Remembering East Germany. From Oberlin to East Berlin is a documentary memoir that is based primarily on the 396-page file the East German secret police or Stasi compiled on me between 1973 and 1988, when I was travelling and working on a number of scholarly projects in that country. The reports in the file provide a kind of factual foundation for the memoir, as do reports about me found in the files of others, various printed materials, letters I wrote and received, and some memories as well. The book does not have chapters, it has sections—114 in all, some short, some long—that are devoted to all sorts of topics and events that I consider significant. The narrative proceeds chronologically for the most part, starting in 1973 and moving forward in time to 2002, with the occasional flashback.
When presenting the individual reports from my Stasi-file, I have tried to create a framework that will introduce the reader to the material and make it comprehensible. I have also tried to reproduce the reports as accurately as possible in English translation, so readers will be able to see what such reports look like, how they are structured, and what sort of information and commentary they contain. I have elected to include entire reports most of the time rather than excerpts or a summary of the content. This leads to some redundancy, but that is also the actual nature of the file, since information in one report may be repeated verbatim or in a slightly different way in subsequent reports. This is especially true in the informational and summarial reports written by Stasi officers, which were meant to update the file from time to time.
The original version of this book is titled Von Oberlin nach Ostberlin. Als Amerikaner unterwegs in der DDR-Literaturszene. It was published in 2013 by the Ch. Links Verlag, a highly regarded commercial publisher in Berlin, Germany. It is written entirely in German and is somewhat shorter in length than the English version that follows. I am grateful to Christoph Links for allowing me to publish an edition for the English-speaking world. Many persons—friends, colleagues, acquaintances—who are unable to read German have encouraged me to translate Von Oberlin nach Ostberlin into English, and I decided to undertake this project during my retirement.
An author should record his gratitude to those who assisted him and served as models, which I am pleased to do here. I am deeply indebted to my friends and colleagues, theater director/professor Heinz-Uwe Haus and writer/professor Gabriele Eckart, both of whom grew up and spent much of their lives in East Germany. Their insightful and detailed critiques of my first draft were immensely helpful and improved the book greatly. Let me also mention Christine Becker, widow of prominent prose writer Jurek Becker, who brought my book project to the attention of its publisher, Christoph Links. I am grateful to Christoph Links and my copyeditor, Jana Fröbel, for their many helpful stylistic reformulations and revisions in the original German manuscript. Finally, I want to acknowledge Timothy Garton Ash, whose fascinating book The File led me to contemplate writing a memoir based on my own Stasi-file.
I would be remiss if I did not mention how much the support of my wife, Ulrike Diedenhofen, meant to me throughout the writing of this book and the period leading up to its publication in April 2013, and more recently during the process of translating it into English. She provided needed encouragement, an open ear whenever I needed a listener, and she helped me in countless other ways. To her I say “thank you,” knowing that these words are not a sufficient expression of my thanks.
Finally, I want to express sincere appreciation to the University of Delaware for granting me a sabbatical leave in 2010-2011. I am particularly grateful to George Watson, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, for arranging the combined sabbatical/administrative year of leave that enabled me to complete the German version of my book without financial hardship.