35. Sixth Report from IMV “Kurt”: December 9, 1977

I discover, to my surprise, that the next report in my file is also from IMV “Kurt.” Since this report provides some information about aspects of my book project, and since it was submitted just one week after his previous report, I surmise that “Kurt” had been asked to find out as much as possible about the content of my manuscript and interviews with writers before my mid-December departure. This would have been a logical next step, since—as IM “Dölbl” indicated in her report dated December 1—she had been unable to gain access to portions of the manuscript or extract any useful information from me. The transcript of “Kurt’s” tape-recorded report appears below. Be sure not to overlook the reference to his December 2 report and Ingrid Strassenberger’s birthday gathering in the private Artclub “Möwe”.

Main Department XX/Operative Group                       Berlin, 12/13/1977

Pa/Ha

Tape-recorded report

Source: IMV “Kurt” on 12/9/1977

Received: First Lieutenant Paulitz

ZIPSER, Dick, USA Citizen

The book project, which according to ZIPSER is going to be finished in 1978, can be traced back to a private initiative on ZIPSER’s part. In its present state, enough work has been completed to warrant the award of a stipend for a three-month stay in the GDR; because of this, he has been residing here since September [actually, since October].

The book will consist of:

short stories and/or excerpts from narratives or books by the individual authors.

commentaries which he has prepared on the writers in question.

interviews which he has conducted with each individual author.

According to him, this will make it possible for the interested reader to acquire a multifaceted picture of the writer’s personality as well as of his or her literary activity.

The above-mentioned texts may either be published or unpublished works; that will left up to each writer.

ZIPSER stated additionally that at least for now he is not going earn anything with this book; rather, he will have to cover the cost of the first edition himself. When that has been sold, his money will be refunded. The primary consideration for him is to become well known in the USA as a specialist for GDR literature.

At the same time, ZIPSER is working on a second project. He has prepared an American textbook edition of U. Plenzdorf’s novel

“Die neuen Leiden des jungen W.”
[The New Sufferings of Young W., 1973]

which is intended to help advanced students of the German language learn and understand colloquial speech, including slang expressions in German, among other things. This book is going to be published by a USA publishing house in New York (name unknown, but according to ZIPSER a very well-known and large publisher). Meanwhile, he knows that the book has been accepted. In this regard there are connections with the

Hinstorff Publishing House
Rostock

which has granted the USA publisher a license for the printing of this book (the processing of the text based on the content of this book). ZIPSER maintains that he is not going to earn much by doing this; the main thing is that his name will become known, since U. PLENZDORF will appear as author and D. ZIPSER as editor. The USA publisher is also not going to make a financial profit on this; rather, the publisher is seeking to enhance its image.

The rationale behind this is that a USA citizen who is seeking specific literature from the GDR will always know to turn to this particular publisher, which will have created a niche for this special area.

ZIPSER says the Hinstorff Publishing House is the first publisher in the GDR to have a contract with a USA publisher. The project mentioned above is going to benefit Hinstorff most of all in terms of

a.   its publicity in the USA

b.   the financial gains that will result from this contract.

[Ulrich Plenzdorf’s  “Die neuen Leiden des jungen W.” was first published as a screenplay in “Sinn und Form” (March 1972), the leading literary journal in the GDR. The stage version that followed was performed to full houses in Eastern and Western Europe, and the film version was also a tremendous success in the German-speaking world. Plenzdorf wrote a prose version as well, which was published in East Germany by the Hinstorff Publishing House (1973) and in West Germany by the Suhrkamp Publishing House (1976). By the mid-1970s, mainly as a result of this work’s popularity, Plenzdorf had become the most discussed, reviewed, and performed GDR writer since the death of Bertolt Brecht in 1956.

Plenzdorf, accompanied by his wife Helga, spent April and May 1975 at Oberlin College where he was Max Kade German Writer-in-Residence. The Plenzdorfs lived and took their meals in a dormitory, along with the students. During his stay in Oberlin, Plenzdorf visited German language and literature classes on all levels and participated actively in my Intermediate German class, where he discovered how passionately involved American students had become in “Die neuen Leiden des jungen W.” Upon his return to the GDR, he helped me secure permission from Hinstorff for a textbook edition of his famous work.

I began preparing the textbook edition in the fall of 1976, after returning from my sabbatical leave, and completed work on it during the summer and early fall of 1977. It was published by John Wiley & Sons in 1978 and remained in print for about fifteen years. It was the only work by an East German author to be published in its entirety, in a special textbook edition, in the US.]

