Intertextual Traces: Cervantes’s The Ingenious Don Quixote of La Mancha in GDR Poetry
In Peter Wawerzinek’s novel Rabenliebe (2010), the first-person narrator remembers his childhood mostly spent in GDR orphanages. To survive spiritually, he read novels of chivalry and identified with their protagonists. Finally, he read Don Quixote: “Ich beginne im Kellerloch mein Rittertum. Ich verschlinge Cervantes’ Don Quijote. Ich lache und leide mit dem irren Ritter.” / (“In the hole in the basement, I begin my knight-errantry. I am devouring Cervantes’s Don Quijote. I laugh and suffer with the crazy knight.”) (110) Due to the widespread reading of Cervantes’s most famous novel, which was easily available in the GDR and also published in special editions for children, as well as due to its surprising up-to-dateness, there are many references to Don Quixote of la Mancha in GDR literature. In the following, four representative examples found in poetry will be examined.
The beginnings of the reception of Cervantes’s texts in the GDR clearly follow the idealistic line, as it is expressed, for instance, in Robert Kukowka’s essay on Cervantes, published in 1947 in the Berliner Hefte für geistiges Leben and promoted by the Soviet authorities. Kukowka reads Cervantes’s novel as the “Lob der Narrheit, die nicht davon lassen will, daß der Mensch geboren ist, um aus dem Geiste zu leben und im Geiste zu verharren, sollte sich auch aller Trug der Welt zu seiner Versuchung verbünden!” / (“praise of folly that does not want to let go the fact that man is born to live through the spirit and to remain in it, even if all the delusions of the world should come together to tempt him otherwise”) (793). According to this interpretation, Don Quixote is a hero who with complete devotion follows a utopian dream. His misreading of reality is not denied; however, it is excused, as P.E. Russell showed examining idealistic interpretations of Don Quixote. A typical excuse is, for instance, that Quixote interprets reality “like a poet, in a symbolic or metaphorical way” (96). A literary example of such an idealistic interpretation in the GDR is Erich Arendt’s poem “Don Quixote” published in 1952 in the volume Bergwindballade. Arendt was a soldier in the Spanish army fighting on the side of the republic against Franco during the Spanish Civil War (Werner 165). Like many soldiers of the International Brigades, he had a very positive vision of Don Quixote whose adventures took place in the country for which he was fighting. After the war was lost, Arendt fled from Spain to France and later to South America. In 1950, he returned to Germany. Having joined the Communist Party in 1926, he settled in the East. The following poem, “Don Quijote,” was first published in his volume Bergwindballade(1952).
Als ob die Welt sich nie verändert, reitet er
und fordert vor die Lanze Mächtige und Riesen.
Ihn trifft die Gegenwart, sturmroher Flügel, schwer.
Er reitet traurig, lächelnd fort, läßt nicht von diesem
großherzigen Traum, der reine Fernen schaut durch Wind
und Dunkelheit und Gram. Enttäuschung läßt ihn weinen
wohl, wenn er irrt und irrt. Die er befreit, sie sind
ihm Feinde schnell. Und jagen ihn mit Spott und Steinen.
Und neben ihm, Gefährte seines Leids und Menschentraumes,
zieht Sancho Pansa, der den großen Träumer lehrt,
daß nur sein Lächeln reift, zu Volk und Tag gekehrt.
So reiten sie im Staub glücklosen Erdenraumes
und finden, wenn die Welt umstürzt und uns verheert,
kämpft doch, von keinem Staub und Graun versehrt,
kämpft unser Lächeln durch die Zeiten, die es mühsam ändert.
(He rides as if the world would never change
challenging powerful men and giants with his lance.
The stormy-rough vanes of the present hit him hard.
Sadly smiling he rides on, not willing to abandon this
generous dream that discerns clear distances through wind
and darkness and sorrow. Disappointments make him cry
no doubt when he roams and roams; those whom he liberates
soon become his enemies, pursuing him with scorn and stones.
And at his side, companion in his grief and dreams,
rides Sancho Pansa who teaches the great dreamer
that his smile can only mature if turned toward people and the day.
