Show Less
Open access

Science Fiction Literature in East Germany


Sonja Fritzsche

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.
Show Summary Details
Open access

Chapter Nine Searching for Utopia – Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüllers’ The Dream Master

Chapter Nine

Apocalypse and the Search for the New Utopia: Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüllers’ The Dream Master

The air shimmers above the desert; what lies in the distance, blurs. Coarse sand blows over the fallen barbed wire and helmets roll between the stones. Only a lizard shares the blazing heat of the sun outside, its flanks swell, my loneliness. The desert is barren and empty as it was at the beginning of time.

(The Dream Master, 5)

Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller’s Der Traummeister (The Dream Master, 1990) opens onto a desert scene where the violence and loneliness of the real are both revealed by a barren landscape and obscured by sand. The novel’s narrator, Glauke Arnya, escapes into the desert seeking the mental clarity of reason like many before her. The arid isolation of the desert provides some relief from the continual confusion between dream and reality and utopia and dystopia in her home city, Miscara. Yet, in the desert, revealed truths must also be questioned. Traditionally, the desert is associated with mysticism and revelation that comes in the form of a vision. It remains an ambiguous place where the seemingly rational or real can easily turn into a mirage. Therefore, any notion of the real that Glauke takes with her from the desert must also be interrogated and not elevated to the status of eternal truth. Furthermore, both the irrational and rational aspects of Glauke’s thought processes are present. They are necessary aspects of creating individual dreams for the future. The struggle lies is finding an appropriate balance between the two.

The ambiguous nature of the novel is not a narrative failure, but rather a central premise. It pervades the novel’s form, content, and style. Most often, it takes the form of tension between the rational and the irrational that is exemplified in the novel’s generic mixture. Where other works of East German science fiction incorporated elements of ← 237 | 238 the fairy tale, myth or fable to similar ends, The Dream Master is unique in its almost continual transgression of the border between the reality of science fiction and the unreality of fantasy. Besides its science fictional setting on a distant planet, the novel constructs a complete history of the city based, in part, on its technological achievements. Yet, this history exists alongside other histories that exist in the dreams created by the dream master of Miscara. The continual incursion of dreams into “reality” disrupts any pretense of realism. Organized in a series of flashbacks, The Dream Master’s surreal imagery, existential tone and fragmentary form consistently transgress the boundary between science fiction and fantasy. 1

The text’s ambiguity also prevents any definitive reading of the novel. The Steinmüllers rely on the estrangement effect of its alien setting and innovative form to create a space between the text and the reader that is open for critical reflection (Personal interview, 2000). Cognizant of the steady economic and social decline evident not only in the GDR but also in the Soviet Union, they use this critical space to construct an alternate city history loosely based on East Berlin. Finished in 1988 and approved for publication in October 1989, The Dream Master represents a “thought game” in which its authors strove to find a progressive way out of their own static, real-existing utopia.2 In the words of Karlheinz Steinmüller, the writers of similar alternate histories in the Soviet Union and elsewhere, looked for the “sources of [...] stagnation” in the Soviet Bloc and examined the “highly moral claims of Perestroika,” asking “if it had a chance” (“Zukünfte” 43). As the eighties wore on and Gorbachev’s reforms proved less than ← 238 | 239 successful, the Steinmüllers searched for a new direction for the GDR, in the event that Gorbachev’s plans failed. The result was a novel that captured uncannily what Raymond Williams has best described as a “structure of feeling” of the final years of East Germany. In many ways it foresaw the end of the GDR and its reunification with its western counterpart.

In The Dream Master, the successive utopian prophecies of Miscara progress from dynamic revolutionary vision to static utopia, the fixed nature of which leads ultimately to a recurring apocalypse. The novel presents the second static utopia in the history of Miscara in stages labeled Traumeszucht and Traumesucht (forced dream creation and dream addiction respectively). In these two stages, the novel posits the failure of a static utopia to secure a space viable for the survival of a multitude of individual voices. Not only is it the static utopia, but also its collective nature that keeps the first-person narrator, Glauke Arnya from articulating herself as a feminine subject. She is not able to do this until she dreams on her own at the end of the novel.

The text intertwines aspects of the classic, static utopia with the underlying shadow of the 20th century dystopia. Its apocalyptic ending results in a solid transition from the community to the individual, from the “we” to the “I.” A common theme in GDR literature in the seventies and eighties, especially among the proponents of the Third Way and in the writings of Christa Wolf, the pronouncement of “I” often symbolized a utopian hope for a reformed system based on democratic socialism. This third and final stage of the novel, entitled Träume sucht (the search for dreams), refers to the power of the individual voice as a creative force of hope. Here, the individual voice represents the basis for a dynamic utopia that is responsive to the society’s ever-changing needs of the future. In accordance with the value of socialism’s perpetual revolution, this dynamic utopia is kept alive by the wishes and creative contributions of all of its members.

As the novel progresses towards apocalypse, The Dream Master examines a variety of political and economic systems. Addressing feudalism, capitalism, communism, democracy, and feminism, it identifies the similarities of various utopian prophecies present in modern societies. The novel makes oblique references to and intermixes ← 239 | 240 characteristics of the various systems, but never directly identifies one in particular. The incorporation of these fragmentary allusions shifts the novel’s focus away from an examination of discrete political ideologies to what it identifies as their underlying systemic structure of collective utopia. It is this aspect, which the novel ultimately identifies as the reason for their failure.

Therefore, where Wolf and others outlined their visions of the future, the Steinmüllers did not. The book ends as Glauke dreams on her own without any hint as to the actual nature of this dream. While the novel’s almost anarchic allusion to dynamic utopia indicates a general distrust of the large nation-state, it proposes no replacement utopia. Perhaps it is Glauke’s individual dream that will break the cycle of progress from dynamic to static utopia.

The Authors

Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller are arguably the most successful East German science fiction authors. They as well as Johanna and Günter Braun are also the only two author pairs in GDR science fiction. An East German survey of science fiction fans in 1989 listed the Steinmüllers as the best authors of the GDR and their book Andymon (1982) as the best book.3 Moreover, East Berlin science fiction fans were so enamored with the text that they named their club Andymon.

Born in Schmalkalden in 1941, Angela Steinmüller grew up in East Berlin. She worked as a stenographer, a secretary and a manager at the Berlin VEB Gas Works and as an administrative employee in the business office of the East German Evangelical Student Religious Society. In 1975, she graduated from Humboldt University with a degree in Mathematics and then worked in data processing. ← 240 | 241

Her husband, Karlheinz Steinmüller was born in Klingenthal in 1950. He first studied in Karl-Marx-Stadt (now Chemnitz) and graduated with a degree in Physics from Humboldt University. There he continued on to write a dissertation in Philosophy entitled “The Machine Theory of Life. Philosophical Questions in Biomechanics” in 1977, and then worked in East Berlin on the cybernetic mapping of eco-systems.4

The couple met at Humboldt University, and they have been professsional authors since 1982. They were also members of the German Writers’ Union (Simon and Spittel, Science-fiction 243–244). Beginning in 1991, Karlheinz Steinmüller worked for the Secretariat for Future Studies in Gelsenkirchen, while his wife worked as a free-lance author and took various temporary state-funded positions. In 1997, they helped to found Z_Punkt. The Foresight Company, where Karlheinz Steinmüller has served as futurologist and as its scientific director since 2001.

The Steinmüllers have a number of science fiction short stories and novels to their credit, as well as several theoretical and secondary works on science fiction, utopia and future studies. Karlheinz Steinmüller published a collection of short stories entitled Der letzte Tag auf der Venus (The Last Day on Venus, GDR 1979). Angela Steinmüller is an established author as well. Her short story “Der Kerzenmacher” (“The Candle Maker”) won the Kurd Lasswitz Prize in 1992. Together, their most notable titles include Andymon (GDR 1982; FRG 1982, 2004), Windschiefe Geraden (Crooked Lines, GDR 1984) a collection of short stories, Pulaster (GDR 1986; FRG 1988), and Der Traummeister (The Dream Master, GDR 1990; FRG 1992). They have also written a history of GDR science fiction, Vorgriff auf das Lichte Morgen (Anticipation of a Bright Tomorrow, 1995) appeared. The Steinmüllers most recently published a collection of short stories entitled Warmzeit. Geschichten aus dem 21. Jahrhundert (The Warming Season. Stories from the 21st Century, 2003). One of the two new stories in the collection, “Vor der Zeitreise” (“Before the Trip Through Time”), recently won the Kurd Lasswitz prize for the Best ← 241 | 242 German Story of the Year 2003. Shayol Publishers plans to print a new edition of The Dream Master in 2005.

