Schrfiftstellerin Barbara Honigmann: “Georg” – the restless DDR Bohemia

Barbara Honigmann about her father
:The restless DDR bohemian

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The writer Barbara Honigmann. Her book “Georg” has just been released – just in time for her 70th birthday.


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Fifteen years ago, she wrote a book about her mother entitled “A chapter in my life.” Now follows a book about the father, which Barbara Honigmann simply calls “Georg”. They are neither novels. The adventurous life of the mother and the father, as Schiller also said of himself, “in any case, the colors of a novel.”

But what are these books? Biographies? No, no, they meander too much through their lives. The mother’s book consciously mentions her as “A chapter in my life.” So, is it an autobiography or is it an intermediate form, a genre of its own, in which the author uses someone else to write about herself?

Georg Honigmann: a bohemian, even in the GDR

Barbara Honigmann was born on February 12, 1949 in Berlin. She spends her childhood and youth together with her father and his respective always much younger wives in the GDR. After graduation, she turns to the theater before writing her first books.

She left GDR in 1984 and settled in Strasbourg, where she believed that her Jewishness was better able to live there than in East Berlin. Two years later, her book “The Story of a Child” appears, in which she tells of her threefold “death leap without net,” that of East to West, of Germany to France, of assimilated to religious Judaism.

Georg Honigmann: interned in Canada in 1939 as an enemy alien

“Continue writing to Pappi …” This sentence drives the book like a keynote, and so Georg tells his daughter his life, which tries to put into her words. So we learn that he comes from an assimilated Jewish family, visits the Odenwald School, where he gains a sense of self-determined living in community. In Berlin he becomes an employee of the Vossische Zeitung, goes as a correspondent to Dusseldorf, where he leads the life of a bohemian in the vicinity of painters. He reports from Paris, then from London.

Interned in Canada by the British in 1939 as an enemy alien, he is infected by other exiles with communist ideas in the camp. Back in London he meets Litzi Friedmann, who is dating double agent Kim Philby. Nevertheless, Georg becomes her lover, and she binds him to the Communist Party.

Georg Honigmann: Part of the artist elite in the GDR

This brings both 1946 to East Berlin. They marry and a daughter is born. Barbara. When she is old enough, she participates in “Pappi’s” life and comments it. This opens up a second perspective for the book. He “laved” in the GDR cultural life, she notes. Georg Honigmann was chief editor of the BZ in the evening, was responsible for the TV satire short film series “Stacheltier”, was head of the thistle, but was dropped off everywhere because he could not enforce the line of the party or wanted.

Nevertheless, he was part of the artistic elite, who celebrated in the “Seagull” and in the villas of Bad Saarow itself and formed a kind of parallel society in the workers and peasants state. When George then married the singer Gisela May, famous actress and interpreter of the songs of Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler, they were something of a glamor couple in the GDR. But even the liaison with her did not last long.

He was not made for strong ties, either to a party or to a woman, for he was basically a bohemian. “He always moved from one marriage to another with what he was wearing right now, living in the flats of the respective woman,” the daughter sums up laconically. But she was a fixture and a stop in his existence. “I should take part because I was a part of him, like his arm or his leg, and so he dragged me through his life.”

Book about Georg Honigmann: the double first-person narrator

The book is an artful web of a double first-person narration – the father through the “Tell Fart Pappi” and the daughter who looks to her youth in the shadow of the father. Wise and laconic, but with an immense empathy for the daughter over her father, all this is written, not following any chronology, which adds to the appeal of this touching book.

Barbara Honigmann also does not conceal the depressive side of the father, who himself attributes this to the “lousy inheritance” of the ancestors, who sacrificed believing Judaism for assimilation, which led to this eternal inter-chair-sitting. And maybe that’s why the daughter decided in 1984, the year of his death, to emigrate and really live her Judaism.

Barbara Honigmann: Georg.Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 2019. 157 p., 18 euros