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Durs Grünbein: It was absolutely inconceivable that Kafka would be teaching materials in the DDR

It is a grey winter day in Berlin. Durs Grünbein, one of Germany's most critically acclaimed author, parks his vespa and walk with resolute steps into the cafe at Savignyplatz. He will justify that he is a little late, and mutter that it is ”busy days”. Recently had his opera ”Die Weiden” (”the Meadows”) its world premiere at the Staatsoper in Vienna. Grünbeins libretto takes up the issues of the recent years, refugee flows and Europe's högergir. A substance in the past year also debated extensively in articles and scensamtal, mainly as a counterbalance to the author and högersympatisören Uwe Tellkamp.

But the political situation we'll talk about another time. This time it's about the autobiographical book ”the Years at the zoo”, which has recently been published in Swedish. The book is a portrayal of his own childhood in Hellerau on the outskirts of Dresden. But it also holds historical studies of everything from the construction of the autobahn, his own family's relation to nazism, the allied bombräder against Dresden at the end of the second world war, the Russian soldiers during the DDR-time, and much more. The subtitle reads ”A kaleidoscope”.

– Every time you turn on a memory, change its parts, and give rise to new constellations. Just like a kaleidoscope, " says Durs Grünbein.

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freely between different tidsnivåer and places and conveys both the historical facts and psychological state. With inspiration from the music he has chosen to let the themes come back repeatedly, in order to be able to twist and turn them, and let them assume new guises. The kaleidoscopic envelope color also on the form. Stilnivåerna mixed, as well as the genres that alternates between poetry, prose and essays.

the Book is a kind of search for tracks: by the unspoiled, after the jewish culture before the near-exterminated by the nazis. It is interesting how all of these historical layers is also in me, as vectors running through me, and thus define me.

”the Years at the zoo” begins with the words: ”Memories are not much to rely on, it knows where and a of own experience”. I ask how he worked to achieve something that can be relied on.

" When I started, I thought I would write about my life. But the story crept immediately on. I realized that it only went to write my history by exkurser in Helleraus, Dresden and German history.

When I realized that Kafka went past my parents ' house in the summer of 1914, everything was magical.

was Dresdenförorten a kind of artists ' colony which grew up around the furniture factory of the Deutsche werkstätten presented. In the village was a cultural centre that attracted intellectuals from all over Europe, with its rich array of dance and theater. In the school developed a new pedagogy.

All this was shattered when the nazis came to power. In the book is reproduced many old photos from Dresden and Hellerau. Also it mixes the private and the public. The images are in part taken from familjealbumet, but it is mostly old postcards that Grünbein found at flea markets and in antique shops.

– these old postcards showing how the city looked in the past, and they are both very alien and incredibly close. With their help expanded my own memories and beliefs about how it was once.

throughout his authorship Durs Grünbein in their texts brought dialogues with selected writers in the history of literature. The idea for ”the Years at the zoo” and he was he for a period devoted himself to the intense Kafka-reading.

– When I realized that Kafka was walking past the fence outside my parents ' house in the summer of 1914, everything was magical. I felt a strong connection that made me want to write this book.

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in 1962, a year after the berlin Wall was erected. As a child he dreamed of as an adult working with animals. The title of the book is a fitting to it, but also a symbolic description of the life in the wall - and taggtrådsomgärdade the state where he grew up. The book describes the DDR as an aviary.

There were many similarities with a zoo. We were trapped behind a wall. Västlänningarna came sometimes and looked at the exotic DDR-citizens and then they went home again – to the freedom.

As a young man in the GDR could Durs Grünbein while traveling, but not freely. Only to the communist neighbouring countries, such as Czechoslovakia and Hungary. In Prague he visits Kafka's grave, in Budapest, he manages to get over the German editions of ”the Castle” and ”Letters to Felice”. He describes it as ”finding a treasure”. At home in the GDR was, in fact, Kafka's books were banned.

today, it seems as exotic to me that those who grew up in west Germany was allowed to read ”the Metamorphosis” in school. It was completely inconceivable that Kafka would be teaching material in the socialist DDR. His books were taboo, and it did, of course, reading is even more exciting.

" I think it is because Kafka's texts asked direct questions about society's order, bureaucratic system and state structures. It reminded too much about the system we lived in. Kafka showed how man was tormented by these systems.

During his time in high school began Durs Grünbein writing poems. When he is in the book describes how he during a summer writing fifty sonnets ”with his ugly handwriting” switch from I - to he-perspective, to third person.

– as soon As you start writing literary required distance. One begins to see itself from the outside. It is this I wanted to catch there. Of course, it is possible to use the other perspective also. To return to Kafka: in his story ”Josefine, the singer or Of mice kingdom of god” he uses the collectivist we like the shape, and it has always convinced me because I grew up in a society so collectivist embossed. In the totalitarian GDR, we lived with a fatalistiskt we-perspective, when we talked about that ”we had too little food” or what it now could be.

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eventually disintegrated, it started with demonstrations in which the DDR-citizens chanted ”We are the people”.

– A typical Kafka-meaning, " says Durs Grünbein and laughing.

Franz Kafka is not the one the author Durs Grünbein goes in the clinch in ”the Years at the zoo”, but he should probably be considered the most important literary sparringpartnern in the book. But in diktsviten ”On the snow”, that also came on English last year, it's instead about another important influence: the philosopher René Descartes, who was also the main character in the Grünbeins previous book ”Cartesian diver”.

I returned to him is because philosophy is one of my biggest interests, and that Descartes is my philosophical hero.

He stood at the beginning of the new age thinking with his cogito, ergo sum. Where are the first traces of the enlightenment and of the scientific-technical revolution. A new vision and new ideas, even if art's function. A first indication of a new psychology. It is a crucial moment in history.

It is them he is looking for: decisive moments in the history. In ”the Years at the zoo” is therefore not only the personal key but also the format of Germany at large.

" My memory work is not so much with the smell of a certain cake to make. Rather, it's about tags that stuck in the memory and that is not so easy to pull out.

Breakfast is over. We go out on the street. Durs Grünbein open the seat of his vespa and pulls out a helmet. Soon the wind he in the road by the traffic – against the new points in the history, against the new political positions and literary kalejodoskop.

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