Although Andymon was their most popular book, I have chosen to focus on The Dream Master for two reasons. First of all, the Steinmüllers envisioned The Dream Master as a distant sequel to Andymon. To some extent, the former contains answers to questions and observations forged in the first book. As often occurs in science fiction, the Steinmüllers created a loosely connected, future universe through these and other books and short stories. They did so with the intent not of correcting the existing East German system, but rather playing with the possibilities that might follow its potential collapse (Personal interview, 2000). Although I do not conduct a comparative study of the two novels, some reference to Andymon is necessary to comprehend the science fictional setting of The Dream Master. Secondly, The Dream Master’s status as “Wendetext” (a novel of reunification) enables an analysis of the novel in terms of the contemporary situation in East Germany just prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Science Fantasy in the GDR – A Search for the Real

As illustrated earlier, the combination of science fiction and fantasy was not new to East German science fiction. Influenced by the rehabilitation of the German Romantic movement in the late sixties, several of its authors, most notably the Brauns and the Steinmüllers, incorporated aspects of literary fantasy to challenge the legacy of Enlightenment thought in East Germany. The preponderance of doubles, dreamlike states, medieval allusions, plus odd and unexplainable characters in The Dream Master can be traced back to this period. E.T.A. Hoffmann’s automaton and use of the uncanny is also evident ← 242 | 243 in the dual portrayal of the dream master, Kilean.5 He seems to be a rational being when awake. However, while performing his duties, he interacts with the technology of the dream tower and becomes a type of dream machine. Through Glauke’s narration, we experience one Kilean while awake and the other while asleep. In this manner the two Kileans are uncanny, particularly as one is merely a man while the other a monstrous power that reaches into every bedchamber. As the novel progresses, Kilean’s body becomes a vessel as his dreamed self takes over. In the dream world, Kilean finds yet another uncanny representation in his alter evil ego, known as the Saddraq. Each person in Miscara must learn to control this valuable yet dangerous side.

The Brauns explored the potential of the fairy tale and fable and adapted these forms to their notion of playfulness. The influence of Gerhard Branster, Stanislaw Lem and the Strugatsky brothers is evident in the science fiction the Brauns published in the GDR in the seventies. The Steinmüllers, on the other hand, published in East Germany in the eighties. Western science fiction television, literature and film were more readily accessible than ever before, whether through official channels, illegal antennae, hand-typed copies or under the table. Consequently, while influenced by Lem and the Strugatskys, the Steinmüllers also read Le Guin and Asimov (Personal interview, 2000). The Dream Master, in particular, takes on characteristics of the western genre of science fantasy through its setting in a medieval city that possesses fire-breathing dragons.

To understand The Dream Master fully it is necessary to look beyond the discourse on Romanticism in East Germany. It was not until the eighties that the popularity of “fantasy” or so-called “science fantasy” in West Germany (by publishers Heyne and Bastei–Lübbe in German translation) made its mark among East German authors. One distinguishing factor between the two German book markets was the flood of translated Anglo-American science fiction in the West. To a greater or lesser degree, East German authors enjoyed access to this tradition in science fiction as well. This new, combined style of ← 243 | 244 science fiction and fantasy defied established generic expectations in the GDR. It opened up other possibilities of the fantastic beyond the models provided by the German Romantic tradition and science fiction in the East Bloc.

The Anglo-American fantasy tradition found its origins in Edgar Allen Poe, Tolkien and C.S. Lewis among many others. Its more recent representatives include Marion Zimmer Bradley, Anne McCaffrey, and Ursula Le Guin. According to the Steinmüllers, it was the writings of New Wave author, Ursula Le Guin, which had a particular impact on their writing (Personal interview, 2000). In the eighties, several of her novels appeared in East Germany as publishers successfully argued for the acknowledgement of an international socialist science fiction tradition. Thus termed socialist writing, Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness (Der Winterplanet) appeared in 1979 and The Dispossessed (Planet der Habenichtse) eight years later.6

Five years before its publication, the GDR science fiction almanac, Lichtjahr, brought out an issue devoted to the western genre of science-fantasy, which was beginning to take hold among younger GDR authors. Lichtjahr 5 contains Ursula Le Guin’s “Things” and “The End”, selections from Tais Teng’s De legenden van Cotrahviné (The Legends of Cotrahviné), Karlheinz and Angela Steinmüller’s “Sterntaler,” and Pavel Amnuel’s “Höher als Wolken.” (“Higher than Clouds”). Hartmut Mechtel wrote in his internal review: “This volume focuses on fantasy unfamiliar to this country. Fantasy has been talked ← 244 | 245 about here only recently due to experimentation by GDR authors and film imports (Krull)” (“Gutachten über Lichtjahr” 2).

Instead of focusing on the issue of rational versus irrational, as the German Romantic tradition did, the Steinmüllers formulated the question of the “real” in terms of the collective and the individual. Recognizing that both had their foundations in ideology, the Steinmüllers used the tension between science fiction and fantasy in The Dream Master to search for the real. As the narrator’s struggle to find her own voice demonstrates, this personal “reality” is not easy to perceive clearly or to retain. In a society like the GDR that underscored its own utopian ideology with the concepts of science and rationality, the Steinmüllers believed science fiction to be the only literature that could truly explore the nature of this reality. Its very subject matter the relationship between humanism and science and technology, Karlheinz Steinmüller writes that the “incorporation of the estrangement effect contributes to the ability to see the roll, function and societal implications of science more clearly” (“Positionsbestimmung” 162). Therefore, he believes, in a society in which ideology and science remain intertwined, and science fiction acts as the primary source of realism (147). The incorporation of fantasy in The Dream Master only enhanced this effect by consistently foregrounding the interrogation of reality. Its presence highlighted the importance of the continual struggle to retain adequate knowledge of the real.

Furthermore, the Steinmüllers perceive science fiction to be first and foremost a genre whose primary subject is the relationship between humanity and science and technology (Personal interview, 2000). To this end, they also blend aspects of science fiction and fantasy to present a highly ambivalent picture of humanity’s dependence on technology. The Dream Master is neither the technologized communal utopia of Eberhardt Del Antonio nor is it the atomized, individual, dystopian nightmare exemplified by George Orwell in Nineteen-eighty-four. Rather, the Steinmüllers portray an objectified technology that its producers mismanage.

In the novel, the “use and abuse” of technology is closely related to the issue of memory. Here too the transgression of the border between science fiction and fantasy becomes significant. The Dream ← 245 | 246 Master itself is the story of the gradual downfall of Miscara, an ostensibly prosperous, desert city. It is located on the planet, Spera, which was colonized during the first wave of Earth’s space exploration in the 21st century. Andymon relates the story of this first wave on a planet of the same name, while The Dream Master takes place some twenty centuries later.7 The Miscarans have one peculiarity, which sets them apart from other cities on their planet. They are not able to dream on their own. Instead, they require the assistance of a dream master to dream for them high above the city in his glistening tower.8 He dreams through the figures of the Mittal, a mythological place with a cast of characters that the Steinmüllers intended to be reminiscent of Arab mythology on Earth (Personal interview, 2000). The Mittal represents a type of collective unconscious and also functions as the keeper of the city’s memory. This memory, recorded as myth, is ahistorical, placeless and nearly timeless. The figures in the Mittal include the ancestors of the Miscarans. In particular, it contains the city’s founders, who are known as the “Grossen Alten” (literally the Big Old Ones). The Mittal explains that, during the “Golden Age,” Miscara prospered in a highly advanced society. However, the “Grossen Alten” eventually retreated to the mountains behind Miscara. There, they continued to guard over the city’s reserves of what the Miscarans called “blue metal,” the mining of which represents the mainstay of Miscaran economy and preserves its independence. According to legend, the ancestors constructed the dream tower and created a fire-breathing machine. This machine protects the city from invasion by its contemporary enemies, the Grunelien.

These elements of fantasy: the presence of myth, collective dreaming, and the fire-breathing machine (dragon), receive a rational, ← 246 | 247 historical explanation as the novel progresses. Along with the narrator, Glauke Arnya, the reader discovers the writings of innumerable dream masters. These memoirs represent a recorded history alternate to what exists in the memory present in Miscaran dreams. This reality is revealed on one level by the slow emergence of The Dream Master’s science fiction elements. In a book long locked in the dream tower, Glauke discovers that the “Grossen Alten” arrived on her planet in spaceships long ago. With this revelation, it becomes apparent (although not immediately to Glauke) that the hitherto mysterious dream tower is none other than a piece of advanced technology, the collective dreaming, a scientifically explainable process. The fire-breathing machine is a highly advanced weapon. The blue metal is none other than the remnants of machinery left behind in the mountain by the society described in Andymon, now no longer understood and forgotten.

Where western dystopian and apocalyptic tales often demonize technology, the novel does not. Instead, it provides enough clues by the end to construct a rational explanation for the mythical or irrational. With the increased focus on the rational as truth, the novel demonstrates how knowledge can become obscure in a society that values the utility of swift technological advance without reflecting upon its impact on its users. Science and technology occupy a positive position in The Dream Master, signified by the “Golden Age” that existed before the fall into the irrationalism of a dark age.

