Christoph Hein Introduction

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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,),

(The entire section is 2,257 words.)