Christoph Hein 1944-
German playwright, essayist, short story writer, children's writer, and novelist.
The following entry presents an overview of Hein's career through 2000.
Best known for the political undertones of his fiction, Hein is considered among the foremost German authors of the twentieth century. In his nonfiction works, Hein expresses advocacy for “reformed democratic socialism”—in which freedom of expression exists—and often denounces capitalism as a materialistic system of repression. Hein's fiction explores the psychological and social damages inflicted on an economically and politically suppressed society. Hein articulates his political themes through the use of allegory, and his works comment on socialist and capitalist societies through the study of individual characters. While Hein's delineations of alienation and conflict are well-suited to German cultural contexts, his themes transcend solely German settings. Hein occasionally offers his own political beliefs in his fiction, but he typically allows his readers to form their own opinions. Hein is regarded as an innovative and eloquent contributor to modern German literature.
Hein was born on April 8, 1944, in Heinzendorf, Silesia, Germany (now located in Poland), the third child of Günther and Lonny Hein. At the end of World War II, his family was forced to flee to Bad Düben to escape the Soviet Army that had invaded East Germany. Hein's father, who was often active in hindering the efforts of the state to control and censor religion, became a pastor in their new town. Hein attended the town elementary school from 1950 to 1958. He was later transferred to the West Berlin Evangelisches Gymnasium zum grauen Kloster (Evangelical Gymnasium at the Gray Cloister), a humanistic preparatory school for the children of East German ecclesiastics and intellectuals not politically affiliated with the Socialist Unity Party. The Hein family moved to East Berlin in 1960 to allow Günther to direct his church's youth organization. Hein continued to live with his family and traveled daily to school in West Berlin until the erection of the Berlin Wall in August 1961. At this difficult time, Hein's family decided to remain in East Berlin, and he chose to stay with them. Due to his father's resolute political stance, Hein was denied admission into a myriad of elite preparatory schools, as well as trade schools, film schools, and drama schools. Eventually Hein gained admission to the Vocational School for the German Book Trade in 1961, where he attended until 1964. He then worked in a bookstore for two years before marrying Christiane Zauleck in 1966 and completing his high-school graduation exam. Interested in theater since the age of twelve, Hein acquired apprentice work as an assistant to director Benno Besson and earned extra income by writing articles for weekly papers such as Sonntag and Jung Welt, acting in small theater roles, waiting tables, and assembling machinery. Still suffering the repercussions of his father's political beliefs, Hein was denied admission to the Cinema College in 1966 by Germany's Ministry of Culture. He entered the Karl Marx University in Leipzig in 1967, but after causing political tumult, he was forced to transfer to Humboldt University in Berlin, where he graduated after completing his senior thesis on pluralistic logic. Hein continued to work with Besson at the Volksbühne theatre and adapted many plays, including various works by French playwright Molière.
Hein was promoted to house author at the Volksbühne in 1974 and began to produce his own original plays. Hein left the Volksbühne in 1978 to escape state harassment and to pursue his writing career full-time. In the 1980s, Hein began publishing long and short fiction in addition to his drama, essay, and nonfiction work. His most well-known fiction includes Der fremde Freund (1982; The Distant Lover), Horns Ende (1985; Horn's End), Der Tangospieler (1989; The Tango Player,), Das Napoleon-Spiel (1993; The Napoleon Game), and Willenbrock (2000). Hein has also won numerous literary awards, such as the Heinrich Mann Prize in 1982, the West German Critics's Prize in 1983, the City of Hamburg Prize in 1986, the Lessing Prize in 1989, the Andres Prize in 1989, and the Fried Prize in 1990. In addition to his literary achievements, Hein is said to have been instrumental in the movement for free speech and expression in the German Democratic Republic. A speech he gave in 1987 led to the abolition of state-sponsored censorship in East Germany. He was also a key figure in the investigation into German police brutality in 1989.
One of Hein's first original plays, Schlötel, oder Was solls (1974; Schlötel, or What's the Use), focuses on a West German student who moves to East Germany during the 1960s to promote the concept of a free work force amongst factory workers by encouraging a system of incentive pay. Instead of embracing the opportunity to operate without governmental control, the workers react with either apathy or defiance towards Schlötel's efforts. Schlötel eventually drowns himself, and after his suicide, the government agrees to implement the incentive pay program. Hein's first play to be performed in West Germany, titled Lassalle fragt Herrn Herbert nach Sonja (1980; LaSalle Asks Mr. Herbert About Sonja), centers around the life of the founder of the General German Workers' Union, Ferdinand LaSalle. LaSalle and German society are depicted as petty and superficial, and the main plot elements are insignificant when contrasted to the political turmoil that serves as the background for the play. The Distant Lover depicts the psychological self-repression of the heroine, Claudia, stemming from her life experiences in the confining system of socialist Germany. The plot centers around the death of her lover, Henry, and examines the self-imposed distance she places between herself and others. Themes of alienation, violent intrusion, and indifference also pervade the work. The play Die wahre Geschichte des Ah Q (1983; The True Story of Ah Q) is Hein's adaptation of Lu Xun's short story of the same title set during the 1911 Chinese Boxer Rebellion. Hein portrays the protagonist, Ah Q, as a modern, egotistical, middle-class intellectual who remains oblivious to the impending revolution after being locked in a room by a bureaucrat blindly following government orders. Horn's End focuses on two deaths: the murder of Gudrun Gohl, who substitutes herself for her mentally handicapped daughter who has been institutionalized and marked for death by the Nazi regime; and the suicide of historian Herr Horn, unjustly accused of being a Western spy and subsequently ejected from the Party. The novel is composed of a series of factual accounts of town history described by several different narrators. The work examines the ways that history can be influenced by individual perspective and the ways memories can be altered or suppressed by the state. The subjective stories told by the various narrators are periodically interrupted by the voice of Horn's ghost, which directs the youngest narrator to “remember” historical truth. Passage (1987) follows the journey of a group of Jewish refugees who are attempting to escape from the Gestapo in France to Spain in 1940. The drama highlights the transformation of a retired German officer of Jewish descent, Hirschburg, from German nationalist to humanitarian. Die Ritter der Tafelrunde (1989; The Knights of the Round Table), Hein's last play before the fall of the German Democratic Republic, is set in King Arthur's court at the end of Arthur's reign. The drama is an allegory depicting the inability of a waning German regime to adapt to political change while clinging to the unattainable ideal of democratic socialism. The play illustrates the strain placed upon the new regime in establishing a new system.