Despite its positive portrayal of technology, the novel nevertheless warns against an overreliance on technology. It is possible to reach a stage where only a few can maintain and repair intricate systems. Why the inhabitants of Miscara no longer posses the technical training characteristic of the Andymon civilization is not clear. Even the dream master does not operate the tower with skill, but instead due to a “gift” of mysterious and wondrous origins. Rather than recover the knowledge needed to run the machines the “Grossen Alten” left behind, the Miscarans mine the material from which they are made. In the specific context of the GDR, a parallel can be drawn between Miscaran technology and East German factories and machinery. Built in the sixties at the height of the GDR’s industrial ← 247 | 248 development, they were in a slow state of decay in the eighties and often reused piece-meal due to a shortage of repair parts.

Blue metal mining has a side effect common to industrialized societies on Earth and of direct concern to the health and well being of East German readers. Due to the mining, a recurrent and destructive wind called the “Torl” blows down from their mountain location. A variety of bird called “Torlboten” or Torl messengers announces the wind’s arrival.9 The dust brought by the wind causes symptoms similar to black lung disease and eventually kills Glauke’s father, Erast, a prominent wagon-maker and member of the patrician class. Still, the Miscarans must tolerate the wind if they are to remain an independent city. The mainstay of their economy consists of the sale of blue metal. Miscaran ancestors brought the technology, and, similar to the predicament of many developing countries today, the Miscarans are trapped by a paradox of progress. Through the rudimentary use of that technological gift, they destroy their very environs. Although the theme of environmental damage was widespread in East German science fiction by the eighties, the novel’s mention of it is notable, as this topic still remained a political taboo.

The book itself continues, narrated by Glauke Arnya, a patrician’s daughter from Miscara. Through her eyes, we meet her partner-to-be, Kilean, the new dream master. Kilean’s arrival, near the beginning of the novel, brings an end to Miscara’s short period of dreamlessness. Twenty-five years before, Nerev, the last dream master, ceased dreaming. With the arrival of Kilean the practice resumes, and eventually leads to the overthrow of the Nerevian system. Through his dreams, Kilean and Glauke along with Turio, Glauke’s childhood playmate, try to found a grassroots democracy. When the populace fails to participate, Kilean resorts to dreaming it into existence. As the story continues, Glauke becomes more and more aware of his abuse of power and eventually leaves the city to escape Kilean’s collective dreams. Shortly after Glauke returns, the townspeople destroy the tower. The people of Miscara (Glauke the first) are finally able to dream on their own. ← 248 | 249

Static and Dynamic, Collective and Individual Utopia

A primary feature of The Dream Master is its juxtaposition of the collective and the individual. This subject itself was not uncommon in East Germany. Many supporters of a “Third Way” focused on it when envisioning alternate and more democratic forms of socialism.10 The Steinmüllers place the notion of the collective and the individual in the frame of utopian discourse. By recognizing the essential utopian quality of alternative socialist models of the Third Way, they ultimately move beyond the notion of collective versus individual by presenting this concept in terms of “static” and “dynamic” utopia.11

The static utopia represents an unchanging and, therefore unreachable, vision. In The Dream Master, the static utopia has both literary and political connotations. On one hand, it alludes to the form of classic literary utopia (e.g. Plato’s Republic, More’s Utopia, and Campanella’s The City of the Sun) as a locationless and timeless narrative. Of necessity, classic utopian writing remained distant from the present due to the subversive political visions its novels often contained when applied to their respective historical contexts. In The Dream Master, the Steinmüllers apply the category of static utopia to the novel’s various political systems. As I will show, both Nerev’s and ← 249 | 250 Kilean’s utopian political systems are static in nature. The novel is ultimately critical of progressive yet static utopian thought.

Set in opposition to the static utopia is the dynamic utopia. Based in socialist (and even anarchist) thought, the dynamic utopia too can be applied both to the literary and political spheres. The Steinmüllers use the term “dynamic” to describe a flexible utopia that is responsive to changing individual wants and needs. The Dream Master underscores the importance of not passive but active participation of the individual subject as a creative resource in the authoring and renewal of a dynamic utopia, in order to insure the preservation of an essential space for the voice of the individual. Unlike the classic, literary utopia, the dynamic utopia relies on perpetual and equal contributions from all voices of its individual participants. This statement implies a socialist rather than anarchist dynamic utopian model, and focuses on the existence of individual utopia within communal utopia, rather than on the political rule of autonomous individual utopias as present in Andymon. However, some ambiguity resides in the novel’s representation of dynamic utopia. Although The Dream Master ends with the collapse of static utopia and the articulation of the individual voice, what follows is ultimately left open.

Due in part to self-censorship, such an ending also demonstrates the recognition of the inability to narrate a dynamic, literary utopia. By its very nature, once the dynamic utopia has been committed to paper it ceases to be dynamic and becomes static. In the words of Frederic Jameson, the very act of narration, here of writing and of dreaming, necessarily results in “the systemic, cultural, and ideological closure of which we are all in one way of another prisoners” (“Progress vs. Utopia” (148). In an attempt to redefine the nature of utopia and, thus, escape this conundrum, the novel closes with a Blochian utopian gesture. It strives to remain dynamic, by creating the conditions for utopian thought, but not narrating it.

The political systems of The Dream Master seem to be based on collective utopian visions but are in reality the individual utopias of the respective person in power. The abuse of power by Kilean, in this instance, represents the central problematic in creating a more democratic socialist model. As his individual utopia becomes a collective utopia, that same utopia remains a static utopia. The power behind this ← 250 | 251 utopia prohibits the establishment of a more dynamic model that accepts the input of numerous individuals on a collective level. In this manner, The Dream Master focuses on the interaction between static, dynamic, collective and individual utopia in its narration of the successive building of a society (Gesellschaft), a community (Gemeinschaft), and their respective interaction and influence upon the personal utopia of the individual.

Collective Dreams as Collective Unconscious

A main premise of The Dream Master is its concept of collective dreaming. This act does not originate within a group nor is it the sum of individual wishes. More accurately, the dream master dreams alone for the collective. Through his dreams, he shapes Miscaran wants, needs, and desires. Collective dreaming functions in a manner similar to Althusser’s concept of interpellation (“Ideology” 170–177). Through the Mittal, the Miscarans recognize themselves as subjects within the greater context of their world, as defined by the dream master’s collective dreams. The collective dreaming differentiates itself from Althusser’s definition of ideology, however, in that it is attributable to a single person. The novel’s assumption of the viability of the individual voice is a concept which interpellation negates. A voice assumes personal agency. Althusser’s interpellated subject is shaped by ideologies and is thus unable to imagine a reality beyond them. The dream master himself possesses the individual ability to dream for all others. However, the dream master ultimately becomes the victim of his own dreams. The novel itself presupposes that the destruction of the dream tower at its conclusion effectively halts the influence of all existing collective dreams. Once free, the Miscarans gain the agency to dream on their own. In a sense, they are able to ← 251 | 252 author their own ideology.12 Whether they embrace that agency remains unclear.

As the dream master dreams, he has direct control over the unconscious minds of the Miscarans. The Dream Master thus explores the formulation of voice through its metaphor of the Miscaran dream that is modeled on a Jungian collective unconscious. We are first introduced to the peculiar nature of Miscara’s collective unconscious by its absence. As stated before, Miscarans are unable to dream for themselves. For hundreds, even thousands, of years following what is known as the “Crystal Age” (“Kristallene Zeitalter”) of the “Grossen Alten,” a dream master had dreamed for them. This long-established institution provided a stabilizing influence on the city of Miscara. It streamlined the thought processes of its citizens and reinforced the city’s class system through the figures of the Mittal.

However, the last dream master, Nerev, brought about an end to the institution of the dream master and its enduring stability. In his dreams, Nerev criticized the act of dreaming as irrational and escapist. He maintained that dreams interfered with the productive capacities of Miscara. In Glauke’s words, Nerev believed that “dreamlessness [meant] Progress [...] away from base desires and hazy thoughts, towards the light of Reason, towards true humanity” (36). Consequently, he declared an end to the position of dream master, so that Miscara might modernize and place more emphasis on its industrial development. In the twenty-five years of “enlightenment” since Nerev, Miscara became wealthy. Its merchants strove for monetary success in a period reminiscent of several stages of Earth’s industrialization and capitalism. The patrician class occupied inherited seats on the city council, while the working classes labored in the mines or as servants.

Despite Nerev’s cessation of dreaming, this end differs from the final destruction of the dream tower. First of all, as it still existed during the twenty-five years following Nerev, so did the hope for a continuation of dreaming. The dependence upon this hope is explained ← 252 | 253 by the production of Schellnüsse, a type of nut that induces a druglike, hallucinatory state. The Miscaran lower classes rely upon it as a substitute for the collective dreams. Although this state does represent a type of individual dreaming it is by no means represented in a liberating manner, but rather one of drug and political dependency. The lower classes are reliant upon the upper classes to produce the Schellnüsse.

