literary traditions. He has written a rich, stirring book that offers many ways of reading.
Which book would you take with you into an upcoming period?
    I was talking about "What Remains" by Christa Wolf. The book describes a day in the life of an East German writer who is under surveillance by the Stasi. After it was published, a literary controversy erupted - an emotional public debate about the future orientation of literature in the Berlin Republic. Literary critics and feature pages sounded out the significance of GDR literature. The topic of surveillance also remains relevant in our new media environments. One can read this narrative to discuss current media relations. Wolf's book thus offers much more than the debate of the time addressed.
In 1989 we spoke of the turnaround. Now it's the turn of the times. Is something new also beginning in literature?
    Naturally, literature cannot react on a daily basis. Writing takes time. But some books are read differently when the world has changed. I can think of the novel "Maybe Esther" by Katja Petrowskaja from 2014, which could not be included in our lecture because the series was already planned before the Ukraine war. The author was born in Kiev and grew up in a Jewish family. In 1999 she came to Germany and wrote down her family history in this novel. Place names like Odessa or Kiev suddenly have a different sound for us. In older texts we recognise things that were already there. But we have read them over until now.

In the lecture series "Hauptwerke deutschsprachiger Erzählprosa seit 1989" (Major works of German-language narrative prose since 1989), literary scholars will explain until 1 February which prose texts they believe will retain their relevance beyond the season. They will present one text per session and explain why it should not be forgotten. The lectures will be held in lecture hall 4. Guests are welcome.


  • Prof. Dr. Sven Kramer