The Tango Player, set in 1967, deals with themes familiar to Hein's work, including apathy, alienation, and self-imposed imprisonment. Hans-Peter Dallow, the protagonist, has been released from prison. Dallow has completed a sentence for serving as a piano player in a production containing a song that mocked a high government official. Dallow asserts throughout the novel that he should not be held responsible because he did not read the song lyrics. Dallow's meaningless relationships, his longing for the simple routine of imprisonment, and his ironic indifference to important political events all permeate the book. Eventually he is reinstated to his old position as university professor of history. His acceptance of the position underscores his preference for living under an imposed, indifferent system rather than in a world where freedom of choice exists. Bridge Freezes before Roadway (1990) recounts the story of a West German citizen being interviewed after the death of a former East German colleague. During the course of the interview, it is revealed that the citizen had denounced his colleague in order to receive a promotion. The dead colleague received the promotion despite his associate's condemnation, and then moved West to secure himself a life within a capitalist society. The protagonist of The Napoleon Game, Wörle, is a West German lawyer who becomes bored with the continual games that he has orchestrated throughout his life. He creates a new game that integrates a series of complex variables including the murder of an indifferent citizen. The novel is composed of two letters written by Wörle to his defense attorney. Wörle's first letter—written from prison—gives an account of his motives for murder, his history as a game-player, and his defense of his actions. After he is acquitted, he writes a second letter introducing his next game, in which his lawyer is forced to participate. The goal of the game is to ruin a citizen with an impeccable reputation. Wörle's character is widely considered to represent a capitalistic view and Western values. Randow (1994) portrays the difficult circumstances of a woman who owns property in the Randow Valley border region of Poland who is violently forced by the state to sell her land. The story focuses on the elements of greed and opportunism that are typically found in capitalist societies. In Von allem Anfang an (1997; Right from the Start), Daniel, a thirteen-year-old schoolboy in an East German town, flees with his family to the Soviet Zone of Germany. The novel is set in 1956 and is narrated from a child's perspective. The novel is loosely configured and events are not related chronologically, giving the work a somewhat circular structure. Willenbrock follows the life of a citizen in East Berlin in the late 1990s who owns a small used-car business. After two Russian thieves burgle his home and steal several of his cars, Willenbrock becomes frustrated with the apathy of the police force who are indifferent to the invasion. Willenbrock wounds a teenage intruder a few weeks later and goes without punishment for taking the law into his own hands—an outcome that fills Willenbrock with a sense of peace and contentment.
With the publication of The Distant Lover in 1982, Hein gained international recognition as one of the most influential German writers of his generation. Critics have almost universally acclaimed Hein's use of subtext in The Distant Lover to effectively convey the scope of repression and alienation imposed by a socialist system. Reviewers have also praised Hein's ability to effectively penetrate the psychology of the female narrator in this work. The True Story of Ah Q was not received as warmly by critics. Many commentators—while praising the drama for effectively conveying the state of revolution across cultural boundaries—negatively assessed the social and political development in the play as static and flat. Hein was also criticized for presenting The Knights of the Round Table as an allegory instead of as a more direct portrayal of socialist decay. His detractors have argued that the subtle nuance was unnecessary as there were no restrictions on literary expression in Germany in 1989. The Tango Player gained considerable critical attention for its clever use of subtext to depict the images of apathy and self-imprisonment that have become common in Hein's fiction. Certain reviewers have compared this novel to Franz Kafka's The Trial. However, some critics have complained that the novel's resolution is empty and incomplete.
