104. Three Letters and a Response from Uwe Berger: 1993–1994

In 1993 and 1994, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of the two Germanys, I received three letters from the poet and cunning Stasi informant, Uwe Berger (IMV “Uwe”). All three are related to my request for information on his experience and perception of censorial practices in the former GDR, which I eventually received and published in Fragebogen: Zensur (Questionnaire: Censorship). Bear in mind that at this point in time I did not yet know that Berger had been an informant and, more importantly perhaps, Berger probably did not think I would ever discover his dark secret.

In his letter of January 7, 1993, just as in the 1976 and 1977 reports from IMV “Uwe” that are in my file, Berger’s hypocritical and opportunistic nature are on full display. There is an exaggerated attempt to flatter me in the first paragraph, as he makes reference to the “pleasant conversation” we had when I visited him at his home in June 1976, then some positive comments about US citizens in general (“openminded interest” and “absence of petty-mindedness”), and finally the evocation of Ronald Reagan’s phrase “a meeting place” (“Ort der Begegnung”) and its symbolic extension—first to the US Embassy in East Berlin and then to all of Berlin as meeting places of East and West. He also mentions that he visited the residence of the US Ambassador to the GDR on Independence Day in 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1989, possibly in an effort to establish himself as a “friend” of the US. Now, what was Berger trying to accomplish with this overly complimentary letter, what did he want from me? His next letter, dated August 5, 1993, provided the answer: my assistance.

He begins this letter by wishing me much success with my project on literary censorship in the GDR, to which he is going to contribute without honorarium. He then makes reference to the cultural situation in Germany, where financial support for publishing is hard to come by. Due to this “situation,” he says, he has not been able to place his manuscripts with any German publisher. So he asks if I see a possibility, even a slight one, to get them published in the USA. The texts in question are poems from the years 1989 to 1993, he notes, which he does not want to have “put on ice.” This is very important because he wants to prove that his work did not begin and end with the GDR.

On the day after Christmas 1994, Berger wrote another letter to his “friend” in Delaware, Richard Zipser. This time he expresses gratitude for the opportunity to contribute to Fragebogen: Zensur and, with incredible hypocrisy, indicates that he is pleased to have life in the GDR behind him (“was Gott sei Dank hinter mir liegt” / “which thank God lies behind me”).

To round out the portrait of IMV “Uwe” in the post-Wall period, I am presenting without commentary his reponse to the last of six interview questions I sent him in connection with Fragebogen: Zensur.

Question: On the topic of literary censorship, do you have additional experiences or information that you would like to communicate here?

Answer: On 11/1/1989, hence still before the huge Alex-demonstration (11/4) and the collapse of the Wall (11/9), I called into question in the Cultural Association [of the GDR] the “leading role,” that is to say the monopoly on power of the SED. My statement, a consequence of my experience with the GDR and not just its literary censorship, was broadcast that same evening on the television program “Aktuelle Kamera”/ “Current Camera”.
[The Alexanderplatz demonstration on November 4, 1989, in the center of East Berlin was a demonstration for political reforms and against the GDR government. With more than half a million protestors, it was one of the largest mass meetings in GDR history and a milestone of the peaceful revolution that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification. This was the first demonstration in GDR history that was organized by private individuals and permitted to take place by the authorities. The protestors did not demand the opening of the Berlin Wall or possible German reunification. Instead, they concentrated on the democratization of the GDR with references to guaranteed freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.]

[“Current Camera” was the flagship television newscast of Deutscher Fernsehfunk, the state television broadcaster of the GDR from 1972 to 1990.]