And thus they ride in the dust of luckless realms
and find that when the world is overturned and ravaging us,
our smile, unharmed by dust and horror,
battles the ages that it alters with great effort.) (41)
An important indication of the fact that this poem on the Spanish protagonist symbolizes the poet’s search for a utopia that goes beyond the “verordnete[n] Utopie” / (“imposed utopia”) (Strebel 1) of a classless society in the GDR, is Arendt’s use of the word “Gefährte” / (“companion”) and not “Genosse” / (“comrade”) for Sancho Panza. Another indication is the adjective “großherzig” / (“generous”) to describe the “Traum” / (“dream”) that corresponds to the personification of “unser Lächeln” / (“our smile”) in the last verse. That this personified smile will continue the fight after the soldier is dead represents the lyrical ego’s firm belief that the cause of the Spanish republic will be successful one day, that Quixote’s dream of the return of the Golden Age or something similar to it will come true in the future. Heinz Czechowski, who knew Arendt well, remembers:
Als Expressionist in der Tradition von August Stramm hatte er begonnen, dann eine kurze klassizistische Phase im Banne Bechers durchgemacht, jedoch schon sehr bald spanischen und lateinamerikanischen Wurzeln nachgespürt. Seine Teilnahme am spanischen Bürgerkrieg und die Zeit seiner Emigration in Kolumbien bewirkte mehr und mehr jene Welthaltigkeit, welche vor allem sein Spätwerk bestimmt. / (As an Expressionist in the tradition of August Stramm he had started out; then he went through a short classicist period in the spell of Becher; however soon he started to discover his Spanish and Latin American roots. His participation in the Spanish Civil War and the period of his emigration to Columbia caused increasingly that great richness that marks his late work.) (137)
In its content and form, this poem is an example of the short classicist period in Arendt’s career before he found his unique style based on free verse that made him famous. Although he continued to play with motives of Hispanic literature in this later period, he never wrote another Don Quixote poem. Disillusioned from experiencing real existing socialism in the GDR, the poet abandoned his commitment to communism that once had inspired him to join the German communist party.
A sonnett by Manfred Streubel, probably written in the late 1960s, but only published after the Fall of the Wall, interprets Don Quixote very differently. He is transformed into a fanatic and unscrupulous bard who, to the relief of the lyrical ego, dies from a heart-attack before he can do more damage. Without doubt, the poem is an example of the satirical line of Don Quixote-interpretations that started during Enlightenment and is, as Varela Iglesias showed, still very much alive in the twentieth century. As Anthony Close pointed out, the adventage of this tradition is that it fully appreciates Cervantes’s mastery of comic fiction. The disadventage is that, as Javier Herrero argued, those who read Don Quixote only as a parody and satire are “incapaz de reconocer el amor y la simpatía que Cervantes sentía por el héroe” / (“unable to recognize the love and sympathy that Cervantes felt for his hero”) (quoted in Varela Iglesia 68). In Streubel’s poem that has the form of an obituary by Sancho Pansa about his master Don Quixote who recently passed away, there is no trace of love and sympathy for the man. Cervantes’s warm humor has turned into sarcasm in Streubel’s poem; Don Quixote has lost the aura that Arendt had bestowed on him approximately twenty years earlier; Streubel stripped the figure of its transcendent meaning and reduced it to a dangerous buffoon for satirical purposes:
Sancho Pansas Nachruf
“Kopf ab!” – fauchte der empörte Dichter.
Denn er witterte in mir Gefahr.
Ach, mein Gönner wurde jäh mein Richter.
Weil ich offen andrer Meinung war.
Ach, er wollte mich zum Teufel schicken –
Wild verkrallt in Kragen und Revers.
Und mit blutig unterlaufnen Blicken
Nahm er auch noch meine Freunde her.
Schäumend ging er auf die Barrikade.
So: zu heilgem Amoklauf erstarkt:
Zerrte er die Sünder zum Schafott.
Ach, der Recke kannte keine Gnade –
Mit sich selber. Sense. Herzinfarkt.
Ruhe sanft, mein armer Don Quichote.
(Sancho Panza’s obituary notice
Off with your head! the outraged poet hissed
because he suspected me being dangerous.
Suddenly, my patron became my judge
because I openly had a different opinion.
Ah, he wanted to send me to the devil –
wildly clawed at his collar and lapel.
And with bloody underlined eyes
he also attacked my friends.
Foaming, he climbed on the barricade.
So: Strenghtened for the holy run amuck
he dragged the sinners to the scaffold.
Ah, the knight didn’t know any mercy –
with himself. Out. Heart attack.
