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Eastern Germany’s Culture Adjusts to Five Years of Unity

September 25, 1995

LEIPZIG, Germany (AP) _ Kurt Masur is one of the treasures of culture that East Germany brought to united Germany. And what is the maestro planning? He will soon stop conducting in Leipzig and devote himself to his other post with the New York Philharmonic.

If he had left in 1990, it would have been seen as a disaster for serious culture in eastern Germany. Five years after German reunification, there is regret over the popular conductor’s decision _ but there is confidence that the cultural landscape is thriving.

New creative figures are rising from the East German background _ often so young that they weren’t deeply affected by life in a police state before the Communists fell in 1989 and the two Germanys united on Oct. 3, 1990.

``We were really born at the right time. We’re not so old that the system made us kaput,″ said Gerd Lybke, Leipzig’s leading young art gallery owner.

Meanwhile, some older cultural icons are fading away.

Among them is writer Christa Wolf, 66, whose career has been poisoned by questions about her relations with the Stasi, the East German secret police.

Known as a mild dissident against the Marxist regime, she published her memoir ``What Remains″ after the Berlin Wall opened and described how the Stasi kept tabs on her. Then it was revealed she had cooperated for a while with the Stasi in the 1950s and ’60s and she lost prestige.

The Stasi also submerged novelist Hermann Kant, 69, who has been accused since 1991 of having damaged other writers by informing on them.

Wolf and Kant, both with records of struggle against East German censorship, still have loyal readers. But the wider German public is waiting for them to write revealing books on the inner life of the Stasi victim-cum-informer.

If it may be impossible for older easterners to describe how they let themselves be blackmailed by the secret police, others are tackling the theme in fiction.

Thomas Brussig’s satirical novel on life in East Germany, ``Heroes Like Us,″ won raves with its publication in early September.

Brussig, 29, told the newspaper Der Tagesspiegel that his generation ``couldn’t really take East Germany seriously anymore.″

But he said he knew how it felt to be blackmailed because an informer had turned him in for keeping a forbidden diary after he was drafted into the army.

His novel has an absurd no-hoper as the main character who becomes a Stasi agent and gives blood to help keep Communist boss Erich Honecker alive. The book makes open fun of Wolf and other older East German luminaries.

Germany’s most prominent writer, Guenter Grass, praised Brussig’s novel, describing it as in the tradition of his own 1961 novella ``Cat and Mouse,″ a bittersweet story of young Germans’ experience of World War II.

Grass, a westerner with a leftist’s sympathy for East Germany, gives the Stasi a prominent role in his new novel about the time of German unification, ``A Broad Field.″ His main character is always accompanied by a Stasi man, the ``day-and-night shadow.″

Lybke, the young Leipzig art gallery owner, would understand. He has seven volumes recording the Stasi’s snooping around him when he was a student.

``Was it a problem? Inspiration! See it positively! I was forced to reorient myself from theater studies into art,″ Lybke said.

Expanding from his Eigen-Art gallery in Leipzig, he has opened a branch in Berlin and put on shows in New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, mostly with artists from eastern Germany who are not older than 35.

His Berlin gallery is one of 21 opened in the last few years on or near lively Oranienburger Strasse in the east of the city. ``I’m 34 and I’m the oldest of them,″ Lybke said.

His message to young artists of the world: ``Pack your bags and come to Berlin. The future will be determined by those who come in new. The old ones in Berlin are afraid, and even someone from Leipzig is foreign in Berlin.″

It means a lot of foreign competition for emerging local artists. Popular culture in eastern Germany was internationalized quickly, with Hollywood movies grabbing the box office and Western pop music topping the charts.

A young Leipzig band has fought back. Taking the band Queen as a model, Die Prinzen (The Princes) sing in close harmony, spinning out hit after hit.

``You have to be a swine,″ is one of their most pointed lines on life in united Germany. They push a theme voiced by many eastern Germans _ that they were better people before unification, more caring, less materialistic.

Cuts in government art subsidies have hurt movie production, which has been a problem area for years. Director Volker Schloendorff, who won an Oscar for ``Tin Drum,″ has been co-managing Babelsberg studios, the old East German film center outside Berlin, since 1992, but business hasn’t taken off.

``The hopes that Berlin would become a film and television capital simply weren’t fulfilled,″ Schloendorff said in an interview with Die Zeit weekly.

``My decision to come here was quite emotional. I thought when the wall fell, then East and West would collide, the sparks would fly, great stories would be in the air, creative potential and so forth. It didn’t happen.″

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