Open Access Dissertation
Date of Award
Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures, and Cultures
REMEMBERING EAST GERMAN CHILDHOOD IN
POST-WENDE LIFE NARRATIVES
by JULIANA MAMOU, May 2013
This dissertation explores how East German childhood is remembered in four exemplary auto/biographical texts that appeared in the early years of the twenty-first century. In Jana Hensel's Zonenkinder, Claudia Rusch's Meine freie deutsche Jugend, Jana Simon's Denn wir sind anders, and Robert Ide's Geteilte Träume. The depiction of childhood memories is moreover contextualized in the radical social, political and economic changes after the Wende and their effects on former East Germans as individuals and as a group. Written by authors who constitute a generational cohort who were born in the early to mid-1970s, these life narratives engage in the construction of a counter-memory to dominant West German discourse which devalues virtually everything East German. As such, the literary representation of East German childhood memories constitutes an attempt to define Ossi identity in positive terms and emphatically reject the ascription of a self-concept in terms of lack and insufficiency imposed by the new West German masters. Yet, despite the similarity of seeking a reevaluation of the GDR that does not reflect West German hegemonic discourse, the texts depict different aspects of both the past and the present and also differ, at times quite significantly, in their representation and evaluation of everyday life in East Germany. In my analyses of the four primary texts, which I group together in various combinations in each chapter to explore the respective themes by comparison, I contend that the similarities are due to the authors' shared generational background in terms of their physical exposure to GDR life and the differences due to individually different experiences based on family history as well as the intended purpose of their narration.
Chapter One provides an overview of the key theoretical frameworks I employ in analyzing the primary texts. These include the concepts of collective trauma, individual and collective memory and identity as well as discussions of the function of autobiographical texts as memory artifacts in the construction of collective memory. Subsequently, I discuss the four primary texts with regard to thematic clusters. In Chapter Two, I explore the notion of nostalgia and specifically analyze the phenomenon of a nostalgic longing for the East German past known as Ostalgie. While it constitutes a counter-narrative to West German discourse which solely represents the GDR as a dictatorial regime by representing positive memories of ordinary life, Ostalgie idealizes the past to the extent of historical inaccuracy by effacing the interaction of oppressive power structures and ordinary life. Chapter Three turns to the notion of home and Heimat as it informs the identity quest of many East Germans who spent their childhood in the GDR. I analyze their sense of loss and longing expressed as Heimweh as well as the representation of childhood places and their disappearance in the changing cityscapes in the so-called five new provinces. Chapter Four explores the representation of stereotypes East and West Germans formed about each other during and after the Wende as part of the authors' acculturation process and their identity negotiation between East and West.
As I explore the life narratives as embodiments of cultural memory, I integrate an analysis of their reception into my discussions. The texts represent the authors' individual memories of their childhood experiences in the GDR. Upon publication as literary texts, they become cultural artifacts and as such embody a potential for (re)constructing collective memory. However, this potential needs to be actualized in the reception process. Therefore, I explore the official and vernacular reception of the auto/biographical texts in newspaper reviews, Leserbriefen, and internet discussion forums.
Mamou, Juliana, "Remembering East German Childhood In Post-Wende Life Narratives" (2013). Wayne State University Dissertations. 735.