Science Fiction Literature in East Germany

by Sonja Fritzsche (Author)
©2006 Monographs 334 Pages
Open Access


East German science fiction enabled its authors to create a subversive space in another time and place. One of the country’s most popular genres, it outlined futures that often went beyond the party’s official version. Many utopian stories provided a corrective vision, intended to preserve and improve upon East German communism. This study is an introduction to East German science fiction. The book begins with a chapter on German science fiction before 1949. It then spans the entire existence of the country (1949-1990) and outlines key topics essential to understanding the genre: popular literature, socialist realism, censorship, fandom, and international science fiction. An in-depth discussion addresses notions of high and low literature, elements of the fantastic and utopia as critical narrative strategies, ideology and realism in East German literature, gender, and the relation between literature and science. Through a close textual analysis of three science fiction novels, the author expands East German literary history to include science fiction as a valuable source for developing a multi-faceted understanding of the country’s short history. Finally, an epilogue notes new titles and developments since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the Author
  • About the book
  • Explanatory Text
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter One Introduction
  • Chapter Two German Science Fiction before 1949
  • Chapter Three Reconciling Science Fiction with Socialist Realism (1949–1960)
  • Chapter Four “Fantasy – Idea – Realization” (1961–1970)
  • Chapter Five Utopian Realism – The Case of Eberhardt Del Antonio's Return of the Forefathers
  • Chapter Six An East German New Wave (1971–1980)
  • Chapter Seven Ambiguous Utopia – Johanna and Günter Brauns’ Uncanny Manifestations on Omega XI
  • Chapter Eight Utopian/Dystopian Resurgence in a Time of Perestroika (1981–1990)
  • Chapter Nine Searching for Utopia – Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüllers’ The Dream Master
  • Chapter Ten Bleibt was? East German Science Fiction Since 1989
  • Works Cited
  • Index


All projects are the sum of the work of many people behind the scenes. Throughout the research and writing process, I have benefited from the advice and moral support of numerous individuals, all of whom I cannot name here, but whom I wish to thank nonetheless. First of all, I wish to extend my appreciation to Jack Zipes, Arlene Teraoka, Rick McCormick, Mary Jo Maynes and John Mowitt, who have been patient and forthcoming with extensive resources and critique. Thomas Kramer and Vibs Petersen also provided valuable commentary. I would like to thank the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Office of External Affairs at the Freie Universität, Berlin, the Department of German, Scandinavian and Dutch at the University of Minnesota, the University of Minnesota Graduate School and Illinois Wesleyan University for financial support that proved invaluable for the completion of this project.

For their time and insight into the world of East German science fiction, I would like to thank authors Johanna and Günter Braun, Alexander Kröger and his wife Susanne Routschek, Carlos Rasch, Karlheinz and Angela Steinmüller, Michael Szameit and editors Ekkehard Redlin and Erik Simon. Many contacts and opportunities would have passed me by if it had not been for the industrious members of the Andymon science fiction fan club, including, among others, Wolfgang Both, Siegfried Breuer, Ronald Hoppe, Hardy Kettlitz, Hans-Peter Neumann, Klaus Scheffler, Ingolf Vonau, and Anita Winkler. We miss collector Hans-Jürgen Erich. The staffs of the Bundesarchiv–Berlin, Staatsbibliothek Berlin, Amerikanische Gedenkbibliothek–Berlin, and Phantastische Bibliothek Wetzlar have been invaluable. In addition, I wish to acknowledge the Das Neue Berlin/ Eulenspiegel Verlag, which furnished and granted permission to use the original book cover artwork from Del Antonio’s Heimkehr der Vorfahren, Johanna and Günter Braun’s Unheimliche Erscheinungsformen auf Omega XI and Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller’s Der Traummeister. ← 9 | 10

For careful and consistent reading, I would like to thank Gun Edberg–Caldwell, Barbara Drescher, Rachel Huener, Beth Muellner, and Leo Riegert. Stokes Schwartz caught errors that I could no longer see. My student assistant Matt Thompson worked tirelessly at a tedious research task. Thanks are also due to Marina Balina, Kathy Brown, Robert Doebgen, Klaus Frühauf, Detlef Kannapin, Ludmila Kizer, Patrick McLane, Julie Prandi, Heidi Soneson, Nancy Sultan, Lyman Tower Sargeant, and Gerhard Wiechmann. Finally, I cannot begin to adequately thank my family, Nan and Dave Fritzsche, Tanya Losey, and Stokes Schwartz, for their unwavering moral support and painstaking reminders that there is a life beyond the book manuscript.

