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.
I remember my father dipping his hand in the pocket of his jacket, hung up in the hall of our small modern flat in the east of Berlin, putting the West German welcome money in there and saying: I’m not going.
I remember that being why we didn’t go to West Berlin in November 1989 but only months later, when my aunt and uncle came to visit from Saxony, in the spring of 1990.
I remember my relatives from Saxony getting a kebab in West Berlin with no meat in the bread, only onions and sauce.
Later, I realised that empty kebab was my memory.
I remember our horror at the adverts on television, where domesticated pets ate from shiny plates and possessed spending power.
I remember, twenty-seven years later with my Hungarian analyst in New York, that it wasn’t the spring of 1990 when I first went to West Berlin with my father and our relatives from Saxony; it was earlier.
I had remembered the wrong memory, a refusal out of belated solidarity.
Only later did I realise that ‘Katzen würden Whiskas kaufen’ essentially means that cats would buy their own whiskers.
I remember that being why I thought I understood capitalism.
I can’t remember what colour the jacket was.
By Uljana Wolf
Translated by Katy Derbyshire
Read The German Riveter in its entirety here.
Find the books from The German Riveter on the Goethe-Institut page.
Uljana Wolf is an award-winning German poet and translator from English and Polish. She is known for exploring multilingualism in her work, which has been translated into more than thirteen languages. Born in Berlin, she now teaches German at New York University.
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.