Next, although the hope for a continuation of collective dreams is, as Bloch has demonstrated, a revolutionary one, in the Nerevian system, this hope reinforced the status quo. The arrival of the new dream master, Kilean, realizes these hopes. As everyone anticipates the resumption of dreaming, new energy runs through the city. Those who remember the Mittal rejoice in its return and those who encounter it for the first time are fascinated by the dreaming experience. Glauke’s servant, Landre, exclaims, “Now a new life will certainly begin” (24). Yet, it was this same anticipation of a dream master of the past, which kept the lower classes of Miscara from envisioning a new world. The Dream Master emphasizes the inability of the Miscarans to realize the value of their own dreams, as it is an ability they have never had. In effect, what Landre means by a new life is a new life dreamed by Kilean, not her.

The collective utopia created by Nerev, who promised an affluent society at the price of dreaming, led to a productive, yet gray and ultimately stagnant society. As the Miscarans no longer dreamed, they lost any ability to change, to remain creative and innovative. The notion of the individual as creative resource echoes Ernst Bloch’s principle of hope, which identifies as its source the latent utopia present in the individual’s not-yet-conscious. It is the creative expression harbored there, finding its outlet in such forms as art, literature, and popular culture, that provides the seeds for rejuvenatory and even revolutionary utopian thought (Ästhetik 103–114). Despite the city’s veneer of prosperity, it is, in fact, in decline.

In this respect, Nerev’s Miscara is similar to an East Germany based on the rational success of historical materialism, but in “reality” in slow disintegration. At the same time, The Dream Master contains a direct critique of the SED’s desire to functionalize science fiction in the seventies and eighties. As detailed in chapter five, cultural officials ← 253 | 254 viewed science fiction to be the ideal Marxist–Leninist forum in which to bring about creative contributions that would rejuvenate the lagging progress towards a communist East Germany. I am thinking here specifically of efforts dating back even to the sixties discussed in chapter three, when Heinrich Taut emphasized the important influence which science fiction had on the ability of scientists to solve problems in cybernetics creatively. It was the publisher, Ekkehard Redlin, who supported the incorporation of the estrangement effect into science fiction in hopes of gaining new perspectives and insightful contributions to further the development of communism in the GDR. The Dream Master demonstrated that such individual creative participation is not possible in a system, which does not establish favorable conditions for even the formulation of an individual voice.

In order for this appraisal of East Germany to pass the censors, it had to be hidden in the critique of an early-industrial, patrician/ capitalist society. Although Nerev based his static utopia on the promise of rational, scientific progress, this same utopia is reminiscent of a socialist representation of capitalism. In the novel, it emphasizes the inequality of a class system through a disadvantaged working class. In addition, Miscara’s level of industrialization resembles that of a proto-capitalist Europe or a country of the developing world. Nerev retained the ideology of the status quo and kept the patrician class in power. Echoing colonialism and aspects of today’s global market-place, many in the Miscaran patrician class ran profitable, if not monopolistic, businesses. The resulting negative portrayal and over-throw of this class throughout the remainder of the book was in line with the socialist beliefs of the Steinmüllers as well as the Marxist-Leninist ideology of the SED. Like science fiction, the textual ambiguity of science fantasy allowed for a dual critique of East Germany as well as capitalist structures.

In the character of Nerev, there are echoes of Stalin as well as the formulators of early SED policy.13 That this policy is still entrenched ← 254 | 255 in Miscara twenty-five years later is shown in the conditions placed upon the new dream master by the city council. Echoing the many directives from the SED and more specifically the German Writers’ Union, the council provided the following guidelines for Kilean in their document “Richtschnur für lotrechtes Träumen”:

[...] the dream creates no freedom outside of existing responsibilities, but is a loyal daily mirror and source of new strength to go on. There is no room for distorted images of reality, grimaces from ages ago, monsters from the Mittal in Miscara after Nerev. A true dream master should [...] not overtax the receiver’s absorption capability, should not alarm them with the uncanny or restrict the dream to one place, one time period, or one incident. Therefore, dream in the following manner: tastefully and with the highest demands according to the most upright Miscarian principles […]. If something will be sung in the dream, then, please, a song, that strengthens love for the home city, values virtue, and elevates the mind. Just no innovation!14

As “dreams are city property” (38), Kilean was then to dream according to plan, just as the authors in the GDR were to write according to plan. The council even urged him to go out among the people and discover what their daily lives were like. However, in their own version of the Bitterfeld Path, the council manufactured an ideal vision of such lives in the city’s Hanging Gardens for Kilean to observe, so that he might dream of the economic success to which the city’s council aspired (103).

Yet again, this reference to East Germany remains oblique. In the portrayal of planned dreaming also lies a critique of commercialism in West German media. West German television was, although officially illegal, viewed in much of East Germany during the latter half of its existence. In an interview with this author, the Steinmüllers expressed the belief that former West Germans and now Germans live(d) in a society in which the collective unconscious is directed by ← 255 | 256 consumerism. They maintain that, influenced and shaped by the collective utopia of capitalism, the formulation of a personal utopia is restricted to the satisfaction of a purchase rather than the exploration of other opportunities and realities (Personal interview, 2000).

The collective dreams of Miscara, then, represent various forms of media, particularly television and film. However, rather than a team, only one person produces them. On one hand, The Dream Master points to the alleged influence of West German media moguls on their publications. The patrician class simultaneously owns and directs the city’s means of production and runs the Miscaran city council. The temptation exists to include their products in the dream plan. Normally direct advertisement is not the rule, but is accomplished through product placement in a positive narrative. During Kilean’s first walk around Miscara, Sombarq, the carpet salesman, pesters him with private requests for an emphasis on the beauty of the carpets in the Mittal (35). Even the mere attempt to reinforce the status quo through Kilean’s dreams also points to a perceived streamlined effect of the television market in West and East Germany. The council’s requested dream chains (Traumketten) in the Mittal (81), resemble a type of soap opera or drama series, which here is shown to entertain, but not to educate or “liberate” the personal unconscious.


Kilean’s arrival signals the period of Traumeszucht, prophesied by the mysterious and strange guardian of the dream tower, Khalib. In German, the verb zuchten refers to the act of controlled or even forced creation or cultivation. Träume are defined as dreams. Thus, this act of dreaming is a shaped or forced activity. That Kilean’s dreams are a form of Traumeszucht becomes apparent early on in the novel. At first, his dreams follow the city council’s plan. Glauke, the narrator, plays a central role in this process, not only as Kilean’s companion, but also as the liaison between Kilean and the council itself. As is tradition, she whispers their instructions to Kilean while he sleeps. ← 256 | 257 Indeed, the council claims control over Kilean. Legend has it that the seal above the council head’s chair, if destroyed, will eliminate the powers of the dream master.

Kilean, however, is different from all other dream masters before him, in that he does not come from the patrician class. Rather, he is a foreign artisan, a clock-maker by trade and has had to struggle his entire life in a long journey across the desert to where he believes the Fates have led him: Miscara (72). His sympathies with the lower classes become apparent during his first walk through the city of Miscara with Glauke by his side. At times, he is received as a messianic figure by the downtrodden. In one scene, the poor, sick and needy, who believe that his dreams might heal them, mob Kilean. However, Kilean responds: “I can make your life more beautiful, but you must change it on your own” (53).

Foreshadowing events to come, Kilean is already contemplating his revolution. Taking on the role of dissident intellectual, he begins to test the authority of the council. In a manner similar to the Steinmüllers’ position as authors in East Germany, he first slips ambiguous critiques of council members into his dream narratives. As he experiments with his newly found power, his dreams become increasingly erratic. To test the will of the council he intersperses pleasant visions with nightmares. Such dreams unsettle the normally pleasant, orderly Mittal. When Glauke discovers that the technology controlling the seal in the council chambers no longer functions, he openly plants the seeds of revolution. Kilean denounces the mining of blue metal, due to the adverse working conditions in the mines as well as the resultant deadly Torl wind:

All of the unhappiness in your city comes from the fact that you Miscarians are deadened and fearful, the wind raids a clear mind, and your eyes are closed to what takes place in the mines. Understand me, I’m not for blind fear, but for a type of fear that sharpens the sense of danger (129).

At the same time, he creates a utopian vision of a lush, green and flourishing Miscara underneath a glass dome that protects it from the harsh realities of the surrounding desert (36). Kilean dreams of a future and finds inspiration in the past. He promises a return of the ← 257 | 258 Crystal Age, albeit in a new form. He dreams of the Hanging Gardens, left behind by the Grossen Alten, which once again produce food enough for everyone in his newly revised Mittal (97). With the help of Turio, Glauke’s childhood playmate and a member of the lower class, Kilean is able to effectively respond to the needs and wants of miners and servants in his dreams. Reticent when the council criticizes him for disrupting the populace, Kilean defends himself, saying “a dream [...] only becomes real through the meaning that one gives it” (132). He thus denies responsibility, pointing instead to what he explains as the agency of the lower classes.

