Strange Bedfellows and Their Grandchildren: German Literature as Evidence and Confession of Reunification
From Hegel to Merkel, from Bismarck to BMW, German culture has defined and re-defined itself through a cycle of reaction; thesis, antithesis, synthesis. Modern Germany has certainly not escaped this pattern, existing in a very deep and surprisingly present way in reaction to the collapse of the East German state and the formation of a unified Germany. This paper examines the ways in which contemporary German authors evidence this reaction in their work. As a nation at the heart of the East/West divide throughout the Cold War, Germany provides an ideal lens through which to view the shifting cultural, economic, artistic and societal trends of the last three decades. Feelings of powerlessness, loss and nostalgia are evidenced within these trends. Even a small sampling of contemporary German sources sheds light on the ways in which national and personal trauma are internalized and digested—both in the individual and in society as a whole. Using the novels Simple Stories (Schultze, 2002), Berlin Blues (Regener, 2001), and the short stories Ubuville (1998) and German Lesson (Wondratschek, 1998) among others, this paper examines the ways in which contemporary German authors manifest this reaction in their work. This paper demonstrates that although the works vary in form and tone, they all display the feelings of disaffection and the omnipresence of the reunification as the great ,“elephant in the room” of modern Germany. The forceful merging of two nations, two political systems and two peoples, left behind a great and living trauma, one which is made manifest daily in the thoughts and actions of Germans (especially in the East) and in their creative output. As attention in the global West was focused unilaterally on the West Germans and the financial burden they bore as a result of reunification, the real plight of reunification and the true force of the trauma (that is, the trauma endured by East Germans) was largely ignored. This paper is thus useful in not only sounding the depths of modern German literature, but also in defining the effects of reunification on those that faced regionalist discrimination and financial pillaging at the hands of the global West. This paper demonstrates how, in the ever shifting maelstrom of an increasingly globalized world, post-unification Germans and particularly former East Germans are an ideal subject of study to increase our understanding of inter- and pan-generational trauma and the resultant processes of personal identification in which we all, to some degree, take part.