This book is a result of the input of many individuals. Still, this author has been the one to sift through and analyze the information provided. Therefore, any errors or oversights are my own. In addition, all English translations are my own unless otherwise indicated. If a book exists in English translation, I deferred to this translation. ← 10 | 11 →

List of Abbreviations

Chapter One

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989 signaled the political and geographical demise of the German Democratic Republic (GDR). This collapse became official with the reunification of the two Germanies on October 3, 1990. Germans on both sides euphorically tore down the wall that had separated them since 1961. Although it has been more than fifteen years since the removal of this physical obstruction, mental barriers between eastern and western Germans, formulated during the Cold War, have proven more difficult to dismantle. The various social, cultural and political discourses that shaped the identities and experiences of East and West Germans persist. They are reinforced by new prejudices and assumptions that often lead to misunderstanding and resentment.

Despite reunification, the persistent mentality of division in Germany demonstrates that 1990 can by no means be termed a “Stunde Null” or zero hour from which Germany started anew. To consign GDR culture to the past would leave intact an interpretation shaped by the Cold War and limited by inadequate access to extensive documentation. Moreover, many of today’s Germans experienced and participated in the GDR’s challenges, successes, and offenses. Although the everyday reality of political oppression is central to an understanding of life in East Germany, this multifaceted society constantly changed and transformed in response to a variety of international and domestic influences. The continued study of East Germany, therefore, contributes to a more comprehensive depiction of the country and its inhabitants. If Germany is to overcome the deep divisions that contribute to today’s political, economic and cultural instability, each side must attempt to understand the “other.”

The study of the country’s science fiction is one way in which to access the “alien” world of East Germany. Anita Mallinckrodt observes that popular literature holds “many keys to understanding ← 13 | 14 another people” (9). In her study of East German dime novels, she describes the necessity to look beyond “dissident” writing to gain a view of life there from diverse sources. Frederic Jameson has expressed a similar belief regarding East German science fiction, more specifically. He writes, “[A]part from the literary merits of individual texts – [it] has great value as a cultural symptom, as one privileged way of taking the temperature of a social system at a particular historical moment” (“Science Fiction and the GDR” 199). A literature concerned with contemporary events, science fiction is integrally related to its historical context and, therefore, provides a unique view into East German cultural practices. An analysis of this science fiction literally constructs a path, which leads to alternative socialist worlds and times. At the same time, through an examination of the texts and their reception, we begin to see how the contributors to this discourse understood their surroundings and themselves.

GDR science fiction is of special interest, since it developed in relative isolation from the discursive conventions in and about Anglo-American science fiction. It took its cue from Jules Verne and selected German, Polish, Czech, and Soviet science fiction publications. In addition, GDR science fiction contributed a great deal to the satirical tradition started by Polish author Stanislaw Lem in the mid-1960s. Banned under the National Socialists, limited Anglo-American texts first became available in the GDR in the late 1970s and 1980s. A predominance of translated, Anglo-American science fiction excluded any notable parallel development in West Germany.

The popularity of science fiction in East Germany also makes it worthy of greater scholarly attention. The GDR possessed a significant science fiction tradition, more so than that of the BRD due to the fact that it was artificially shielded from competition with the Anglo-American translations. 1 Like detective and adventure novels, all East German science fiction titles consistently sold out (Kruschel, “Zwischen” 155, Klotz and Matzer 106). By 1990, some 151 novels appeared, which was by far the dominant form of science fiction in the GDR. Furthermore, over six science fiction anthologies, twelve ← 14 | 15 children’s books, fifty-four dime novels, fifty-six short story collections, and countless other short stories in magazines and journals appeared as well.2 Additionally, the East German film studio, Deutsche Film Aktiengesellschaft (DEFA), produced six, feature science fiction films.3 Furthermore, unlike those interested in detective and adventure novels, science fiction readers in the East formed a number of clubs in which to discuss and swap books. These clubs are but one facet of what was to become a self-selected, science fiction “niche” or “ghetto” in western terms.

While the publications of East Germany’s literary avant-garde are well documented in the United States, little is known of the popular literature that prospered behind the wall. The availability of GDR popular literature restricted its study in both the United States and in the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Writing by more distinguished East German authors often appeared in West German editions and was discussed, not only by academics, but also in prominent newspapers and magazines. In contrast, the occasional detective or science fiction novel that did appear in the West attracted much less critical interest.

This book sets out to identify several historical, methodological, and literary gaps in the study of GDR science fiction. First, it introduces the English-speaking reader to this tradition, and, in doing so, locates it both aesthetically and historically. As some might not be familiar with East Germany, I include details with which the expert is already familiar. To this end, my project analyzes cultural policy ← 15 | 16 pertaining to science fiction and provides an overview of major thematic developments in the genre in the GDR. In the process, it concentrates on the novel in an effort to provide a broad, yet focused, look into the development of GDR popular literature over the course of the country’s forty-year existence. The book’s chronological organization is not designed to construct a linear narrative of a national genre. It provides a unique view of major events in GDR history and conveys particular German practices in the writing of science fiction.