Finally, during a yearly carnival known as the “wild week,” the existing order is turned on its head permanently.15 The resulting revolution has communist overtones. The lower classes attack members of the patrician class and kill many. They either destroy patrician houses or occupy them and divide the mansions into communal living spaces for several families. They occupy the factories and the mines and take them over in the name of their workers. The reorganization of the Miscaran social structure represents the foundation of a new society based upon the utopia, which Kilean had put forth in his dreams. With the success of the revolution, Kilean proclaims a new age to a crowd in front of his tower:

The terror is over. Your chains are broken. You will share the pleasant things in life as well as the unpleasant: work and bread, housing and clothing, water and, not to forget, knowledge. We will overcome need and poverty and the cares of tomorrow. We will eliminate slavery and the Torl, give the children a place to play, and give those, who must find new work daily, a reliable position. […] The time has come, in which dreams become reality. (193).

So begins the attempt at a concrete establishment of a society initially imagined as utopia in the collective dreams of the city of Miscara.

With the revolution, comes the opportunity for a return to public life provided for through the establishment of a new council modeled ← 258 | 259 on grass-roots democracy. Rejecting the political control of dreaming according to plan, Kilean refuses to continue to do so in his new society. His dreams have led to revolution. But, in a manner suggestive of Gorbachev’s perestroika, Kilean proclaims his willingness to take a back seat and allow the lower classes to rule themselves. In setting up the new council, he explains to Glauke, the new council head: “I will not prescribe anything; a dream master, who gets bogged down, is of little use. Still, we should determine the main features right away together” (189). Having perceived the “powerlessness of the simple people” upon his arrival (190), he declares that each person (both women and men) has a say in the affairs of the council. Indeed, The Dream Master is highly critical of what it portrays as a state of political helplessness and inactivity resultant in a system, such as Nerev’s (or East Germany’s), in which hegemonic ideology is so dominant that it limits the very categories in which the imagination even functions. This loss of imagination and creativity led to the stagnation of its hierarchical society. The lower classes remained in the private sphere and forgot the possibility for personal initiative or individual act in the public sphere.

Yet, it is precisely the same feeling of helplessness that dooms such a plan to failure. The revolution Kilean envisioned was one he cultivated and shaped to fit what he believed would be best for the Miscaran people. Regardless of his good intentions, Kilean authored his collective dream alone. Even when he states that he will now let the people of Miscara rule themselves, he insists on dreaming until the council has been set up on his model. However, despite the call for grass roots participation in the council, only the curious come at first and then disappear altogether. Although Kilean’s collective utopia included them, the lower class Miscarans did not participate in the creation of his collective vision. They were merely its objects. When Glauke suggests a rotational system in which a representative from the different city sections and communes comes once a week, the response from the people is that political affairs should be left to the experts (207). As a result, Glauke comments: “The old tendency to categorize themselves into high and low classes and to wait for the allpowerful cue was too ingrained” (206). Unused to democracy, the ← 259 | 260 Miscarans fell back into their old habits of granting Kilean the same power as the previous city council.

In fact, the only reason why people come to the council building is to examine the files, which the former council kept on them. Uncannily foreshadowing the now historical events following the fall of the Berlin Wall, these files are the result of spying done on the inhabitants of the city by the secretive figure Karq Erlarq, the council’s former scribe and informer. His name is pronounced Kakerlak and is the German word for cockroach. That Kilean employs him as well is indicative of the general dissatisfaction and contempt for perceived corruption of all contemporary political systems present in The Dream Master. Karq Erlarq points out that “every leader of the city needs” him to maintain the power over the others in Miscara (200).

Ideology and Utopia

Kilean’s solution to the Miscarans’ inactivity in the public sphere represents another manifestation of Traumeszucht. As the grass-roots council proves increasingly ineffectual, Kilean begins to dream the people to action, so that the necessary work gets done. The council soon becomes the puppet of the dreamed utopia. Kilean must dream all activities before they are carried out. “Dreamed is dreamed” becomes the signal among the new citizens of their collective effort towards the recreation of the Crystal Age in Miscara. Kilean exploits his power as dream master to force the real-existing creation of his dream utopia.

In The Dream Master, the Steinmüllers use Kilean’s Traumeszucht to highlight the process in which what might have been a revolutionary, collective utopia ultimately becomes static and therefore authoritarian. Literary and political definitions of the term utopia often highlight its subversive quality in a dialectical relationship with hegemonic ideology. Karl Mannheim first drew a connection between these two terms in his book Ideology and Utopia. There he defined ← 260 | 261 ideology in terms of a collective unconscious and pointed specifically to those occasions when both the conscious and unconscious thought of a ruling group “obscures the real condition of society [...] to itself and to others and thereby stabilizes it” (40). For Mannheim, utopia is a wishful representation of reality intended to negate the existing ideology. Those who find themselves oppressed by one status quo create another. The Steinmüllers’ notion of dynamic and static utopia in The Dream Master echoes the dialectical relationship between utopia and, what I prefer to call, hegemonic ideology as outlined by Mannheim.

Edith Clowes writes of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia: “ideology and utopia lost their fruitful, adversarial relationship and became one and the same, fusing the traditional characteristics of each” (Clowes 381). The same is true for Kilean’s own static utopia. He provided the occasion for revolution, which he authored through his own collective dreams. Despite the pretense of revolution, what has occurred in Miscara is a return to the authoritarian structure similar to the previous hierarchical system under Nerev. As Kilean duplicated the existing ideology of the status quo, he formulated what Clowes terms a “utopian ideology” (Steinmüller, Dream Master 381). The fusion of the two dialectical forms ultimately led to the elimination of any critical challenge to the status quo, by “restricting the forms available to memory and imagination” (381). Through this Foucauldian circumscription of tangential or marginal thought, resistance became literally unimaginable, particularly for Miscarans, who ultimately relied on the vision put forth by Kilean.

It is, therefore, the faulty collective utopian structure that is retained from system to system regardless of form. This very structure precludes the ability of revolution to break free of existing systemic limitations. What began as an attempt at dynamic socialism, reverted in practice to a static, authoritarian reality. In a sense, the communist vision of Marxism–Leninism and the free-market system of the West, both grounded in the methodical, rational practice of science, proved in The Dream Master to be as unreachable as the locationless, classical utopian thought it criticized. Similar to Campanella’s philosophical dialog in his well-known utopia The City of the Sun (La Città del Sole; 1602), the revolutionary socialist and progressive elements ← 261 | 262 of Kilean’s revolution are overshadowed and ultimately destroyed by the authoritarian structure required to implement them.16


As The Dream Master progresses, it becomes apparent that the utopia of the Crystal Age is ultimately unattainable. At the beginning, Kilean speaks in Marxist terms of revealing the false consciousness present in the planned dreams of the council. He himself is a student of the art of dreaming and learns the craft through self-study of the books left behind by former dream masters. As outlined in the fictional book Samadhi – Traumeszucht oder: Die Kunst, dem Unwirklichen feste Formen zu verleihen, his goal is “to be awake while dreaming and to recognize deception as deception” (137). Only in this manner can he reach the next level of expertise. Yet, the mysterious keeper of the tower, Khalib, prophesies that the transition from Traumeszucht is Traumessucht (135). A Sucht in German is an addiction or obsession and refers here to dream addiction. This addiction has two meanings in The Dream Master. One is the abuse of power that undermines the initial vision of revolution. The second is the addiction to this power.

The abuse of power lies in Kilean’s unwillingness to release the Miscaran’s from his collective dreams when his revolution initially ← 262 | 263 failed. The ostensibly dynamic period of chaos during the revolution, in which the illusion of “false consciousness” appeared so clearly, soon turns to the static dream-reality of Kilean’s utopian ideology. Even as the Miscarans are to participate in the council, they receive new visions of the Crystal Age they are to build. As the council fails, Kilean dreams every detail of this planned construction, down to the last kernel of grain and hour of work. He returns to the planned dreaming of the city council before him.

Important to the notion of Traumessucht is that this utopia was Kilean’s and not the Miscarans’. Kilean is the aloof intellectual, who remains locked in his tower surrounded by books. He carries out his revolution through theory, study, and in his writings – the dreams. The sole outside contributors are Turio, his contact to what Kilean defines to be the lower classes, and Glauke, his contact with the council. Despite his few forays into the world of the mines and on the streets, Kilean remains cut off from the day-to-day needs and wants of the people for whom he is dreaming. He envisions their revolution for them. As such Kilean’s utopia is based on a single voice, his own. Therein lies the central argument of The Dream Master. A collective utopia ultimately becomes static if created and implemented by one individual or a group of individuals.