Despite the success of The Tango Player, Hein's highly controversial The Napoleon Game received decidedly mixed reviews. Some have argued that the novel lacks significant themes and direction. Others have disagreed with that assessment, praising the novel for peering into the void of ideology left by capitalism. Many critics have disapproved of Hein's picture of Western values and were angered by the monstrous representation of capitalism in the character Wörle. After the publication of The Napoleon Game, critics have noted a less subtle depiction of the political messages in Hein's works. Randow, for example, has been almost universally condemned by reviewers as a boring, aggravating, and overly didactic work. Additionally, Right from the Start was considered to be a disappointment by critics who had expected Hein's post-unification literature to be more openly critical of the fallen regime. Some critics have viewed the work to be autobiographical, as certain aspects of Daniel's life share similarities with Hein's childhood. The book has been praised for its convincing description of the world from a child's perspective and for the objective quality of its narrative. Willenbrock has been recognized for its ability to express German sentiment, despite the fact that some critics have faulted the plot for its integration of irrelevant tangents. Hein's essays and speeches have been noted as the work of an artist dedicated to improving society as a whole. Critics have argued that the self-contradictory quality in certain speeches and the disillusionment over a failed socialist system has prompted Hein to redirect his negativity towards Western society and capitalism. Though certain groups have assessed Hein's work as outdated and relevant only to the German culture, the majority of reviewers have deemed Hein's writings to be appealing to a universal audience.
Schlötel, oder Was solls [Schlötel, or What's the Use] (play) 1974
Von hungrigen Hennecke [Hungry Henneke] (play) 1974
Cromwell (play) 1977
Einladung zum Lever Bourgeois: Prosa (short stories) 1980
Lassalle fragt Herrn Herbert nach Sonja: Die Szene ein Salon [LaSalle Asks Mr. Herbert About Sonja: The Scene a Salon] (play) 1980
Cromwell und andere Stücke [Cromwell and Other Plays] (play) 1981
Der Neue Menoza oder Geschichte des kumbanischen Prinzen Tandi: Komodie nach Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz [adaptor; from a play by Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz] (play) 1981
*Der fremde Freund [The Distant Lover] (novella) 1982
Nachtfahrt und früher Morgen (essays) 1982
Die wahre Geschichte des Ah Q [The True Story of Ah Q; adaptor; from a short story by Lu Xun] (play) 1983
Das Wildpferd unterm Kachelofen (juvenilia) 1984; revised as Jamie and His Friends, 1989
Horns Ende [Horn's End] (novel) 1985
Öffentlich arbeiten: Essais und Gespräche (speeches and essays) 1987
Passage: Ein Kammerspiel in drei Akten (play) 1987
Der Tangospieler [The Tango Player]...
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SOURCE: Haberl, Franz P. Review of Die wahre Geschichte des Ah Q, by Christoph Hein. World Literature Today 59, no. 4 (autumn 1985): 588.
[In the following review of Die wahre Geschichte des Ah Q, Haberl offers a negative assessment of the play, calling the work “static” in regard to Germany's social and political development.]
Two clochards vegetate in the dilapidated attic of a temple in a vaguely Chinese ambience. They complain about their pitiful condition and talk about anarchy and revolution. Once a week a nun brings them milk soup. On one of these occasions Ah Q (one of the protagonists [of Die wahre Geschichte des Ah Q]) asks her to sleep with him. She refuses and flees. The policeman, acting on orders of the “gracious lord” of the village, administers twenty lashes to Ah Q. His friend Wang comforts him by invoking the impending revolution. Ah Q then leaves the city but returns some time later, well-dressed and apparently wealthy. He, Wang, the temple guard, and the policeman carouse all night. Meanwhile, revolution breaks out in the village. The next day, the “gracious lord” has become the “revolutionary lord” the policeman is a faithful servant of the new regime, and the nun's convent is now called the “Revolutionary Convent of the Immaculate Conception.” Ah Q has brought the nun a daring silk negligee and tries to persuade her to put it on. When she...
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SOURCE: Blomster, Wes. Review of Schlötel, oder Was solls: Stücke und Essays, by Christoph Hein. World Literature Today 61, no. 3 (summer 1987): 441.
[In the following review of Schlötel, oder Was solls: Stücke und Essays, Blomster focuses on Hein's desire to improve society as the central theme of the collection.]
“The human being,” Christoph Hein declares, “is the animal with the thickest skin.” The two plays and four essays collected in Schlötel, oder Was solls speak urgently of the forty-three-year-old East German author's strong desire to penetrate this armor of insensitivity and move both individual and society toward that “island of blissful humanity” of which Johannes R. Becher dreamed in the heyday of expressionism.
In “Hamlet and the Party Secretary” Hein offers a brilliantly brief assessment of contemporary theatre, lamenting that drama and theatre stand today in no meaningful relationship to each other. At the same time, he insists that only progress within society—upon which valid theatrical life depends—can remedy this situation. As vastly different as the two dramas contained here are, they both reflect this same concern.
The title play, premiered at East Berlin's Volksbühne in 1974, confronts the problems of socialist society in its decade in much the same way that Heiner Müller's play Der...
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SOURCE: Raksin, Alex. Review of The Distant Lover, by Christoph Hein. Los Angeles Times Book Review (2 April 1989): 6.
[In the following review, Raksin discusses the emotional self-beguilement of the narrator in The Distant Lover.]
“I'm pretty well-liked,” reflects the narrator, a 40-year-old woman working as a doctor in East Germany. “I have plans. … I look younger than I am. … I'm healthy. I've made it. I'm fine.” We're inclined to disagree, for the narrator's urgent, forced tone suggests that this is less an assertion than a mantra, said repeatedly in the hope that the sum of the first five sentences will add up to the sixth, “I'm fine.”
