Writers & Company

Ingo Schulze reflects on life in Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall

To mark the 30th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall, we revisit this 2009 conversation with German writer Ingo Schulze.
Ingo Schulze is a German writer born in Dresden in former East Germany. (Vintage, Jim Rakete)
Listen to the full episode53:06

The fall of the Berlin Wall marked the beginning of Ingo Schulze's remarkable writing career. Born in Dresden in 1962, Schulze came of age in the German Democratic Republic, or GDR.  The tumultuous events of November 1989, leading up to reunification, became the inspiration for his prize-winning fiction. When his first book — a collection of whimsical and unsettling stories called 33 Moments of Happiness — came out in 1995, he was hailed as one of the rising stars of East German writing.

Three years later, Schulze's debut novel, Simple Stories, captured international attention with its witty, anecdotal depiction of life in post-unification East Germany. Gunter Grass named him Germany's "new epic storyteller." His work has been translated into 20 languages. 

Eleanor Wachtel spoke to Ingo Schulze in 2009 about life in Germany 20 years after the fall of the Wall and his novel New Lives.

Lose your fear

"The days leading up to the end of communism in East Germany was a time when you lost your fear. Before this time, you lived partly in a world of conspiration. You didn't want people to see the books you were reading — and you never said anything in public.

The days leading up to the end of communism in East Germany was a time when you lost your fear.- Ingo Schulze

"But in September and October of 1989, that fear was gone. That was an important moment of change."

A sign outside the Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall reading 'Attention! You are now leaving West Berlin'. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

Time of our lives

"I lived in the German town of Altenburg until 1992. It is a little city south of Leipzig. I came to the city after my studies in 1988 and I worked at a theatre. At the time, the city had 55,000 inhabitants. The city has a wonderful museum called the Lindenau-Museum. It featured an incredible collection of early Italian paintings.

"Altenburg was my universe. As I worked at the theatre, I also started a revolution with friends by creating a newspaper. You came together with all these people you never met before and we all felt this sense of change happening. I had a feeling, in that very important time, of changing the world.

You came together with all these people you never met before, just because we all felt this sense of change happening. By the fall of 1989, I met a lot of people with the same mindset.- Ingo Schulze

 

"By the fall of 1989, I met a lot of people with the same mindset. In our newspaper we wrote about everything that happened in this little city. We created a lot of new enemies, but also a lot of new friends.

"Before that time, I had never thought before I could start a business. I had never even thought about money before. I was 28 and, for the first time in my life, I started thinking about money. In creating a newspaper you have to think about how to sell it. It was an experience that I still use for my writing."

In this Nov. 11, 1989 file photo, East German border guards are seen through a gap in the Berlin wall after demonstrators pulled down a segment of the wall at Brandenburg gate, Berlin. (Lionel Cironneau/Associated Press)

New era

"Enrico Türmer, the protagonist of New Lives, is close to my age. The background of his biography is close to my own. The main character is a man who wanted to live in the GDR, to suffer in the GDR and to write about the GDR. When I speak about a certain time and a certain place in Germany's history in the novel, I had to show what it was like. So the best way to accomplish that was to look back to my very own experience at the time.

"In 1989 to 1990, my experience was that the theatre went from a central position in society to a place that was not so important anymore.  A lot of people were also not very important anymore; they had never thought about money or economics because that was very easy to overcome in the GDR. These people lost their important status. It was important to describe these changes of dependencies coming from the theatre and growing to a commercial enterprise."

This Nov. 10, 1989 file photo shows Berliners from East and West in front of the Brandenburg Gate, standing atop and below the Berlin Wall, which divided the city since the end of World War II. (Jockel Finck/Associated Press)

Tumbling down

"After the fall of the Wall, it was wonderful to see how our public spaces were taken over by the people. It was a time when there were real discussions in radio and on television.

Everything was possible; democracy didn't depend on money, political party or the old aristocratic order. It was a good period.- Ingo Schulze

"You could say anything and everything. Everything was possible; democracy didn't depend on money, political party or the old aristocratic order. It was a good period."

Ingo Schulze's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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