So strong and compelling are the visions in Kilean’s dreams that they dominate the conscious and unconscious minds of the Miscarans. The structures and concepts represented in the dreams limit and shape any capacity to critique or think independently. In Traumessucht, both Kilean and the Miscarans reach a stage similar to that of a waking dream. Their collective unconscious now takes over their conscious minds. Dream and reality merge fully. Colorful buildings and plentiful gardens replace the gray of reality and poverty of the city. Even Kilean falls victim to his own Traumessucht, as he sees before him a veritable feast, instead of the millet dishes he ingests (233). Convinced he has reached a higher plane, Kilean is unable to see the desperate reality of his city. Miscara slowly grinds to a halt as the vision of the Crystal Age literally creates a city as inert as glass (174). The mines remain closed to stop the Torl; trade ceased with the halt of blue metal production; the storage bins are empty. In reality, order has become ← 263 | 264 chaos. Still, the Miscarans perceive only the mirage of Kilean’s utopian dream.

Then a transition occurs, brought on by the threat of attack from the outside. Seeing the danger, Kilean dreams the mines back into operation. The Torl begins once again to threaten the health of all those who live in Miscara. At the same time, the army of a dissident group, which has been camped outside of the city wall, attacks Miscara. Sigmarq, a former military hero and owner of the mines, leads it. He is rumored to have made an alliance with Miscara’s enemy, the Grunelien, an allusion to West Germany. As Sigmarq begins to take over the city, he promises to bring about a revolution in Miscara. He will create “freedom from order, individual happiness from the communal well-being” (251).

Sigmarq represents a further type of authoritarian utopia, this time fascist in form. In regards to this utopia, the text makes direct reference to Campanella. The seven planets in The City of the Sun become the “seven walls” which will reflect the “strong sun gold” of Sigmarq’s regime that will replace the weaker “flat silver” of Kilean’s Crystal City. However, Kilean defeats Sigmarq with the use of the “fire-breathing machine.”

Sigmarq’s invasion alludes to Kilean’s abuse of power present in Traumessucht. Eventually taken prisoner by Kilean’s forces, Sigmarq bites into a cyanide capsule. Before he dies, he asks Kilean if he “Do you not notice, the desire, to control people? You will construct my city of the sun. But you will not re-dream me” (256). Using the methods of both Sigmarq and the patrician council, Kilean has become the enemy. He is able to reshape personal desires and wishes to his own ends, as pointed to by Sigmarq’s use of the word “umträumen” or re-dreaming. Kilean has also reached his goal to become awake in his dreams. Yet, in the process, he has lost sight of the border between dream and reality and lives in a permanent dream. In this way, the city after Sigmarq’s attack the city of Miscara becomes “a city inhabited by sleepwalkers” (259). ← 264 | 265

Gender and the Search for “I”

There is one character within the city, who does not become caught within Kilean’s dreams, and that is the novel’s narrator, Glauke Arnya. Up to this point I have made numerous references to Glauke, but have focused little on her in her own right. I have done this intentionally as her character provides the central focus for the hope that is instilled in the narrative at the end of the novel. This hope is based on her gradual search for her own voice, which she discovers on the last page, when she dreams for the first time on her own.

The novel can be understood as a Bildungsroman, as Glauke learns to separate herself from the influence of others and to articulate her own identity. A naïve, adolescent at the beginning of the novel, through her struggle for her own opinion, her own thoughts and her own voice, she has become an adult by the end. Although shaped by the presence of Menthe, her governess, Erast, her father, Sycoraq, her teacher, and finally Kilean, she frees herself from all of these influences and is able to think and dream on her own at the end.

Glauke’s personal journey, recounted in The Dream Master, reaffirms the hope for the self-realization of the individual. Despite the influence of her collective utopian society on her as object, Glauke is still able to articulate herself as subject. This ability comes as a result of her gender, in part with the help of a separatist, feminist collective. Like many of Christa Wolf’s novels, but similar to Cassandra in particular, the novel employs a feminist critique to address the failure of the individual to develop fully and freely in the GDR. However, Wolf expanded her focus in Cassandra beyond socialism, to trace this failure back to the beginnings of patriarchy. The Steinmüllers, on the other hand, focused instead on a predisposition of modern society to collective utopia, which hinders the development of the individual voice in both women and men. Glauke’s growing consciousness of herself as a woman in Miscaran society plays a central role in her transition from “we” to “I.”

As mentioned, Glauke is, at first, a patrician’s daughter. Her place is still within her father’s house. She is reliant on her servant, Landre, and governess, Menthe, because her real mother is dead. ← 265 | 266 Glauke has grown up with Menthe’s son, Turio, and provides him with access to education, so that he might quiz her on problems in mathematics (10). She is also very much the product of Nerev’s utopian ideology. In explaining Miscara to Kilean, she identifies with the city, using the pronoun “we,” which in reality refers to the ruling patrician class of which she is a part. Without much self-reflection, she vocalizes the ideological explanations of all of Miscara’s cultural practices and societal institutions, which have been instilled in her by her father, Menthe and her male teacher.

During her first meeting with Kilean, this begins to change in two important ways. First, she is exposed to ideas formed independently of her Miscaran reality. Her long conversations with Kilean, her introduction of him to Miscaran culture and his continual questioning and dissatisfaction with the social relations of the city lead her to reassess what she has been taught. To Glauke, Kilean represents a source outside of the closed Miscaran thought system, which grants her the ability to reflect upon the workings of her own city.

Secondly, Glauke confronts for the first time what it means to be a patrician woman. Not ready to assume the role of wife and mother, she decides that she would much rather like to ride in the Karr (desert), climb on the edges of glaciers, or jump onto ice bridges in the mountains with Turio (22). Since these activities are unusual for a patrician daughter, Glauke already diverges from the ideological norm. While Menthe’s dresses her to visit Kilean and present herself to him as a possible bride, Glauke comments on how thin her mother had been and how impractical her fine clothes are: “How could Menthe call something pretty, that was in reality so uncomfortable! (27). For the first time, we are confronted directly with the separation of Glauke’s narrative voice from her participation as member of the patrician class in the plot of the story. She compares herself to a puppet, trapped in the clothing and beliefs of an ideology, which do not fit her. Yet, she does not yet understand nor is she able to voice why. At this point she embarks upon a journey to discover this voice.

Glauke’s character is unique in that she is the only person (other than Turio), who is shielded from Kilean’s dreams by her ability to remain within the tower. Although certainly affected by his re-creation and transformation of the Miscaran collective unconscious, Glauke ← 266 | 267 retains the glimmer of a conscious perspective on these dreams. She experiences them not as one continuous narrative like the others do, but in bits and pieces, which disrupt their cohesive narrative. In addition, she is able to see the mode of dream production firsthand and read the dream books along with Kilean. She contemplates her own ability to influence his dreams and thus perceive the truth behind what to others is a mysterious ability. At one point, she even considers becoming a dream master herself.

However, this reflective tendency does not provide her with clear thoughts of resistance. Her thoughts are continually dominated and shaped by the remnants of Nerev’s utopian ideology and the new ideas presented to her through philosophical discussions with Kilean and his dreams. This struggle becomes apparent early on in one particular dream. Upon leaving her home to visit Kilean for the first time, Glauke experienced feelings of independence and emancipation. Although she was sent to him by her father, Glauke decides on the way to the tower that she will use every strategy to become his wife. She decides this not because she must, but because she wants to (28). She recognizes the importance of such a role, knowing that she will eventually take the place of her father on the council. However, Kilean reverses this autonomous vision for a time through a patriarchal dream, in which Glauke returns to the safety of her father’s home. The dream instructs her that she is meant to keep the house clean and the maid under control.

Yet, it is precisely her gender in addition to her position within the tower, which lead Glauke to continuously, if not always consciously, question the path Kilean takes. From the very beginning, she recognizes that he dreams a man’s dream. Much like the female Anders in Wolf’s Selbstversuch, Glauke relishes the opportunity to experience the “terrible beauty” of a man’s life from within his own skin. Still, this very recognition establishes a rupture between Glauke’s experience and Kilean’s dreams. Where she does identify with them while asleep, she is able to contemplate them from a position of estrangement during her waking hours.

Indeed, gender difference initially acts as a form of liberation for the many women who join Doratra in her feminist commune known as the Frauenberg or women’s mountain. The only patrician woman on ← 267 | 268 the city council when Kilean arrived, Doratra created the Frauenberg by employing one of Kilean’s own dreams. According to the novel, she “bewitches” him with a secret potion with Glauke as her emissary so that he might dream of a feminist revolution. In this dream, Kilean calls upon all Miscaran women to leave their patriarchal shackles behind and form the Frauenberg. Reminiscent of the secret community of women, who provided shelter to Wolf’s Cassandra, the Frauenberg educates, feeds and otherwise supports all women, who “choose” to join them.

A societal form that the Steinmüllers experimented with in Andymon, the women of the Frauenberg are able to create a space or gap in which they have limited freedom. This freedom derives from Kilean’s exclusion of the Frauenberg in his dreams. As it is not his creation, but rather Doratra’s, he does not include the Frauenberg after the initial foundational dream. Thus, a fissure opens in the city’s utopian ideology for those women, who identify as Miscaran and as the undefined identity of the Frauenberg. In this niche, they create their own community. Glauke takes part in their activities, teaches classes, and delivers supplies. Yet, she does not move to the Frauenberg, due to her responsibilities as council head and as Kilean’s assistant.

