'Re-reading East Germany’: The Literature and Film of the GDR


Georgina Paul (St Hilda’s College, Oxford)

Gender in GDR Literature

Taking as its starting-point the author’s preface to Maxie Wander’s 1977 volume of interviews with women, Guten Morgen, du Schöne (1977), this chapter explores the way in which GDR literature engaged with and challenged traditional gender roles in a manner distinct from the contemporaneous feminist literature of the new women’s movement in the West. In her preface, Wander indicates that the socially critical tenor of her book is to be seen as an expression of the degree of emancipation already achieved by women through the state’s efforts and proclaims, in an implied contrast with radical Western feminism, that emancipation from traditional gender roles is a matter for the entire society, not for women working in opposition to men.

Wander’s preface thus paves the way for a discussion of the promotion of women’s participation in public life as part of the socialist vision of the 1950s, as reflected in the works of authors such as Friedrich Wolf, Ludwig Turek, Elfriede Brüning, and Marianne Bruns. This provides a context for understanding the emergence of more radical female figures in the literature of the 1960s and early 1970s, such as Christa Wolf’s Christa T. or Brigitte Reimann’s Franziska Linkerhand, until by the mid-1970s, in part under the influence of Western feminism, women writers start to question the terms of the emancipation promoted by the socialist state and, in an explosion of innovative fictions (by Morgner, Königsdorf, Schubert, Wolter, among others), give vent to the wish for a reconceptualisation of gender relations. Some male writers, notably de Bruyn and Christoph Hein, also contribute to the critique of gender roles or write of the exhaustion of traditionally conceived masculinity (Heiner Müller).

The chapter concludes by looking at the legacy of the gender critique of the 1970s and early 1980s in the work of the youngest generation of GDR writers, those working in the ‘unofficial scene’ of the GDR’s last decade: the extent to which gender continued to be a significant category in their work (as with Köhler and Hensel) and the pursuit by those with a feminist agenda of a separatist path (such as Stötzer-Kachold).