Lutz Rathenow, Berlin, Germany

Questions to the narrator


Location Berlin, Germany
Length 09:14

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How does an event like a rock concert turn into a political drama?

The situation is here political when one stands in one place in the city and one cannot get to the other because of the Wall; so tension rises quickly which then expresses itself in shouts against the Wall.

That young people cannot travel is the biggest problem for them. Otherwise young people are similar to those anywhere else, have similar problems with parents, at school, here some political ones must be added; for example, if someone works very actively in a church group, in an environmental group which criticises state measures then it can sometimes happen that at some point when he wants to go to university then a man says to him: well, you cannot go to university if you continue to work in this group. Those are problems.

Recently, a rock concert in Berlin, in West Berlin, turned into a political drama. Is it because of the Wall, or is it because more generally the authorities here tend to politicise culture, especially youth culture?

It is both. There are general problems young people have with parents or at school like everywhere else, and then some special ones must be added; for example, if one stands in one place in the city and cannot go to the other because of the Wall, then that can provoke very quickly to shout ‘Down with the Wall’. Young people here are of course also very interested in rock music, there are also many rock concerts here, and there are some special problems here which are different from England. First and foremost, there are political problems and that one cannot travel. It is for example like this I know a friend who is 19, who wants to go to university, participates very actively in a peace group in the church and then one day he is summoned and a man tells him: you cannot go to university if you continue to work in the peace group.

You have written a book about Berlin, a divided city, but when you talk about Berlin as I just did you speak about Berlin as a whole city. Can you explain?

Yes, the book's title is ‘East Berlin’

(Crew chatter)

You've written a book about East Berlin but when you talk about Berlin you talk about one city. What is the image of the other half for an East Berliner?

The other half is a very strange city, for me it is a part of this city and yet a city with a character all its own, a city about which I hear much on the radio. I listen to West Berlin radio stations, I have many friends there, they visit me but I cannot go there. I hear a lot, I have much information and that is both, it is still one for me and it is sh, they are two different things, two halves which amount to more than the former whole, and I think (last three words overlap with question)

Is this only for Berlin or is this for the West in general, is it the image of the West in general?

(in English) This is special to Berlin. (Continues in German) It is a special problem. Many Berlin people and young people who live here feel somehow as Berliners, and West Berlin is closer than West Germany, much closer; and therefore I can imagine many things much more clearly than in Munich or the Ruhr area; and a whole Germany is difficult to imagine, and it won't happen either.

(Very slight overlap with previous answer) Is that because the West Berliners share with you this schizophrenia, this feeling of divided city?

The West Berliners? I'm not sure about that. That differs enormously, the Berliners who come here are very interested, the West Berliner; but there are many who never come here and who are not interested at all any more in what's going on here.

We are sitting here in a church. The Church in East Germany has obviously become an umbrella for a number of cultural activities. How can you explain this phenomenon?

Yes, the Protestant Church is a very diversely structured church for many activities and there are to, I cannot describe this now from the church's point of view this would now be said differently, they understand it as a stimulus to work in the parish; I'll just tell you now from my point of view as an artist. It is a very interesting space, for example the space here in this church is very beautiful, it's not just simply a substitute for a something different, the walls are very beautiful, the church is particularly inviting for reflection, for discussion, and then it also offers rooms and possibilities for people who otherwise have problems. So for example my books are only printed in the Federal Republic, and here I read mostly in little clubs or in churches.

In a recent poem entitled ‘Progress 49’ you wrote: ‘The finger I left at Verdun, an ear at Stalingrad, I give my head to our new state’. Is this the summary of the state of the writer in a socialist state?

That is a sentence which is ironical and serious. In 1949 it was meant seriously, full of pathos, wanting to build, and today (laughs) it is more ironical. But I don't give my head and most people don't give their heads but have become more self-confident over recent years.

How would you describe the situation of the writer in East Germany today? Does he have a greater scope, a greater freedom than he used to have 10 years ago? What are the limits of freedom for him?