In The Distant Lover, Christoph Hein, a prominent East German novelist, illustrates the errors in his protagonist's emotional math. Showing that she is neither stronger nor happier for the security she has attained, Hein suggests that safety has its risks, too. The narrator suppresses her feelings of vulnerability (symbolized by a dream-image of walking over the splintered, jagged edge of a ruined bridge) by condescending ruthlessly on the dependencies of others and by dating men who don't seem to need her: “I sat on the bed and told him I liked him very much, and he said I should watch out that I didn't fall in love.”
Hein deliberately keeps the extent of the narrator's self-deception a mystery...
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SOURCE: Vliet, Ann. “Love at Arm's Length.” Washington Post Book World 19, no. 26 (25 June 1989): 4.
[In the following review of The Distant Lover, Vliet examines the narrator's withdrawal from human relationships and the origination of her emotional barriers.]
As early as 1985, Christoph Hein was being called a major new voice in East German letters, a highly literate and socially conscious poet, playwright, novelist and critic. But The Distant Lover, first published in German in 1982, is Hein's first work to be translated into English. That it took so long is a bit surprising, given the readability of its prose and the universality of its insight.
Reading the book is an active experience, a tug of war between reader and narrator. After the dream-like prologue, showing a frightened woman caught on a narrow beam high over a dangerous chasm, unable to cross or retreat, the conscious narrator controls the board:
Even on the morning of the funeral I still wasn't sure whether I'd go. And since I didn't know what I would decide by noon, I took my mid-season coat out of the closet. It was a dark blue that might pass for black, with a rabbit-fur collar. It was obviously wrong for warm weather, but I didn't want to run around all day in a black suit. And in case I did decide to go, it seemed just as inappropriate to turn up at the cemetery...
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SOURCE: Blomster, Wes. Review of Der Tangospieler, by Christoph Hein. World Literature Today 64, no. 2 (spring 1990): 308.
[In the following mixed review of Der Tangospieler, Blomster compares the narrative to Franz Kafka's The Trial and evaluates certain political undertones.]
Both background and theme make Christoph Hein's brief narrative Der Tangospieler a realistic descendant of Kafka's Trial. Hein sets his story in the summer of 1968, when the attention of both East and West was focused upon attempted reform in Prague while Hein's young historian Dallow sought to reenter the society that had sent him to prison two years earlier. The dubious nature of East German justice that condemned Dallow for his participation in a parody of the aged leader Walter Ulbricht by a student cabaret recalls the omnipresent court portrayed by Kafka over half a century ago. For Hein, however, Kafkaesque existence is no longer a matter of allegory; it has become hard political reality. Indeed, the author portrays his native land as a nation in which everyone has one foot in jail—except for those already there and those who put them there.
Dallow is assured by all those currently in power that “things have changed” and that imprisonment for such a minor matter would now be out of the question; yet because of his prison record, these same people are unwilling to...
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SOURCE: Mueller, Dennis. Review of Die Ritter der Tafelrunde: Komodie, by Christoph Hein. World Literature Today 64, no. 2 (autumn 1990): 630–31.
[In the following review of Die Ritter der Tafelrunde, Mueller examines the play as a representation of the East German regime of Communist Party Secretary Erich Honecker.]
Christoph Hein is an East German author who has rapidly risen to prominence in the past few years. His novella Drachenblut (1983) was translated into all the major European languages; his 1989 novel Der Tangospieler (see WLT 64:2, p. 308) received high praise in a Zeit review by Volker Hage (“Sage niemand, daβ es in der Literatur der deutschen Sprache derzeit nichts zu lesen gebe”); and in the new edition of the Kleine Literaturgeschichte der DDR (1989) Wolfgang Emmerich wrote: “Kein Autor der DDR hat binnen weniger Jahre die Literatur seines Landes so schlagend und so nachhaltig verändert wie Hein.”
The author's most recent play, Die Ritter der Tafelrunde (The Knights of the Round Table), is called a Komödie or comedy in the subtitle and must necessarily be measured with a different gauge from that which is applied to the literature of socialist realism. Indeed, the most fascinating aspect of the play is its outspoken abandonment of the principles of socialist realism. It can only be...
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SOURCE: Blomster, Wes. Review of Als Kind habe ich Stalin gesehen: Essais und Reden, by Christoph Hein. World Literature Today 65, no. 2 (spring 1991): 297.
[In the following review, Blomster offers a positive assessment of Als Kind habe ich Stalin gesehen.]
During the past year almost every East German writer who could claim the dissident label has felt an obligation, it seems, to publish a volume of nonfiction pieces documenting his or her activities in the period surrounding the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Although Christoph Hein was unquestionably the leading figure of the younger generation among these authors, the unfocused collection Als Kind habe ich Stalin gesehen speaks uncomfortably of a hurried sifting of manuscripts, undertaken mainly to fulfill this obligation. The twenty-three items included here, nine of which appear in print for the first time, extend from 1988 to the January 1990 address given by Hein marking Kurt Tucholsky's one-hundredth birthday.
In November 1989 Hein shared the dream of a new and truly socialist nation then cherished by many East German intellectuals. The demise of that dream now leaves many of the brief offerings here destined for the dustbin of history. (Still, Hein's Alexanderplatz address of 4 November 1989 will stand as a magnificent monument to a noble sentiment.) The best of the pieces are those which are not directly...
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SOURCE: Shepard, Jim. “Last Tango in Leipzig.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (12 January 1992): 3, 8.