In keeping with the ambiguous nature of the novel, The Dream Master portrays the Frauenberg both positively and negatively. This feminist movement is able to carve out and maintain a place for itself on the margins of society. It is partially successful in creating a dynamic space shaped by its members. However, where Wolf’s Cassandra seeks out a utopian feminist community outside of the city of Troy, the Frauenberg lies within the walls of Miscara.17 Despite Doratra’s assertion that its members have released themselves from patriarchy and have created a world “the way a woman would,” the Frauenberg remains economically and ideologically dependent upon Kilean’s Miscara (159). In addition, the figure of Doratra contains many elements of a negative feminist stereotype. Although she liberated herself years ago “the way a man would” to become the only woman on the city council, Glauke likens her to a witch and portrays ← 268 | 269 her as power hungry and aggressive (159). It is Doratra who urges Glauke to assassinate Kilean before it is too late.

Doratra’s behavior represents a critique of the Frauenberg, and likewise one side of the feminist movement in East Germany. The impetus for its creation did not come from the women themselves, but rather from Kilean’s dream via Glauke and Doratra.18 In addition, its feminist ideology still occupies a place subservient to the more influential hegemonic ideology directed by Kilean, as is evident in Glauke’s exchange with her friend Janta. When Glauke asks what she most desires, Janta does not wish for women’s equality, but rather “The Crystal City – tomorrow.” Her feminism is subsumed by the greater collective utopia of Miscara. Yet, Glauke forces her further: “I wanted to know her own wishes, her own thoughts, not what Kilean had dreamed for her” (286). Finally, Glauke pushes Janta to the point of saying “I.” However, Janta’s statement is attributed more to her youth than the liberating effects of the feminist collective. In this manner the ability and willingness to say “I” comes from a generational difference rather than Janta’s position in the Frauenberg. Thus, although feminism has an unseen, albeit positive, effect upon Glauke’s process of self-realization, as a collective movement, the Steinmüllers ultimately equated a portion of the movement in East Germany with Kilean’s collective utopia.

Still, Glauke’s character retains many feminist elements. Glauke herself is not portrayed as the unified individual of the Enlightenment, but rather in a post-modern manner of multiple inner subjects. In the search for her own voice, two female, mythical figures, which seem to reside within her, assist her. One is her long dead ancestor Nya, with whom Glauke shares a family resemblance. Nya is also a mythological character in the Mittal. Glauke’s connection to Nya, one of the Grossen Alten, allows her to access memories and history other than those represented in the Mittal. In the same way Wolf’s Cassandra ← 269 | 270 represents the articulation of a woman’s voice, which has always remained in the shadow of history, Nya too leads Glauke to an alternate history different from the one by the dream masters. The other mythical person within Glauke is Arysa, a figure reminiscent of Penthesilea. A vengeful, patron saint for women, Arysa is the source of Glauke’s strength. She is the one, who is responsible for Glauke’s possession of the sicia, the small blade for a woman’s self-defense handed down for generations in her family.

Through Glauke’s narrative, we gain access to her thoughts and the ongoing struggle for her own identity. Despite the promises of independence present in Kilean’s revolution, once it is over, she soon discovers that she is still not able to formulate her own opinion. In her new position as council head, Glauke states: “So I opened the first session of the new council, of a new age. But it was as if I had no voice of my own, as if I had to imitate Kilean or Ardelt.”19 We are privy to her numerous inner-dialogues, as she continues to search for her own thoughts amid the various voices of the others.

Only when the attacking Siqmarq is captured and Glauke’s father dies from the Torl dust, does Glauke finally see “reality.” At that point, she remembers the words from one of the old dream master books:

If his dreams are also yours,

What remains of your own opinion?

What remains of your own deeds?

You limp like a puppy on a leash (247).

With these words, she is able to express her right “to be Glauke” (247). However, she is not able to articulate what this means, until she removes herself from Kilean’s influence. First, taking refuge in the Frauenberg, she finally leaves for the desert. Kilean has recognized the danger in her and has begun to dream her out of existence. At this point in the novel, we finally reach the place where the narrative joins with chronological time. Rather than continuing on with a series of flashbacks, the plot now moves forward. ← 270 | 271

Before I continue, I must mention the significance of Glauke’s act of writing in the novel. Before the revolution, Glauke whispers the city council’s dream plans into Kilean’s ear and is in some respect the author of these dreams. However, she attributes this “writing” to Kilean and not to herself. Neither is she aware of herself as the author in this case. In the novel, the only books present are those in the dream tower, which contain the history of Miscara and the art of dreaming. As Glauke leaves the Frauenberg for the last time, she is urged by Landre to write down all that has happened in Miscara. Landre warns: “You must write everything down, Glauke [...] for us. You were always there. You know him the best. And he can steal our memories” (294). This time a woman is charged with the writing of history for the entire city. Judith Ryan has written of the importance of Cassandra’s act of writing and the “new patterns of thought that her way of seeing brings with it” (321). In writing her non-linear, first-person narrative, Glauke breaks the notion of a progressive history present in both Nerev’s and Kilean’s utopian ideology. Her very act of writing, what turns out to be the novel itself, defies Kilean by presenting a reality other than the one he has dreamed. In addition, by looking at the past and the present, it provides a future for Miscara based on her own self-articulation. Unlike Cassandra, Glauke does not find defeat in personal consciousness for she is the first of many to begin the process of dreaming on their own.


Although The Dream Master has many utopian and dystopian elements common to the ambiguous utopia, the finality of its ending signals the use of a technique uncommon to East German science fiction: the apocalypse. Apocalypse implies societal upheaval and destruction through natural or human violence. All of these were at odds with the vision of a peaceful revolution from capitalism to communism characteristic of East German socialist realism and of its ← 271 | 272 future visions.20 Due to the institution of censorship, rather than a truly apocalyptic novel, The Dream Master contains apocalyptic tendencies. The finality of its ending is not violent, yet the dream tower is destroyed, bringing with it the end of Miscaran history. There will be no more collective dreams as the technology has been destroyed. Furthermore, economic and political stagnation has brought much of the city to ruin. The appropriation of the apocalyptic form remains integral to the novel’s critique of collective utopia. At the same time and with the benefit of hindsight, the inclusion of apocalypse signals the presence of a “structure of feeling” in the novel, which captured the atmosphere of the GDR in its last years.

Frederick Kreuzinger writes that the apocalyptic narrative form is closely tied to religious metaphor, and to the notion of prophecy, whether this prophecy manifests itself in theology or in more secular institutions and ideas. Where utopia incorporates prophecy in the positive vision of a timeless and placeless reality, the apocalypse posits the destruction of the existing order in real time with the promise of prophetic fulfillment beyond. In this manner, utopia and apocalypse are often interwoven in literature and exist in dialectic tension (108).

One function of the apocalyptic is to retell the prophecy. This act either reinforces the strength of the original utopian prophecy or, as in the case of The Dream Master, retells the story of the prophecy in a critical manner and ultimately changes its outcome from one of utopia to that of catastrophe. It is this dual function of the apocalyptic, which David Ketterer identifies in his book New Worlds for Old. There he expands upon Northrop Frye’s discussion of apocalyptic myth to include not only the positive world to be desired beyond, but also its opposite – the demonic world to be feared. He suggests that these opposites become easily intermixed in the gray area between them (11). Like science fiction itself, Ketterer maintains “apocalyptic literature is concerned with the creation of other worlds which exist, on the literal level, in a credible relationship (whether on the basis of rational extrapolation and analogy or religious belief) with the ‘real’ world, thereby causing a metaphorical destruction of that ‘real’ world in the ← 272 | 273 reader’s head” (13). In the context of the GDR, The Dream Master can be read as a retelling of the prophecy of Marxism–Leninism, with reference both to the existing hegemonic ideology in the GDR as well as the more liberal promises of Gorbachev’s reforms.

The apocalyptic elements of The Dream Master problematize this very reference to the ‘real’. They refer both to the ideological real of a collective subjectivity as demonstrated by the orchestrated dreaming of the office of the dream master, and to the material real as evidenced by the resumption of the destructive Torl wind and ever present societal hierarchy. The contradictions between the virtual reality as dreamed by Kilean and the real-existing utopia in Miscara eventually lead to collapse. As the city slows and becomes glasslike, Kilean loses himself more and more in his dreams. The messiah himself becomes entranced in the border between dream and reality and can no longer control his own utopia. After having dreamed Glauke out of the memories of Miscarans, Kilean dreams himself out of existence as well (299–300). Glauke declares: “Miscara is no more. The city of dreams between desert and glacier has disappeared like a mirage when the wind starts to blow. The walls and stairs, houses and squares, stones and people remain” (297). The material remains, yet the true city existed only in the dreams of those who inhabited it. Once those dreams are gone with the destruction of the dream tower and the final disappearance of its dream master, the essence of the city disappears as well.

