The German Riveter: Wende Memories – IS ONE BETTER THAN TWO? by Shelley Frisch

When we first conceived the idea for The German Riveter we wanted to bring you snapshots of 1989 from the point of view of those who’d lived through it. The writer, translator and publisher Katy Derbyshire has collected and translated for us a selection of memories of the Wende (‘the changes, the turning point’) from eight of Germany’s best-known writers.


When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, I had just moved to Pennsylvania to begin my new post as chair of the Bi-College German Department at Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges. My syllabus for a German literature course included, as it had when I’d taught at Bucknell and Columbia, recent novels from East and West Germany, giving students a window into the countries’ respective literary and political dimensions. Needless to say, my standard approach to these texts was upended as the November events began to unfold. My initial reaction mirrored the words of the French writer François Mauriac: ‘J’aime tellement l’Allemagne que je suis heureux qu’il y en ait deux.’ (‘I love Germany so much that I am glad there are two of them.’) 

In the United States, there was plenty of debate about what reunification might mean – for Germany and for the world. The November 20 issue of Time magazine featured the headline: ‘Is One Germany Better than Two?’ It had been fine and good to envision reunification when the prospect of that actually happening seemed nil. 

Adding to the eeriness of the event was the date that the Berlin Wall fell: November 9, already known as the Schicksalstag (‘day of destiny’) in Germany. This day marked a series of chilling events in German history, most notably Kristallnacht in 1938. And now this. I headed off to class with a heavy heart, to teach Wolf Biermann’s Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen.

By Shelley Frisch

Read The German Riveter here.

Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.


Shelley Frisch, who holds a doctorate in German literature from Princeton University, is author of The Lure of the Linguistic and translator of numerous books from the German, including biographies of Nietzsche, Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, Dietrich/Riefenstahl (dual biography), and Kafka, for which she was awarded the Modern Language Association Translation Prize, the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize (for which she now serves as jury chair), and other distinctions. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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