[In the following review of The Tango Player, Shepard compares the work to Franz Kafka's The Trial, examining the antisocial behavior of both protagonists.]
In Franz Kafka's The Trial, a washerwoman in the court where Joseph K. is being prosecuted says to him: “It's so horrible here. … Do you think you'll manage to improve things?” He answers: “As a matter of fact, I should never have dreamed of interfering of my own free will, and shouldn't have lost an hour's sleep over the need for reforming the machinery of justice.” He goes on to announce that his arrest now forces him to intervene. But time after time in the novel, given the chance to either help someone else or pursue a more genuine course of subversiveness, he declines.
The reader wants to resist comparing a novel such as Christoph Hein's The Tango Player to The Trial—the comparison seems so expected, so banal—and yet Kafka's influence is so clear in this case that comparison helps illuminate what Hein is seeking to achieve.
Hein, author of the admirable novel The Distant Lover and one of Germany's most notable literary figures, sets The Tango Player principally in Leipzig, East Germany, in 1968, just before the Soviet invasion of...
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SOURCE: Frank, Jeffrey A. “Under Big Brother's Eye.” Washington Post Book World (14 January 1992): E2.
[In the following review of The Tango Player, Frank discusses the work as a commentary on the transitional state of politics and emotions surrounding the decline of the German Democratic Republic.]
Hans-Peter Dallow, the protagonist of this witty, subversive novel [The Tango Player], is introduced just as he's released from the East German prison where's he's spent 21 months. His “crime” was a pathetic offense—having played the piano in a politically incorrect cabaret show. Now he's very much on guard, and uneasy: “The fear has crept into the bones of my fingers,” Dallow tells an official as he leaves his jail.
In the world described by playwright and novelist Christoph Hein (author of The Distant Lover), most of those in Dallow's circle are sympathetic, but also cautious—starting with former colleagues at the Institute, where he'd taught history. Even Dallow's mother and father are suspicious of their ex-convict son. Dallow's protestations that he was merely an innocent accompanist in a student cabaret—(“I was only the tango player”)—are often repeated.
The time is 1968, and the repulsive face of the old regime hovers in the background. The face takes its most visible form in Prague, where Soviet tanks are moving in. In...
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SOURCE: Niven, William J. “The Vanquished Self: Christoph Hein's Drachenblut and Der Tangospieler.” Journal of European Studies XXII (June 1992): 127–41.
[In the following review, Niven examines the loss of independence and identity in the protagonists of Drachenblut and Der Tangospieler.]
In her novel Flugasche (1981), Monika Maron describes how a journalist bent on exposing the inhumanity of GDR environmental politics is crushed by the resistance of authority.1 Stefan Heym in his novel Collin (1979) describes how a leading GDR writer was only able to achieve official recognition at the cost of his individual conscience.2 These perspectives are typical of oppositional GDR literature: critical voices are stifled by the state, while representatives of the state can be relied on to stifle themselves any inner impulse to criticism or rebellion, since the maintenance of their privileged position is at stake. The pattern is either one of repression or self-repression. Christoph Hein, in the novel Horns Ende (1985), also takes up the theme of systematic victimization, in this case of even the most harmless of opponents.3 In this article, however, I wish to consider Hein's novella Drachenblut (1983) and his novel Der Tangospieler (1989) as examples of GDR literature in which quite everyday, ‘normal’...
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SOURCE: Bullivant, Keith. Review of Die fünfte Grundrechenart: Aufsätze und Reden, by Christoph Hein. Germanic Review 67, no. 3 (summer 1992): 135–36.
[In the following review of Die fünfte Grundrechenart, Bullivant explores Hein's views regarding the impact of the German Democratic Republic on German literature.]
This volume, arguably more than any other individual work, brings home to us just how fast things German have moved in a little over two years. In 1990 Hein was very much center stage in German intellectual and literary life: he was one of the most outspoken writers in the events of the autumn of 1989, his novel Der Tangospieler and his play Die Ritter der Tafelrunde had just appeared and were the subjects of lively debate, and in May 1990 he received the first Erich Fried Prize. Since then little has been seen or heard of him, and his works are no longer available in the Luchterhand imprint. The return of the rights to his and other ex-GDR writers' works to the Aufbau Verlag has, in turn, precipitated a very real financial crisis for the West German publisher which specialized in the marketing of GDR literature and had such great commercial success in the early eighties with Christa Wolf's Kassandra and Hein's Drachenblut (cf. Die Zeit, 1.3.1992).
The collection of texts in this volume is somewhat eclectic and includes...
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SOURCE: Robinson, David W. “Abortion as Repression in Christoph Hein's The Distant Lover.” New German Critique (winter 1993): 65–78.
[In the following essay, Robinson examines the oppression and sense of violation experienced by the character Claudia in The Distant Lover.]
East German playwright and novelist Christoph Hein rose to sudden prominence in the early 1980s with the publication of his somber novella, The Distant Lover (Der fremde Freund, 1982; published in the West as Drachenblut). Although the book's rather bleak depiction of life in the GDR was predictably attacked or praised by politically minded critics in the GDR and the FRG, its great popularity among readers in both Germanies attested to a shock of recognition that transcended political boundaries. The book is narrated by Claudia, a successful, intelligent, divorced, and childless East Berlin doctor who relates the events of her life during the preceding year. Near the middle of the book, she provides a detailed account of two abortions she had undergone while still married, characterizing them as acts of radical self-assertion. Yet Claudia always feels most free when she is most violated. The Distant Lover portrays an individual totally—and fatally—adapted to an inhuman society; the novella's fascination derives from Claudia's compelling, highly intelligent, but nonetheless specious...
