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GUNTER GRASS LEONARD FORSTER Gunter Grass was born in Danzig of Catholic, mixed German and Polish parentage in October 1927, rather less than six years before the Nazis came to power in the Reich. Danzig is nOw part of Poland; when Grass was born it was an independent free city, and it was the German mOve to annex Danzig which was immediately responsible for the outbreak of war in 1939, when Grass was twelve years old. Mter the annexation it became part of the Reich and shared its fortunes and misfortunes. It is in various ways an exponential city: rich with German history and Hanseatic buildings, historically closely involved with Poland, a great meeting place of Germanic and Slavic civilization down the centuries, more recently the home of a powerful Nazi movement that prepared its annexation by the Reich, one of the great centres of German trade and culture east of what is now the Oder-Neisse line and therefore the object of politically exploitable nostalgia in the Federal Republic at the present day. This is the city in which Grass has set the scene of his novels, which he has recorded with a lOving care and accuracy reminiscent of Dickens' London, Joyce's Dublin, Kafka's Prague, or Thomas Mann's Lubeck. Grass left Danzig when he was seventeen to serve in the German Army and did not return there when he was released from an American prison camp in 1946. He published his first novel, Die Blechtrommel, the action of which takes place mainly in Danzig, in 1959. Against this background One might expect a work of local patriotism of the traditional kind still much favoured by Ost(liichtlinge and Heimatvertriebene, in which the lost homeland is seen through a rosy glow of elegiac national feeling. Such novels are still being written, published by obscure little firms, mostly in Schleswig-Holstein and Upper Bavaria, but the people who write them - and read them - belong to an older generation, fifteen to twenty years older than Grass. His slant is quite different. Grass, it has been well said, ''belongs to that generation of Europeans, born in the late 1920s, that was caught up at the tail-end of the Second World War, too young to have control and responsibility, too old not to know what it was all about.'" As he says in his autobiographical poem Kleckerburg: Volume xxxvm, Number I, October, 1968 2 LEONARD FORSTER Getauft geimpft gefirmt geschult. Gespielt hab ich mit Bombensplittern. Und aufgewachsen bin ich zwischen dem Heiligen Geist und Hitlers Bild. 1m Ohr verblieben SchilFssirenen, gekappte Satze, Schreie gegen Wind, paar heile Glocken, Miindungsfeuer und etwas Ostsee: Blubb, pifff, pschsch...' I've had my christening, vaccination, confirmation, schooling. I've played with bemb-fragments and I grew up between the Holy Ghost and Hitler's portrait. My ear retains ships' sirens, chopped sentences, screams into the wind, a few intact church bells, gunfire, and a little Baltic - Blubb pifff pschsch. This last is the sound the Baltic makes, and it is unlike anything else. This sound has symbolic value for Grass. In the same poem he says: Was macht die Ostsee? - Blubb, pifff, pschsch.. . Auf deutsch, auf polnisch: Blubb, pifff, pschsch.. . Doch als ich auf dem volksfestmiiden, Von Sonderbussen, Bundesbahn gespeisten FliichtiingstrelFen in Hannover die Funktionare fragte, hatten sie vergessen, wie die Ostsee macht, und liessen den Atlantik rohren; ich blieb beharrlich: Blubb, pifff, pschsch... Da schrien alle: Schlagt ihn tot! Er hat auf Menschenrecht und Renten, auf Lastenausgleich, Vaterstadt verziehtet, hort den Zungenschlag: Das ist die Ostsee nicht, das ist VeITat. Befragt ihn peinlich, holt den Stockturm her, streckt, radert, blendet, brecht und gliiht, passt dem Gedachtnis Schrauben an. Wir wollen wissen, wo und wano. What noise does the Baltic make? Blub pifff pschsch... In German, in Polish: Blubb pifff pschsch. . . . But when I asked the dignitaries at the Refugees Congress in Hannover fed by rail and special coach, exhausted with popular festivities, they had forgotten how the Baltic went and made bellowing noises like the Atlantic; I stuck to it: Blubb pifff pschsch. Then they all shouted: Kill him! He has given up the rights of man and pensions and tax rebate and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 1-16
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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