The fall of the Berlin Wall and Stefan Heym

The day the Berlin Wall fell

Last Saturday Germany marked the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with numerous events. It was in the night of November 9, 1989 that the Berlin Wall was opened and East German citizens could freely visit the western part of Berlin. In the coming days, the whole border between East and West Germany would be opened. The fall of the Berlin Wall was the culmination of the dramatic events of autumn 1989 when the citizens of East Germany took to the streets to demand freedom of speech and the press and the freedom to travel. In October 1989 when the communist leadership wanted to celebrate 40 years of East Germany the citizens found their voice and made their demands heard. Within a year East Germany was unified with West Germany in a process of rapid democratization.

Stefan Heym, Alexanderplatz, 4th November 1989

One of the participants in these events and a critical observer was the renowned author Stefan Heym whose archive the University Library is the proud custodian of. Stefan Heym was a long-time critic of the East German government and therefore naturally became involved in the events of autumn 1989.  In his speech at the famous demonstration in Alexanderplatz on November 4, he welcomed the citizens becoming active. However, he grew increasingly critical of the developments in 1990 when, as he saw it, the East Germans were more interested in material gain by joining West Germany instead of establishing democracy first. Stefan Heym’s interventions and contribution to the revolution and subsequent unification process were published in the volume Einmischung (749:39.c.95.34, Heym.31.1). In his archive we can find the original typescripts (MS.Heym.A239), including texts which were not published.

Stefan Heym’s literary reflection on the events resulted in the short story collection Auf Sand gebaut (Heym.30.3). The related manuscript material can be found at MS.Heym.A271.

Einmischung, Die sanfte Revolution, Auf Sand gebaut

Stefan Heym also collaborated with fellow author Werner Heiduczek to edit the anthology Die sanfte Revolution (746:1.d.95.41). This substantial anthology collects prose, poetry, speeches, recollections and protocols relating to the events of autumn 1989 by East German authors and intellectuals who were active in the peaceful transformation process. Again the archive holds material which allows us to reconstruct the creation of this anthology (MS.Heym.A266-A268). Here we find the letter from the editors inviting authors, a list of authors to be invited, drafts of the contributions including those that were not included in the final anthology.

Die sanfte Revolution – manuscripts

Stefan Heym was much in demand as a commentator during the momentous events of 1989/1990 and gave numerous interviews. These interviews have only been published partially. However, the transcripts of all interviews can be found in the archive (MS.Heym.B2).

This demonstrates how rich a resource the Stefan Heym Archive is for anyone interested in the events which took place in East Germany in 1989/1990.

While the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall has been rightly celebrated, the current developments in eastern Germany, in particular the rise of right wing extremism should give us reason to analyse why the east of Germany has not developed as hoped. In this context it might be useful to read Stefan Heym’s contributions again.

Christian Staufenbiel

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