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SOURCE: Grawe, Christian. Review of Das Napoleon-Spiel, by Christoph Hein. World Literature Today 68, no. 3 (summer 1994): 555–56.
[In the following review, Grawe offers a negative assessment of Das Napoleon-Spiel, faulting the work for having insignificant themes and lacking direction.]
Christoph Hein was already recognized as a promising playwright in both East and West Germany when he turned to prose in the early eighties. He has always been highly regarded too as a courageous and honest voice of reasonable protest in the GDR and was, not surprisingly, one of the speakers at the famous Alexanderplatz demonstration on 4 November 1989.
Between 1982 and 1989 Hein published three major narratives: Der fremde Freund (1982; entitled Drachenblut in West Germany in 1983), Horns Ende (1985), and Der Tangospieler (1989; see WLT 64:2, p. 308), which, rightly, gained him the reputation of an artistically astute and psychologically subtle, humane though pessimistic chronicler of “everyday deformations in the GDR,” as Sigrid Loffler, interviewing Hein in 1990, aptly put it. All three books have a solid story line, are well structured, and build up the tension toward the end skillfully—a virtue which Hein himself attributes to his being a playwright. The books expose the psychological vulnerability of most unassuming characters whose personal...
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SOURCE: Niven, William. “‘Das Geld ist Nicht der Gral’: Christoph Hein and the Wende.” Modern Language Review 90, no. 3 (July 1995): 688–706.
[In the following essay, Niven discusses Hein's attitudes toward reunified Germany and capitalism in Eastern Europe.]
This article sets out to examine the issue of Christoph Hein's contribution to the process of de-Stalinization in the GDR during and after October 1989.1 There have been articles on this topic, notably by Frauke Meyer-Gosau2 and Eckhard Thiele.3 But neither of these is objective. While Meyer-Gosau is keen to present Hein's contribution in as uncompromised a light as possible, Thiele denies that Hein made any contribution in this direction at all, presenting his role more as Stalinistic than as anti-Stalinistic. There is a need for an attempt at a more balanced picture.
De-Stalinization can best be defined as the process of identifying, confronting, and overcoming the repressive mechanisms inherent in Stalinism. A corollary of this process is the evolution of democratic forms to replace these structures. It is my contention that Hein made a conscious and determined commitment to this process as I have defined it. This can best be proved by an outline of his political activity after the Wende, starting with and taking into particular account his committee work, previously neglected in...
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SOURCE: Jackman, Graham. “The Fear of Allegory: Benjaminian Elements in Christoph Hein's The Distant Lover.” New German Critique 66, no. 66 (fall 1995): 164–92.
[In the following excerpt, Jackman explores the influence of German art theorist Walter Benjamin on the structure of allegory in Hein's The Distant Lover.]
Christoph Hein's knowledge of and interest in the work of Walter Benjamin is unmistakable. Almost all his major essays contain explicit references to Benjamin, to whom he referred in 1983 as “probably the most important and exemplary German art theorist of our century.”1 It is thus hardly surprising that critical studies of Hein's dramatic and narrative work have found evidence of Benjamin's influence.2
The Distant Lover3 receives relatively little attention in Zekert's dissertation on Hein and Benjamin, nor has Benjamin figured prominently in the critical work on The Distant Lover.4 Discussion of this text has focused mainly on psychological and social aspects, most notably in the essays by David Roberts, Slibar and Volk, and Dwars.5 The aim of this essay is to investigate links between Hein's Novelle and Benjamin's conception of allegorical art as expounded in The Origin of German Tragic Drama and developed in his later writings on Baudelaire, and thus also to shed light on some...
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SOURCE: McKnight, Phillip. “The Vulnerability of Silence: The Distant Lover.” In Understanding Christoph Hein, edited by James Hardin, pp. 20–39. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
[In the following essay, McKnight explores the themes of emotional self-alienation and invasion in The Distant Lover.]
The key to Der fremde Freund, 1982 (The Distant Lover) is understanding Hein's use of short, staccato, matter-of-fact sentences relaying the thoughts of the first-person narrator about other people, her environment, and herself. Claudia, a physician, describes emptiness with the vocabulary of fulfillment, presents unlived life as existential happiness, and justifies a nihilistic attitude with the language of optimism. Her professed emancipation is reflected in her cynical manipulation of psychological mechanisms enabling her to repress inner moral guidance and to suppress affection or cordiality for friends, family, and acquaintances, and to facilitate the rejection of affection shown to her by them.
In the end she claims that she sleeps well, has no nightmares, but the book opens with a dream in which she experiences terror and helplessness. In the dream, Claudia finds herself—at least she thinks it is herself—together with a male friend whose face is blurred. They appear in her dream at the brink of an abyss. They try to inch their way across...
(The entire section is 9006 words.)
SOURCE: McKnight, Phillip. “Homesickness for the Cell: Der Tangospieler.” In Understanding Christoph Hein, edited by James Hardin, pp. 88–112. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
[In the following excerpt, McKnight examines the inability of Der Tangospieler's protagonist, Dallow, to function outside of prison after his release.]
