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Dr Susanne Ledanff with her new book on Berlin in contemporary literature. Dr Susanne Ledanff with her new book on Berlin in contemporary literature. CREDIT: University of Canterbury

Literature of new Berlin explored in book

Friday 14 August 2009, 5:31PM
By University of Canterbury


A new book by UC academic Dr Susanne Ledanff analyses the literary offerings of Germany’s capital city in the 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Dr Ledanff (Languages, Cultures and Linguistics) has just had her fourth book published — a reference book entitled Hauptstadtphantasien. Berliner Stadtlektüren in der Gegenwartsliteratur 1989-2008, which translates as “Imagining the capital city: Berlin in contemporary literature 1989-2008”.

The senior lecturer in German said her study surveyed nearly 20 years of new Berlin writing which reflects the city’s transformation since the fall of the wall in 1989.

Intended as a reference text on the latest chapter of Berlin’s cultural and literary history, the book is based on Dr Ledanff’s analysis of about 140 novels and prose text anthologies. It also reviews the critical writing on the new Berlin architecture, the so-called “remetropolisation” since German unification and other topics relating to Berlin cultural life.

“It is only now that two decades of literary and essayistic fantasies about the German capital city can be put into the context of the changes in German post-wall society,” Dr Ledanff said.

The idea to start research for the book came to her while on a trip to Berlin in 2000.

“There was quite a discussion at the time on new Berlin literature and architecture and since I am from Berlin I thought I would write a critical overview,” she said.

The book debates the question whether there is such a thing as a new Berlin novel. She explained further: “The Berlin metropolitan novel certainly does not exist as a literary genre but I can demonstrate that a fair number of interesting and original narratives are part of the new Berlin writing.”

While on study leave in 2004 Dr Ledanff began working on the manuscript and would return to Berlin for a few months each year to do research for the book.

“It is a really vast topic so that’s why I had to be there all the time to go to readings, use the bookshops in the city, workshops and seminars.”

The 676-page tome takes a chronological approach to explore the different facets of Berlin writing and the changes and trends witnessed throughout the past two decades. The authors studied include “old” East and West Berliners writing politically in the early post-wall years, to the new generation of authors attracted to the “trendy” European metropolis producing pop experimental literature. The book also includes the images of Berlin represented in the work of foreign authors and those writing retrospectives of Berlin.

“One thing that interested me very much, as I myself am an old West Berliner, was the recent element of nostalgia for the old East and West before the fall of the wall,” said Dr Ledanff.

“Nostalgia for the myth of West Berlin that is not just a romantic and sentimental remembering but something that will go on even more in the future as a way to communicate with each other what life was like before.”

Hauptstadtphantasien. Berliner Stadtlektüren in der Gegenwartsliteratur 1989-2008, by Susanne Ledanff, published by Aisthesis Verlag, Bielefeld, June 2009, RRP €59, Paperback, 676 pp, ISBN-13: 978-3895287251.