Hm yes, the situation of the artists is in many ways better than the situation of other people, of young people who aren't artists, who want to form a rock group; have more problems with their music than when someone has already been recognised as an artist; and artists, writers who are members of the Association can more likely travel to Western countries. However, in the last few years many books have not been published here, only in other states, and it is also, many writers have left the GDR. That is a problem, that continues the same as ever; and in the meantime many are unknown, you know, the people here who are interested in literature they've lost touch a bit with what GDR literature really is. There are great, well-known names - Christa Wolf, Heiner Müller - and then (laughs) we are already close upon the very beginning of anonymity. That’s a great danger for literature, that it disappears in anonymity. It is discovered in foreign countries - in France, Sweden, in the USA, perhaps in England too, and here some people don't know these authors any more who are now travelling all over the place.

There is a young generation of East German writers; they write about the problems of their generation; how would you sum them up?

Ten years ago every acquaintance I had was wanted to write, everyone was a writer; today that's different. Today more people take photographs, more are painters, people paint more, there are attempts at films too, more sensual media. Literature is in slight decrease, but people write about the problems, that's right, and people read to others. There is resonance, the texts are heard by people the same age. And three days ago at the opening of our exhibition here which I designed together with the photographer, six or seven hundred people were here, that is a lot, there is very great interest, and that is taken very seriously, by the state too and (laughs) and there are always opinions about it, and that is sometimes a very complicated situation.

But concretely, how would you describe the problems of the young generation?

(Crew chatter)

How would you describe concretely the problems of the young generation because the standard of living seems alright, access to education seems fairly widespread; people might have the impression, well, what's the problem, where, why are they dissatisfied?

(Sigh) They want to go to West Berlin some time if they live here, that's not possible; they want to go on a trip to the Federal Republic or France some time - that's not possible; they want to be able to have open discussions at school - there are problems too, otherwise one doesn't get employment here; and then there is no unemployment here, not like in England, but one does not get the work one wants, it is difficult to get work one wants, and that too creates problems and dissatisfaction, and one does unenthusiastic, and one is 18 and 19 too and does not really see any prospect either; thus you can then see similarities with elsewhere. (Cars tooting)

Lutz Rathenow (1952)

Lutz Rathenow

Lutz Rathenow was born in Jena in 1952. From 1973 he studied German philology and history in Jena. He was the founder and leader of the opposition working group "Literature in Jena", which was banned in 1975. In connection with the expatriation of the songwriter Wolf Biermann in 1976, he was banned from studying at all universities and technical colleges in the GDR three months before his exams in March 1977. Because of “doubts in basic positions, objectivism and intellectualizing the problems” was the reason.

Lutz Rathenow initially earned his living as a transport assistant and passenger. At the end of 1977 he moved to East Berlin, where he found work as an assistant production and director. Since then he has worked as a freelance writer and theatre worker in the GDR.

Rathenow was still exposed to severe publication restrictions. In 1980 he brought out his first volume of prose, “The worst was expected”, without the approval of the GDR authorities. The GDR authorities reacted by arresting the writer. The preliminary investigation was discontinued after repeated protests and Lutz Rathenow was released after ten days in prison. Rathenow turned down the offer by the GDR authorities that he could travel to the Federal Republic of Germany.

In order to make his texts accessible to the public despite many restrictions, he used reading events in church institutions or private homes.

Lutz Rathenow was active in the independent peace and civil rights movement of the GDR, for example in the “Initiative Peace and Human Rights”, one of the oldest such groups. He maintained a dense information network in East and West, which is why he was extensively bugged by the Stasi.

After the peaceful revolution and German reunification, it continued to be present and did not slip into oblivion. With other writers, he advocated on coming to terms with the DDR past.

Lutz Rathenow has been the Saxon state representative for the Stasi files since 2011 (since 2017 the Saxon state representative on coming to terms with the SED dictatorship).