The spring 1989 publication of Der Tangospieler (The Tango Player), translated into English in 1992, completes what could be designated as a trilogy of historical prose writings by Hein, each of which focuses on a time during a key historical turning point in East Germany: The Distant Lover on the revolt in East Germany of 17 June 1953, Horns Ende on the impact of the Hungarian revolt in 1956, and The Tango Player on the “Prague Spring” of 1968 that led to the fall of the Czech party chief and head of state Alexander Dubcek and the elimination of democratic reforms in Czechoslovakia.
Reading The Distant Lover in 1982 shocked people; reading The Tango Player in 1989, whose main character reminds some critics of Claudia (neither is interested in a close relationship or in politics),1 provided ironic amusement. Hein captures the mood of the changing times: the situation had become so absurdly pathetic in the minds of many people that it deserved ridicule. A few weeks...
(The entire section is 9828 words.)
SOURCE: McKnight, Phillip. “The Absence of Malice: Das Napoleon-Spiel.” In Understanding Christoph Hein, edited by James Hardin, pp. 113–35. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1995.
[In the following essay, McKnight analyzes the character Wörle's explanations for how and why he plays games in Das Napoleon-Spiel.]
Das Napoleon-Spiel, 1993 (The Napoleon Game), Hein's most recent novel, appeared as a series in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in the spring of 1993 before the book was released. While he was writing the novel, Hein's attention was diverted by the events of 1989 and especially by his own participation on the committee established to investigate police brutality in the GDR during the demonstrations of 7 and 9 October 1989. The following year, his work on Das Napoleon-Spiel was interrupted by two life-threatening brain operations and the ensuing long rehabilitation period, during which he was able to work only an hour or so each day. He had collapsed on stage during a cultural event as a result of hemorrhaging caused by a blood clot and probably owes his life to the fact that a neurosurgeon happened to be present in the audience and knew what to do while rushing him to the hospital.
In the broadest sense of the term, Das Napoleon-Spiel is an epistolary novel. It consists, however, of only two letters—each written...
(The entire section is 10951 words.)
SOURCE: Jackman, Graham. “‘Nur wo er spielt, ganz Mensch?’ Christoph Hein's Das Napoleon-Spiel.” German Quarterly (winter 1999): 17–32.
[In the following essay, Jackman examines the character Wörle in Das Napoleon-Spiel, and the psychological reasons behind his obsessions.]
On its appearance in 1993 Christoph Hein's novel Das Napoleon-Spiel was on the whole not well received. In part, the critics' lack of enthusiasm was the result of disappointed expectations: Hein had not produced the awaited Wende-Roman. However, this did not prevent many reviewers from reading the novel in terms of immediate post-Wende concerns: “Das Napoleon-Spiel ist eine literarische Umsetzung der deutschen Vereinigung,” wrote Helmut Böttiger.1 A similar view was heard two years later in an essay by Ulrike Böhmel Fichera, who claims that “Der Bezug der gesamten Erzählung auf die Gegenwart ist eindeutig, programmatisch …”2 She argues, as many had done before her, that the locating of the killing of Bernhard Bagnall (the central event in the novel) in the Berlin U-Bahn between East and West Berlin in June 1989 “verweist zeichenhaft auf die Problematik der deutschen Wiedervereinigung, auf deutsche Geschichte …”3
Certainly, the date and place of this incident can hardly have been chosen at random, an impression which is...
(The entire section is 9164 words.)
SOURCE: Robinson, David W. “Hein's Historians: Fictions of Social Memory.” In Deconstructing East Germany: Christoph Hein's Literature of Dissent, edited by James Hardin, pp. 125–80. Columbia, South Carolina: Camden House, 1999.
[In the following essay, Robinson analyzes Hein's theory that historical chronicle is a subjective record influenced by personal experience.]
IDEOLOGY AND HISTORY
While all of Christoph Hein's work reveals a fascination with the impact of history on individual experience, several of his most ambitious texts deal explicitly with history as an intellectual discipline and space for social engagement. The early story “Einladung zum Lever Bourgeois” (1980)1 and the novels Horns Ende (1985) and Der Tangospieler (1989; translated into English as The Tango Player, 1992) explore the significance of history as material fact and social memory through fictive portrayals of historians: Racine is court historian to Louis XIV, Horn (along with Bürgermeister Kruschkatz and, in a different sense, Dr. Spodeck) is a professional historian whose career has been diverted by political circumstance, and Hans-Peter Dallow is a once and future professor of history at Karl Marx University in Leipzig. The narratives themselves and Hein's published essays and interviews leave little doubt that the professional activity (or inactivity) of...
(The entire section is 24335 words.)
SOURCE: Robinson, David W. “Chronicling the Cold War's Losers and Winners.” In Deconstructing East Germany: Christoph Hein's Literature of Dissent, edited by James Hardin, pp. 181–219. Columbia, South Carolina: Camden House, 1999.
[In the following excerpt, Robinson explores Hein's post-unification literature and how it indirectly attacks capitalism and Western culture.]
