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.
The chestnut trees in the park will have been long plucked clean. Flocks of crows will have drawn their circles above these skeletons, cawing at people to hurry them along. Damp, dreary afternoons, the clocks set to winter time.
Other things counted more. The fives cut out of red paper, for example, with which our Soviet teacher tried to drive her first-year students to strive for the highest grades. Trophies that I collected underneath the glass surface of the desk and, insatiable, began one day to cut out myself – wobbly, all-too-obvious counterfeits. I can’t remember any brightly coloured television images (how could I? Our TV was black and white), but I do remember a restlessness that gripped my parents in those November days. As students in East Berlin, they had posed for photos in front of the wall, and in the meantime, I have learned for myself that even wrongs can affirm memories, give us something to hold on to in the world.
At the same time: when my mother accompanied a youth group to reunified Germany as an interpreter in the summer of 1991, she was sad that they only went to Weimar and not Cologne, Hamburg or Munich. At least her old student friend took her by car to Kurfürstendamm one evening on our visit to Berlin, and also to Kurfürstenstrasse, I assume; at least, my mother later gave a fascinating report on the garish sex workers fluttering along the kerbs like moths.
By Dmitrij Gawrisch
Translated by Katy Derbyshire
Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.
Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.
Dmitrij Gawrisch was born in Kiev and grew up in Bern, moving to Berlin in 2010. He is an award-winning playwright and prose writer. In 2016, his piece ‘Sotschis Soundtrack’ was nominated for the Deutscher Reporterpreis for best German-language reportage.
Katy Derbyshire is a London-born, award-winning translator who has lived in Berlin for over twenty years. She is now also publisher at V & Q Books, and in 2020 will be the London Book Fair’s Literary Translator of the Fair.