Second, my study raises key theoretical issues that affect the broader field of GDR literature. It questions the notion of the “subversive,” which has driven studies of East Germany through the Cold War and beyond. In doing so, it interrogates assumptions surrounding categories of “high” and “low” literature as well as center and periphery by contextualizing their application. Drawing upon a variety of original sources, I assume a gradation of participation within the system and demonstrate how a number of science fiction authors and editors were able to influence policy to their own ends. In the process, I present a model of interactive relations between elements of GDR state and society.

Finally, this project defines GDR science fiction as a literature of both affirmation and subversion. It looks at the ways in which authors employed the genre’s qualities of estrangement, both in terms of utopian literature and as a literature of the fantastic, to strengthen and criticize GDR socialism. To do so, my study takes an in-depth look at novels by three authors, whose writing resonated with a large number of GDR science fiction enthusiasts. These publications are: Eberhardt Del Antonio’s Heimkehr der Vorfahren (Return of the Forefathers, 1966), Johanna and Günter Braun’s Unheimliche Erscheinungsformen auf Omega XI (Uncanny Manifestations on Omega XI, 1974), and Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller’s Der Traummeister (The Dream Master, 1990). ← 16 | 17

Scholarship on East German Popular Literature

While studies in science fiction flourished in both Great Britain and in the United States during the seventies and eighties, primary literature in the German language has garnered sporadic attention.4 West German literary scholars have shown interest in the critical study of science fiction only recently. This lack of interest can be attributed to a general mistrust of popular literature, an attitude, which can be traced back to the Enlightenment.5 In the sixties, seventies and eighties, many West German sociologists concentrated on the potential for escapism and conformism among readers of popular genres.6 Nevertheless, several calls for a critical study of the aesthetics of this literature in both Germanies surfaced in the West.7 In 1970, Hans ← 17 | 18 Friedrich Foltin lamented a widespread presumption that this type of literature fails to contribute to the broader understanding of the human condition or push aesthetic boundaries (3).

East German science fiction remained doubly marginalized. In the West, “German science fiction” referred to publications from the Federal Republic only. Very few works on the subject acknowledged the GDR’s tradition or granted it more than an ancillary role.8 Many assumed GDR science fiction to be an instrument of the Socialist Unity Party (SED).9 One notable exception is Anita Mallinckrodt’s sociological study of East German dime novels that includes a wellresearched history of GDR popular literature with reference to science fiction. In addition, Horst Heidtmann completed a structuralist analysis of East German science fiction in 1982.

A considerable amount of documentation existed on the eastern side of the wall. Academics and literary critics initially saw popular literature as a bourgeois tool of class warfare. Many remained opposed to the creation of a “socialist alternative” to compete with the West.10 Consequently, they left the theorization of early GDR science fiction to the authors, editors, and party functionaries directly concerned.11 In the seventies, East German pedagogues conducted an ← 18 | 19 historical survey of East German popular literature.12 The first comprehensive, Marxist–Leninist theory of science fiction in East Germany appeared in 1977.13 A series of dissertations in the eighties analyzed specific themes, for example, as the portrayal of women and of the alien, as well as elements of utopia and dystopia.14

Over the past fifteen years, a new generation of German and American literary scholars has begun to address the significant number of romance, science fiction, detective, adventure, and war novels that appeared in the GDR. Recent approaches to GDR popular literature outline ways in which it, while limited in scope by censorship, nevertheless provided the reader with entertainment, excitement, relaxation, education, and, in some cases, criticism of an authoritarian regime. In the area of GDR science fiction, Thomas Kramer provides an in-depth look at the influences of Karl May and Hans Dominik on the comic book Mosaik in Micky, Marx and Manitu. Michael Grisko, Detlef Kannapin, Stefan Soldvieri, and Gerhard Wiechmann all have published on GDR science fiction film.15 ← 19 | 20


ISBN (Softcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2018 (September)
Deutschland (DDR) Sciencefiction Censorship Cybernetics Space Race Realism Science Fiction
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Wien, 2006. 334 pp.

Biographical notes

Sonja Fritzsche (Author)

The Author: Sonja Fritzsche received her B.A. from Indiana University in both History and German. In 1995 she received an M.A. in Modern European History from UCLA and, in 2001, a Ph.D. in Germanic Studies from the University of Minnesota. Currently, she is an Assistant Professor in German and Eastern European Studies at Illinois Wesleyan University. She has published articles on East German science fiction film, fandom, and literature.


Title: Science Fiction Literature in East Germany