In early 1989, two major events in Hein's career took on larger significance as the political ground began to shift. The first was the publication of Der Tangospieler, a book that would have stood out as a remarkable event even had it not been Hein's last novel of the GDR era. The novel's most obvious message was its condemnation of a now-familiar Hein figure, the Aussteiger, the social outcast or drop-out—the sort of person, usually an intellectual, who becomes the perfect servant of the state precisely because he thinks himself “free” from political entanglements. But Der Tangospieler was also problematic for other, more pressing reasons: it shows a pair of Stasi agents going about their unsavory business, and it contains an account of the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, making it the first—and last—novel published in the GDR dealing with that event. The book had survived stiff resistance in the Culture Ministry. In his remarkable account of the inside workings of East German...
(The entire section is 15969 words.)
SOURCE: Clarke, David “‘Himmel auf Erden’? Christoph Hein, Capitalism, and the ‘Wende.’” In Christoph Hein in Perspective, edited by Graham Jackman, pp. 21–44. Atlanta, Georgia: Rodopi, 2000.
[In the following essay, Clarke examines Hein's rejection of Western capitalism and his desire to establish a social system based upon shared personal and political values.]
Christoph Hein is well known as a GDR author whose fiction portrays some of the most negative aspects of East German society and its effects on the individual. However, during the ‘Wende’ of 1989, Hein called upon his fellow East Germans to reject the lure of Western consumerism and attempt to build a new society based on shared ideals. In this article, Hein's statements about Western society are examined in the context of his analysis of the problems of the GDR, thus revealing a basic thematic continuity between the author's rejection of ‘real existing socialism’ and his critique of capitalism.
In the years following the ‘Wende’ of autumn 1989, journalists, academics and politicians instrumentalised the collapse of state socialism as evidence for the unsustainability of all alternatives to liberal, capitalist democracy as it exists in the West today. Whilst Francis Fukuyama proposed his Hegelian thesis of ‘The End of History,’1 those who, as...
(The entire section is 9784 words.)
SOURCE: Evans, Owen. “Hope for the Future? Günter de Bruyn's Neue Herrlichkeit and Christoph Hein's Der Tangospieler.” In Christoph Hein in Perspective, edited by Graham Jackman, pp. 77–94. Atlanta, Georgia: Rodopi, 2000.
[In the following excerpt, Evans examines the character Dallow in Der Tangospieler as a victim of his own apathy, who has remained unchanged despite his imprisonment.]
Christoph Hein's Der Tangospieler1 provides further insight into social stagnation in the GDR and in the process reveals certain parallels with Neue Herrlichkeit. Published in 1989, the text focuses on Hans-Peter Dallow, like Viktor very much an anti-hero; but whereas Kösling's family background is privileged, Dallow comes from farming stock. At the novel's outset, Dallow has just been released from prison, having served a twenty-one-month sentence. He played the piano at a student cabaret, and the text of the tango that was performed had poked fun at Ulbricht. On his release, Dallow cuts a sad figure; his fingers are stiff, symbolising his inner stasis, and it appears as if prison has drained him physically and mentally. But the initial impression is misleading, as gradually becomes clear. Dallow remains detached and aloof throughout the novel, seldom becomes agitated and is indifferent to almost everything around him. We learn that as a child he entertained dreams...
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SOURCE: Jackman, Graham. “Von allem Anfang an ‘A Portrait of a Young Man?’” In Christoph Hein in Perspective, edited by Graham Jackman, pp. 187–210. Atlanta, Georgia: Rodopi, 2000.
[In the following essay, Jackman explores the classification of Von allem Anfang an as fictional autobiography.]
The title of Christoph Hein's most recent major prose work Von allem Anfang an provides the starting point for an examination of a number of aspects of the text. Its obvious autobiographical dimension may provide insights into the beginnings of Hein's aspirations as a writer who rejects all forms of conformism in favour of the dispassionate ‘Gelassenheit’ of the chronicler. Formal comparisons with Hein's earlier Horns Ende and with Walter Benjamin's Berliner Kindheit um Neunzehnhundert also suggest a wider, ‘chronicler's’ ambition to recall the early years of the GDR, which, though now rapidly receding into history, may not be without relevance for the ‘beginnings’ of the new, united Germany.
The title of Christoph Hein's latest long prose work, published in 1997, is deceptively simple. It appears to be explained by the text itself: ‘Dem Leben,’ says Tante Magdalena to Daniel, the first-person narrator of Von allem Anfang an,1 ‘muss man von allem Anfang an ins Gesicht sehen.’ It...
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Fischer, Bernd. “Einladung zum Lever Bourgeois: Christoph Hein's First Prose.” In Studies in GDR Culture and Society, pp. 125–36. Lanham: University Press of America, 1984.
Fischer offers a discussion on Hein's early short fiction.
Graves, Peter. “Dialectical Ironies.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4503 (21 July 1989): 802.
Graves discusses the misfortune of Der Tangospieler's protagonist, the hollow nature of his ideology, the novel's empty resolution, and the work's political undertones.
———. “A Shocking Self-Sufficiency.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4556 (27 July 1990): 796.
Graves explores the emotional self-detachment of the heroine, Claudia, in The Distant Lover.
———. “A Boy's Soviet Zone Story.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 4933 (17 October 1997): 30.
Graves describes Von allem Anfang an as Kafkaesque in the way that the work allows emotional and relational abnormality to appear common as an illumination of state-imposed reality.
———. “In the Dirty World of Reality.” Times Literary Supplement, no. 5089 (13 October 2000): 25.
Graves offers a mixed assessment of Willenbrock.
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