- Vielleicht ist es sogar schön
Jakob Hein’s second book is a memoir that, like his first text, Mein erstes T-Shirt a collection of loosely connected stories, belongs to a post-unification discourse about life in the GDR largely created by the generation born there in the late 1960s and mid-1970s. Among the best-known of these autobiographical texts are Jana Hensel’s Zonenkinder (2002), Jana Simon’s Denn wir sind anders (2002) and Claudia Rusch’s Meine freie deutsche Jugend (2004). However, both of Hein’s texts but particularly Vielleicht ist es sogar schön differ from these in that his writing is thematically and formally more sophisticated. Unlike Simon, Rusch and Hensel, he was thus not only able to write another text on the subject but one that exceeded the first and established him as a promising new writer in post-unification Germany. The pattern of Hein’s books resembles that of Thomas Brussig, whose first two texts, Helden wie wir (1995) and Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee (1999) also focused on childhood and youth in the GDR. Like Brussig, Hein’s oeuvre has since expanded to a variety of other subjects. In his recent Formen menschlichen Zusammenlebens, for instance, Hein recounts his experiences living for several years in the United States.
In Vielleicht wird es sogar schön, Hein – the son of one of East Germany’s best-known writers, Christoph Hein – interweaves memories of his life in the GDR with memories of his mother, the documentary film director Christiane Hein. Christiane Hein’s cancer diagnosis provided the initial cue for his recollections of her life, which naturally intertwines with his own youth. A physician by training, Jakob Hein begins to read the research literature on breast cancer and learns that his mother suffers from a particularly aggressive form, one primarily found among Ashkenazi Jews. Christiane Hein inherited this [End Page 101] genetic predisposition from her ‘half-Jewish’ father. Judaism and a search for an identity in which this grandfather – whom Hein never met because he was killed in the Third Reich – can play some role in the GDR and after German reunification are thus also at the text’s core. For example, he recounts the bitter irony of his mother’s life and death. As a so-called Vierteljüdin born in 1944, she would not only have been killed by the Nazis, but would also have endangered her gentile mother’s life, since the mother had violated one of the infamous Nuremberg Laws. She had committed miscegenation—Blutschande—and in her naiveté and blind love, even registered to marry a half-Jew and to convert to Judaism. Needless to say, the German Standesamt refused to recognize the marriage. After the child’s birth and because of the attempted marriage, which was on record with Nazi authorities, the father had to flee. He was never heard from again, and the mother and infant daughter Christiane had to go into hiding. She was thus born Jewish in the sense that she was potentially a Holocaust victim, and she died due to a genetic predisposition for a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer predominantly found among Ashkenazi Jews. Yet, it is impossible that she could be buried at the famous Berlin Jewish cemetery— which she loved and where she would regularly go for walks, sometimes with her son and then point out the graves of her family to him—because she is not halachically Jewish.
Through his close connection with his mother, Hein comes into contact with and even becomes a member of East Berlin’s minute Jewish community. Sometimes he accompanies her to services on holidays. While neither of them knows much about practices let alone Jewish religion, the loose contact with the Jewish community helps both mother and son explore their identities. From his mother he learns about her parents’ love story in the Third Reich, which resulted in her birth, the need to hide her and for her father to try and flee to Palestine where he...