Dresden-born writer Ingo Schulze began his career in the 1990s, writing about eastern Germany in the aftermath of reunification. He told DW-WORLD about his own experience in the GDR and how he sees reunification.
Ingo Schulze grew up in Dresden
DW-WORLD.DE: Ingo Schulze, how would you describe your personal experience in the GDR?
Ingo Schulze: Lots of books, run-down houses, plenty of time on my hands, lots of get-togethers in people's homes. I think these private spaces -- our apartments, kitchens and even strolls outside -- were one of the most striking aspects of life in the GDR. We would make plans to get together far in advance. Or sometimes we would just ring the doorbell and hope someone was in. But of course generalizations like these can descend into cliche very quickly.
Dresden's Church of Our Lady, after reconstruction
Right now, the GDR is once again all over the German media. According to the weekly newspaper Die Zeit, "Germans are incapable of remembering. They lie, they fall silent or they argue about the past." Do you agree?
Every new experience prompts you to rethink the past. And obviously everyone has different memories that are often contradictory and hard to reconcile. There is no one truth. That's why I'm grateful for art and culture: Fiction, poetry and theater can accommodate multiple truths. Basically, I'm a writer because I'm not interested in simplifications.
The GDR is a country that no longer exists. Is there anything left that reminds you of it -- in Dresden, for example, the city in which you grew up?
Two years ago I visited Dresden without telling anyone… I just wanted to walk through the city by myself. It was a very sobering experience. I never donated any money to the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche (the Church of our Lady), although I quite liked the way it looked, but when I was standing in front of it I couldn't quite get my head around the idea that it was supposed to mark the new heart of Dresden.
What was even worse was the whole Disneyfication of the city around it. I realized that the city's former blend of Stalinism and Baroque, which I never liked at the time, was actually architecture that attested to its times, it wasn't just random.
Now the city is trying to be something out of a fairytale, but it all just boils down to tourism and commercialization. I suddenly appreciated the old cityscape, which I never even used to think of as architecture as such. I realized it was actually very human.
You've been known to complain that architecture has been used to wipe out history: Much of the new building that has been done is a throwback to pre-Nazi and communist eras. Do you think the old statues of Lenin should be re-erected?
I'm very glad that those statues are all gone. But on the other hand, tearing down the Palace of the Republic (the former seat of the East German parliament) in Berlin was an absurd thing to do. I get the impression that Berlin really hates anything modern -- ideally, we would just jump straight from the German empire to reunified Germany. This is a trend you see everywhere.
The German word for 'doubt' shines bright above the Palace of the Republic
I don't want to romanticize the dilapidated houses and the bullet holes in the facades. I could quite easily stomach the fact that a lot was torn down. But it's more sinister than that: More and more public space is disappearing and being replaced by commercial space. Take Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. Only tourists go there. Locals never do. It's not a proper public space -- it's a space that has been rented out to businesses. This is a very typical development.
Democracy is about having public spaces. In the GDR, public space could only be used for official events. And now the public space that we have access to and should be using has been hijacked by commercialism. People are reduced to mere consumers.
You once said that the disappearance of the East was less of a problem than the disappearance of the West. What exactly did you mean?
What I meant by that was the way everything has been commodified. I don't know first-hand what it was like in the West in the 1970s and 1980s, but it sounds as though people did have a different sense of social justice. I've known the West since 1990, and since then I've seen everything become commodified. It's all economics. Politics are increasingly irrelevant. Why can't the German railway be run solely in the interest of the public? Prices could be kept deliberately low, and it could be used as a viable, environmental mode of transport. Why does even the railway have to turn a profit? This is a development I don't like, and it makes me really angry.
Ingo Schulze was born in Dresden in 1962 and now lives in Berlin. "Simple Stories" published in 1998 was hailed by critics as the definitive "reunification novel." His latest book "Adam und Evelyn," a bittersweet comedy set in 1989, was nominated for the 2008 German Book Prize.