Meine freie deutsche Jugend

By Claudia Rusch

The Dutch newspaper Trouw had already reviewed this book before we went on holiday to Thuringia, which used to be GDR. They were enthusiastic, so when we saw the book in a shop window in Steinbach-Hallenberg, we resolved to buy the book. (Turns out it was cheaper in the bookshop, that it is at Amazon.de.)

  • Title: Meine freie deutsche Jugend
  • Author: Claudia Rusch
  • Pages: 157
  • Date: 2003
  • Publisher: S. Fischer

I’m happy to say that three years of high-school German is perfectly adequate for reading Meine Freie Deutsche Jugend. I couldn’t undertake to write this review in German, and I don’t think I could have done so twenty years ago, when I was in the middle of said three years. But it was a surprisingly smooth read, much easier than Erich Kästner’s Der Zauberlehrling, which wasn’t beyond me, either.

And I’m even happier to say that this was a pretty good read all round. In short, laconic sketches, Claudia Rusch tells us about her youth in the GDR. Sometimes the sketches seem too detached, too laconic, almost as if she’s somehow longing for those days. And then she tells us, in the same tone of voice, about her grandfather who was killed in a Stasi dungeon and about the night she walked, a small child of seven, to the bus-stop where her grandmother was waiting for her. She was being followed by her mother, for the nights were dangerous and dark; her mother was being followed by two Stasi agents in a car, for her mother was a certified dissident. The detachment is in itself telling.

In one story, she loses her detachment, and that’s when she tells us how her mother, after the Wende, discovers that her best friend had been an informer, all the time, not even because she was forced to inform, but because ‘they asked me, and I said yes. I thought I’d do it.’. It should have been a relief, because they suspected Claudia’s grandmother, but it’s nothing of the kind.

A detached description of what life’s like in a surveillance state is all the more welcome, now that the European Union is following the United States down the path of becoming a surveillance state: soon your visit to this website will be logged, archived and analyzed by the latest addition to the Netherland’s quiver of secret services. Let’s learn from this book.