I don’t remember what I was reading thatNovember. I do know I reread Christa Wolf’s Der geteilte Himmel a few weeks later, when I was in Germany. I had studied it only a couple of years before as part of my German A level, and while I liked it as a melancholic love story, I didn’t feel the proper weight of it until the BerlinWall fell.
I was only sixteen when I first read it, so perhaps youth explains this. But I also think it’s because I had grown up with a divided Germany. I knew (in a fairly vague sixteen-year-old way) that this was problematic, but I didn’t know any different – and change was not mentioned then; who saw it coming? I was in Berlin when I re-read the book, early in 1990, staying with a university friend of my mother’s. She had grown up in the GDR, but had left before the wall was built – she went to the West on a visit and never returned, leaving her mother and all that was known to her … Listening to her recall all this made me pick up ChristaWolf again.
The wall had fallen, but Germany was not yet reunified, and the physical wall was largely still in place – dismantling was a slow process, and the wall in people’s heads took even longer, of course. That spring, my cousin took me to sections of the wall that had been broken, and we peered through into East Berlin. I still remember that odd feeling: different cars, different clothes, different signs – different people?
Sometimes a book changes our view of world events, sometimes world events change our view of a book. On first reading Der geteilte Himmel, I had understood Rita’s dilemma on a personal level, but not as being symbolic of so much more; I had to be two years older, and perhaps the world had to shift before me too. Der geteilte Himmel remains a favourite.
By Rachel Seiffert
Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.
Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.
Rachel Seiffert was born in Oxford to German and Australian parents, and was brought up bilingually. Her first book, The Dark Room, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, and she has been longlisted three times for the Women’s Prize for Fiction.