4. Connections and Preparations

While in East Berlin, with help from some writers I had gotten to know, I began assembling a list of the home addresses and telephone numbers of the authors I hoped to visit and interview. The Wolfs introduced me to Volker Braun and also paved the way for my meetings with Stephan Hermlin, Sarah Kirsch, and Günter Kunert. Ulrich Plenzdorf introduced me to two writers in his circle of friends, Klaus Schlesinger and Martin Stade, and to his publisher, Konrad Reich. Reich was head of the Hinstorff Verlag, a prestigious publishing house in Rostock known for publishing works by writers who were controversial and trying to push the envelope. Plenzdorf and I had lunch with Reich at Hotel Unter den Linden in Berlin that September, and I was flattered when Reich not only expressed interest in my project but also in possibly publishing it in the GDR, something I had never imagined might be possible. Many GDR writers considered him to be an entrepreneurial spirit, a well-connected mover and shaker who could make the most unlikely things happen. Almost twenty-five years later, with the help of my file, I would learn that Reich had a second identity and a special assignment related to me.

I returned to Vienna, my home base for the sabbatical year, and laid the groundwork for a longer stay in Berlin, during which time I planned to meet with a large number of GDR writers. When I returned to East Berlin on November 10, Ulrich Plenzdorf lent me a portable tape recorder to use for the interviews. Armed with blank cassettes purchased in the West and my list of fifteen questions, I began to visit GDR writers and conduct interviews.