Our host Peter Craven talks with writer Klaus Kordon about experincing history, post-war childhood, prison in former Communist East Germany and life in reunified Germany.
Historical literature is booming, and Klaus Kordon, one of Germany’s top authors of novels for children and young adults, is a master when it comes to making history accessible. Whether his topic is the German Revolution of 1848, India’s caste system or divided Germany, Kordon’s books breathe life into his historical subject matter – perhaps because the writer himself witnessed history first-hand. Klaus Kordon lives in Berlin, where he was born in 1943. His father was killed during the Second World War and his mother was left to bring up Klaus and his two brothers on her own. She worked at a pub in Prenzlauer Berg, then a working-class district in the German capital. When the city and the country were divided in the post-war years, the family found themselves citizens of Communist East Germany. Shortly afterwards one of Klaus' brothers died, and he lost his mother when he was just 13. The orphaned boy spent the rest of his youth in children's homes. After marrying and having his own children relatively early, he went on to work as a medical equipment exports salesman – a job that brought both privileges and increasing pressure from the East German regime. He refused to become a member of the ruling party, as he and his wife Jutta became disillusioned with the lack of freedom in East Germany.In 1972 he made a failed attempt to escape to the West with his family. The two children were put into state care, while Klaus and his wife spent 12 months in prisons run by the Stasi secret police. Eventually the West German government bought his and his wife's freedom in 1973, and they were able to leave the East. Their children, however, were not allowed to join them and it would be a further year of heartbreak before the family were reunited.
It wasn't an easy start in the West; Klaus had his first experience of unemployment. The Kordons managed to persevere, however, and today Klaus Kordon is one of the most popular writers of children's books in Germany. He has written over 100 books, published in some 10 languages to date.
(First Broadcast on 6 September 2009)