Christoph Hein Criticism - Essay

Franz P. Haberl (review date autumn 1985)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 507 words.)

Wes Blomster (review date summer 1987)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 Lohndrücker did in 1956. Here an idealistic student is driven to suicide by his inability to show factory workers the error of their selfishly opportunistic ways. Despite the hero's fate, Hein calls the play a Komödie.

In Cromwell Hein studies a revolution that ended in failure despite its initial success. The author's commentary on the play, written for the Cottbus premiere in 1980, stresses its relevance to the “revolution” that the Democratic Republic was designed to perfect.

The volume concludes with Hein's critique of Peter Sloterdijk's Kritik der zynischen Vernunft (1983). This is a major work of modern criticism, marked by a quickness of wit for which Sloterdijk himself is at best a weak match. Schlötel, oder Was solls complements the earlier collection of plays and essays Die wahre Geschichte des Ah Q, published in 1984.

Alex Raksin (review date 2 April 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 until the novel's latter half, leading us to accept at face value her reasons for remaining distant. As Hein reveals the self-hatred she has long suppressed, however, we find ourselves maintaining an ironic distance from her point of view. When her chief of staff is caught fooling around with a nurse, for example, she attacks him for joining her colleagues “temple of shabby little deeds,” but we are more heartened by the way they welcome him as a brother for his human imperfection. And in turn, we come to pity the independence she cherishes: “It used to bother me when I caught myself talking out loud, but it doesn't anymore. It's even sort of comforting: There's music on the radio, and a human voice can be heard. What's the difference if it's my own?”

Ann Vliet (review date 25 June 1989)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

(The entire section is 792 words.)

Wes Blomster (review date spring 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 employ him, even as a truck driver. It is, however, Dallow's repeated confrontations with the judge who sentenced him that subject this society to evaluation from a contemporary perspective. Although the novel ends with a bit of fairy-tale justice that restores Dallow to his university position, the unheroic hero makes the return journey on an Autobahn heavy with military convoys on their way to crush Czech reform in August 1968. Parallels to the GDR's longtime commitment to Stalinism (prior to the events of late 1989 and early 1990) are, of course, obvious. Although Hein deserves praise for stretching the boundaries of the sayable in East Germany at the time of the book's composition and publication, Der Tangospieler, a decidedly minor effort, is in no way a source of major revelations.

Dennis Mueller (review date autumn 1990)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1006 words.)

Wes Blomster (review date spring 1991)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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 political, and among that group the prize goes to Hein's tributes to others who labor with literature: the laudatio for Max Frisch upon the latter's receipt of Düsseldorf's Heinrich Heine Prize in 1989, the foreword to Gustav Just's memoirs, and the contribution to an Arbeitsbuch on Christa Wolf. Outstanding is the author's analysis of the Historikerstreit, the debate on German responsibility for the Holocaust that raged within the country's academies late in the last decade. His Leipzig lecture on poetics will remain essential in future considerations of Hein's own literary output. The title essay, by the way, is a witty contemplation of a piece of socialist-realist hack work, the cooperative painting I Saw Stalin Once When I Was a Child by Komar and Melamid. It constitutes one of the finer available obituaries on the communist dream.

Jim Shepard (review date 12 January 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1283 words.)

Jeffrey A. Frank (review date 14 January 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 789 words.)

William J. Niven (review date June 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6774 words.)

Keith Bullivant (review date summer 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 1344 words.)

David W. Robinson (essay date winter 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 5058 words.)

Christian Grawe (review date summer 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.


(The entire section is 666 words.)

William Niven (essay date July 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 10996 words.)

Graham Jackman (essay date fall 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 9171 words.)

Phillip McKnight (essay date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 9006 words.)

Phillip McKnight (essay date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 9828 words.)

Phillip McKnight (essay date 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 10951 words.)

Graham Jackman (essay date winter 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 9164 words.)

David W. Robinson (essay date 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.]


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...

(The entire section is 24335 words.)

David W. Robinson (essay date 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 15969 words.)

David Clarke (essay date 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 9784 words.)

Owen Evans (essay date 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3025 words.)

Graham Jackman (essay date 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 9763 words.)