Erwin Strittmatter was one of the most successful and popular writers in East Germany. Now, on his 100th birthday, several new books dig deep into his past. The result is an unflattering picture of a man who was forced to find his peace with both the Nazis and the communists.
An appealing figure. An unconventional codger who devoted himself to writing and horse-breeding on a remote farm in Brandenburg. A successful author and one of the best known writers in East Germany.
His novels, “Tinko,” “Ole Bienkopp,” “Der Wundertäter” and “Der Laden,” were best-sellers in socialist East Germany, and one was even used in schools. Hundreds of thousands of copies were printed, and his readings attracted large crowds.
When it came to popularity, Erwin Strittmatter could hold his own with fellow East German writer Christa Wolf. He was also inundated with letters from enthusiastic readers seeking consolation.
He received the National Prize of the German Democratic Republic several times, and he was the first secretary of the Association of German Writers for a short while. At the same time, he surrounded himself with the aura of a misfit. And there were indeed confrontations with the leadership the East German communist party, the SED, which sometimes led to printing delays and publishers’ artificially restricting the size of the print runs. This made his books all the more appealing to readers, who read between the lines and felt as if they were reading underground literature.
His success continued after German reunification. In 1996, a respected high school was named after him in Spremberg, a town in the eastern state of Brandenburg. The 1998 TV adaptation of the trilogy of novels “Der Laden” (The Shop) received both the Adolf Grimme Prize and the German Television Award.
But Strittmatter was no longer alive to receive those awards, or to experience the 1996 revelations about his collaboration with the East German secret police, the Stasi, and the doubts voiced in 2008 about his own account of his participation in World War II. Strittmatter was buried in 1994 near his farm.