As regards the safeguarding of his manuscripts and the written materials he is working on at present, it has not been possible to gather any information up to now.

Always available to Zipser is the opportunity to store materials in West Berlin, for example at the home of the KELLNER family which has already been mentioned several times.

KELLNER,  Hellfried
[blacked out], 42 in Berlin
1 Berlin 48, [blacked out]
ID card no. [blacked out]
Issued on [blacked out]
by Police Headquarters of Berlin

KELLNER, née [blacked out], Brigitte
[blacked out] 1949 in Neuwied
resident: same as above
[blacked out]
ID card no. [blacked out]
Issued on [blacked out]
Police Headquarters of Berlin

I am aware that ZIPSER has his mail—from the FRG, the USA, and other countries—sent to KELLNERs’ address, and he picks it up there when goes to West Berlin.

He hardly ever mentions anything pertaining to the actual content of his conversations with the writers who play a role in his book. When I raise questions about this in conversations, he doesn’t always refuse to discuss it or become evasive, but instead usually proceeds to make sweeping generalizations.

ZIPSER had especially positive things to say about

Jurek BECKER and
Peter HACKS;

on HACKS, for example, with regard to his exceptional ability as a writer and the quality of his life, evidence of which is readily visible in his home. ZIPSER asserts that present-day GDR literature is unable to put forth the name of anyone who would count as a world-class writer. In his opinion, the writers closest to making this claim are

Christa Wolf – in the area of prose writing
Sarah Kirsch – in the area of poetry

He thinks that the GDR literati focus and concentrate too much on their own country and its problems, and this imparts more than a hint of provincialism to the literature. The problems that are treated are also not apt to stimulate thinking beyond the borders of the GDR, in the way—for example—that Thomas and Heinrich Mann, Brecht and others have done. ZIPSER thinks that GDR literature is completely underprivileged and undervalued in the USA, where there is not a broadly based readership for GDR literature. He hopes to be able to influence that somewhat with his book and the textbook mentioned earlier.

With regard to the gathering in the “Möwe” on 12/02/77, I have the following to relate: all the persons I named in my report of 12/02/77 were present.

The conversations focused above all on ZIPSER’s projects, as they have been described by me, and on various matters of personal concern to those present (real estate, automobile, family, etc.), most of the time in dialogues which already are known.

Around the beginning of October I discussed with ZIPSER for the first time the possibility of planning a weekend trip to Hiddensee [a lovely car-free island in the Baltic Sea]. He is positively disposed toward this trip and showed strong interest. I said I was prepared to take care of the organizational matters. We agreed on a time in the early summer, when he is back in the GDR or West Berlin. In this connection ZIPSER said that he will consider the month of May, because that will be the conclusion of his residence in the GDR during 1978.

In reference to a farewell party he wants to have before his upcoming departure (departure date Thursday, 12/15/1977), he mentioned this coming Tuesday evening. I am cordially invited, although he cannot say just yet when and where it will be held. He will communicate this information to me by telephone. He was considering the restaurant “Moskau”.

The next document in my file is a one-page memorandum dated December 12, 1977, which appears in its entirety below:

Main Department XX                                            Berlin, 12/12/1977

Memorandum

Prof. Zipser, Richard
born on 1/23/1943 in Maryland
residence 102 Shipherd Circle, Oberlin/Ohio/USA
current residence 1136 Berlin, Volkradstr. 8
Associate Professor at Oberlin College Ohio/USA

Z. is currently residing in the GDR as a guest of the Ministry of Higher Education, due to the establishment of an exchange agreement with the USA under the auspices of the UNESCO Organization IREX. The contract with ZIPSER was first negotiated in 1977. This contract provides for participation in courses as well as discussions with students and faculty members at the Humboldt University of Berlin.

As a sideline, ZIPSER is engaged in completing a book on GDR literature, a project initiated in 1975. It includes interviews with 38 GDR writers conducted on the basis of a questionnaire containing 15 questions.

With this project in mind ZIPSER previously visited and stayed in the GDR, on his own initiative, in September/October 1975 and in June 1976. He secured approval to prepare a book on GDR literature for readers in the USA and to conduct interviews with 38 GDR writers from the GDR Writers’ Union, after consultation with the Central Committee’s Department of Culture had been carried out. [Here I learned for the first time that permission for me to carry out my book project and conduct interviews with GDR writers had actually been granted by party officials at the level of the Central Committee of the SED, which was the ultimate authority for cultural-political matters in the GDR.]

ZIPSER is leaving the GDR on 12/15/77. In May 1978 he intends to return to the GDR for four weeks, in accordance with the existing contract.