Träume sucht

The novel’s last chapter is labeled “Awakening” and represents the transition from Traumessucht to Träume sucht (the search for dreams). A common characteristic of apocalyptic narrative, a glimmer of hope is present in Glauke’s newly found ability to dream on her own. With the destruction of the tower, each inhabitant has been left behind with a piece of it and, therefore, the ability to dream. Glauke is the first, and she dreams of Kilean, who assures her that “a city, in ← 273 | 274 which all people dream their own dreams frees itself from dust” (302). Thus, she will be able to create her own dreams, now severed from the Miscaran collective unconscious. This ending places hope in the ability of the individual to formulate her/his own voice as subject, rather than relying on a collective unconscious. It represents the impetus for a new dynamic utopia, but stops short of any further concrete outline of what is to come.


The Dream Master marks the last of the East German science fiction novels to be published in East Germany. Like the city of Miscara, on October 3, 1990 the imagined society that was East Germany ceased to exist and left only the people and the buildings behind. In some circles, the November before signaled great hope for a new direction, a socialist third way. The Dream Master posited one such possibility of a new government, based not on the static, collective utopia of the few, but rather the dynamic utopia of the many. Based on the individual utopias of its citizens the Steinmüllers hoped for a positive development in this direction. This form of democratic socialism provided the individual of the East with the opportunity to develop more authentic wishes and desires than those of West Germany. The Steinmüllers felt that the West German utopia of individualism was in fact a collective utopia based on media representations of the values of consumption, wealth and free time (Personal interview 2000).

However, the hope present in The Dream Master’s utopian suggestion is mediated by the reality of the environmental destruction to the city of Miscara caused by the return of the Torl wind. This element of the story implies a critique of the irresponsible management of East German industry that led to continuously dangerous levels of environmental pollutants in the seventies and eighties. More significant is the recognition that a revolution based on class will not lead to a problem-free industry. Even Kilean’s attempts at a grassroots utopia remained dependent upon the industrial infrastructure it ← 274 | 275 inherited from the previous government. As this infrastructure is inherent to any modern industrial society, regardless of political system, quick-fix solutions or immediate abstinence to save the environment are either ineffective or economically damaging. The Dream Master does not provide any answers to this predicament, but rather takes the notable step of identifying this influential paradox in its exploration of the contemporary relationship between humanity and technology. It emphasizes the importance of maintaining contact with that reality when creating a new order.

Not to be forgotten either are the Grunelien troops camped outside the city limits. While their leader Sigmarq is gone, the neighboring Grunelien forces still cast a shadow over the new city of Miscara. Like the Federal Republic of Germany poised to reunify with the East, is it only a matter of time before the Grunelien take control of an economically weak Miscara without leadership. In the novel, the question remains whether the Miscarans will try to form the dynamic utopia suggested by the book or return to the structures of an existing political authority once again. ← 275 | 276 ← 276 | 277 →

1       Common to the world of science fiction and fantasy, The Dream Master makes a number of allusions to other writers and texts. This practice contributes to its fragmentary nature. Made up of “a mosaic of quotations” (Kristeva 66), its narrative is an “intertextual tapestry” which echoes the familiarity of Earth. The Steinmüllers attest to many references that include Plato, Campanella, Thea von Harbou, Zamiatin’s We, the Bible, and Arabic mythology (Personal interview, 2000). The most obvious of these is the character of Nerev, which is an anagram of Verne. Jules Verne was an important figure not only in science fiction, but also for German and East German science fiction in particular. For more information on Verne’s influence in Germany, see Innenhofer 129–132.

2       See Simon “Die Science-Fiction der DDR” 621 for reference to the acceptance of The Dream Master in 1989.

3       Science fiction fans Carsten Hohlfeld and Thomas Braunstein conducted this survey.

4       The German title of his dissertation is “Die Maschinentheorie des Lebens. Philosophische Fragen des biologischen Mechanismus.”

5       It is important to note that Kilean is not a “seer.” Although he is born with the talent for dreaming, he systematically hones this talent through the use of dreaming “textbooks” left behind by past dream masters.

6       The relationship of science fiction to fantasy literature has been the subject of much study and controversy among critics and authors alike. Author and editor John W. Campbell, Jr. distinguishes between science fiction and fantasy by emphasizing the cohesive and logical organization of the science fiction story. For fantasy “the only rule is make up a new rule any time you need one!” For science fiction: “Set up a basic proposition – then develop its consistent, logical consequences” (Introduction iv–v.) But the science fiction–fantasy divide among authors, fans, and critics involves basic disagreements, which can be summarized on the science fiction side in the terms: rational vs. irrational, science vs. metaphysics, possible vs. impossible and I would venture a gendered opposition of male vs. female during the first half of science fiction’s existence. For authors struggling to break out of a science fiction “ghetto” this self-definition away from fantasy genres was a means of justifying the greater importance of the genre to the progression of a technologized society.

7       The Steinmüllers refer to this link in an interview on The Dream Master. See Junker and Klotz 65. They also restated it in an interview with this author at their home outside of Berlin on July 27, 2000. There are several references to Andymon in The Dream Master: 1) the Bethische Uhr, a time piece of the ages so to speak, which bears the same name as the main protagonist in their earlier book Andymon – Beth (who is actually male); 2) the reference to the colonizing and building of a planet from the ground up by a people who arrive in a space ship. This event is similar to the colonization of a chosen planet in Andymon.

8       The dream master has always been male with one past exception.

9       This deadly wind is also reminiscent of the Modderwind in Uncanny Manifestations on Omega XI.

10     For instance, the critique of East Germany in terms of finding a more equal balance between the collective and the individual was a common theme in GDR literature in the seventies and eighties. See, for instance, Anna Kuhn and Klaus Berghahn’s studies of the utopian in Christa Wolf’s work. Similar interrogations of this problematic can also be found in other disciplines including philosophy and history. The Steinmüllers began their exploration of the role of utopian thought in political institutions in their book Andymon. There they focused on the right to self-determination of a community or communities (as opposed to a society) to establish a governmental system based on what the Steinmüllers defined as that community’s own utopia vision.

11     The terminology “dynamic” and “static” utopia are used by Angela and Karlheinz Steinmüller to describe their project in The Dream Master, see Steinmüllers, Personal interview. These are not terms used by them alone, but are often used in studies of utopia to differentiate the classic “static” utopias from the modern (particularly Marxist) effort at “dynamic” utopia. See, for instance, Elisabeth Hansot.

12     Of course one can argue that they cannot be freed suddenly from all ideology that shapes them. However, the novel presents Glauke’s transformation as one of emancipation.

13     Although the most recent system before Nerev’s favored the upper and merchant classes, Menthe, Glauke Aryna’s governness remembered dreaming fondly. In a conversation with Glauke she stated: “With you permission – I still remember the period with dreaming well. After many, my parents danced in the street and we children did too. That was foolish of course. The shoes were torn to pieces.” Glauke then narrates: “All at once she [Menthe] seemed to have grown younger. [...] But then Nerev established order.” (25).

14     See 79–81. In an interview with the Steinmüllers, they mentioned that they based sections of the book on actual proceedings from the SED and the German Writers’ Union (Personal interview, 2000).

15     In Spera (2004), the Steinmüller’s sequel to The Dream Master, the reader discovers that the “wild week” lies literally outside normal time. The Speran calendar consists of twelve months of fifty-one days each and then one wild week at the end (226).

16     Kilean’s utopia is based in part on the problematics present in Fra Tommaso Campanella’s The City of the Sun (Steinmüllers, Personal Interview, 2000). During the Russian Revolution, Lenin and others heralded the utopia put forth by Campanella for its communist elements (Stites 88, 90). A classic utopia laid out in the form of a philosophical dialogue, what is notable in this early work (written about a century after More’s Utopia) is its seeming ambivalence regarding the society it was proposing. Anthony Stephens writes that the “Sun State could be said to be accompanied, thoughout the text which establishes it, by its shadow in the form of its own complete dystopia” (8). The text is fraught with contradictions emphasizing the imperfection of what should be the ideal society. Campanella wrote this story from prison, after years of failed revolutionary activity, perhaps conscious of impossibility of the utopia he was constructing.

17     For more on the utopian nature of this community in Christa Wolf’s Cassandra, see Ryan.

18     This is an instance in which Glauke serves as a transmitter of thoughts from the council, rather than as her own self. She displaces responsibility for the Frauenberg dream, which she whispered in Kilean’s ear, on Doratra. Doratra was the one who suggested it to her and provided her with the “magic” potion, yet Glauke was the only one with direct access to Kilean that night.

19     Ardelt was the previous council head under the old system (196).

20     In Christa Wolf’s Cassandra, the apocalyptic surfaced in the historical past.