Sleep well, my poor Don Quixote.) (15)
The last line is the peak of sarcasm. In reality, the lyrical ego that speaks in the poem (Streubel disguised as Sancho) feels deep relief about the fact that the Don is dead. Cervantes’s Don Quixote is a generous man; again and again he forgives Sancho for his criticism that is based on the attempt to wake up his master from his blindness to reality. When Sancho and the squire of the Knight of the Wood talk about their masters, Sancho says about Quixote: “He has nothing of the rogue in him. On the contrary, he has a soul as simple as a pitcher; he could do no harm to anyone” (613). Consequently, Sancho deeply mourns Quixote’s death. By contrast, Streubel’s Quixote is not generous; his madness cannot be justified as a noble poetic creation for whatever idealistic goal; the man is mean and vindictive. Who is this unnamed bard who is portrayed as a fanatic chivalric knight with addled brains and an incredible ruthlessness? It’s the poet Kurt Barthel (1914-1967), called Kuba. As Jürgen Serke states:
Es war jener Kuba, der […] stalinistische Agitpropverse schrieb und als Sekretär des Schriftstellerverbands eine widerliche Rolle spielte, so daß ihn Alfred Kantorowicz den “neuen Horst Wessel” nannte. Bertolt Brecht schlug in seinem Gedicht “Die Lösung” dem Sekretär des Schriftstellerverbandes Kuba, der der Bevölkerung nach dem [Arbeiteraufstand am] 17. Juni 1953 vorwarf, sie habe sich das Vertrauen der Regierung verscherzt und müsse nun doppelt gut arbeiten, vor: “Wäre es da / Nicht einfacher, die Regierung / Löste das Volk auf und / Wählte ein anderes?” / (It was that Kuba who […] wrote Stalinist propaganda poetry and played such a disgusting role as the secretary of the writers’ organization that Alfred Kantorowicz called him “the new Horst Wessel.” Bertolt Brecht suggested in his poem “The Solution” to Kuba, the Secretary of the Writer’s Union, who had critized the East German population [after the workers’ revolt] on June 13, 1953 for having forfeited the confidence of the government and therefore had to redouble its efforts at work: “Would it / not be easier in that case for the government / To dissolve the people / And elect another?” (140)
Communism is Kuba’s cause. His behavior results from what Jorge Semprún has termed “la ciega confianza en la inevitabilidad del comunismo” / (“the blind trust in the inevitability of communism”) (187) – a conviction that, as Semprún showed in his Autobiografía de Federico Sánchez (1977), is religious, not based on the belief in God, but on the belief in an Hegelian “Espíritu-de-Partido” / (“spirit of the Party”) (Semprún 132).
In 1951, Kuba discovered the eighteen-year-old Manfred Streubel’s talent. As Serke states, after Kuba had helped Streubel to publish his poetry, the young poet became renown in the GDR. For his first volume Laut und leise (Loud and Soft) (1956), Streubel received very positive reviews in the GDR press. However, after Stalin’s death and Khrushchev’s famous speech about the crimes of Stalinism on the XX Parteitag of the KPdSU, Streubel and his friends started to discuss the reality in the GDR from a more critical point of view. Encouraged by his sponsor, Kuba, and to express openly what he thought, in 1956 at the Congress of Young Artists in Karl-Marx-Stadt, Streubel delivered a speech in which he mentioned the deep skepticism of GDR readers towards GDR literature. Including himself in the group of writers whom he criticized for the hollow inflation of humanist concepts, he said: “Wir haben uns einen großen Teil Vertrauen [der Menschen] verscherzt. Wodurch? Wir haben gute Begriffe inflationiert: Frieden, Freundschaft, Heimat bedeuten nichts mehr. […] Lassen wir das hohle Pathos.” / (“We forfeited a big part of the trust [of the people]. By what? We have inflated good concepts: peace, friendship, home country – they do not mean anything any more. […] Let us stay away from the bathos.”) (Serke 141)
His friends delivered similar critical speeches in which they criticized, for instance, the rigid Kulturpolitik of the SED. The Party considered Streubel’s and his friends’ speeches as “konterrevolutionäres Verhalten” / (“counter-revolutionary behavior”) (Serke 141). The powerful Kuba, who had encouraged Streubel and his friends to speak freely, screamed: “Wir werden mit euch verfahren wie Mao Tse-tung. Lockt sie heraus mit ihren Bekenntnissen […] und danach Kopf ab! Genauso machen wir es mit euch, ihr verdammten Strolche!” / (“We will deal with you as Mao Tse-tung does. Entice them to come out with their confessions […] and afterwards off with their heads! That’s exactly what we will do with you, you scamps!”) (Serke 142) As Wulf Kirsten remembers:
Der Politbarde Kurt Barthel […] hatte den naiven, offen in die Zukunft blickenden Jüngling Streubel in eine Falle gelockt. Ein Schurkenstück ohnegleichen. Während andere in jenen Jahren nach Bautzen oder Workuta kamen für Abweichungen vom rechten Wege, wie ihn Väterchen Stalin vorgezeichnet hatte, kam er mit einer Todesdrohung und dem Schrecken davon. Diese frühe existenzerschütternde Erfahrung, die er auf dem Treffen junger Künstler in Chemnitz machte, blieb ihm zeitlebens eingebrannt. Später erfuhr er, wie berechtigt seine Furcht vor einer Verhaftung gewesen ist. Der begabte junge Dichter, der sich – aufgefordert, sich ruhig kritisch zu äußern – von seinem Mentor Kuba aus der Reserve locken ließ, musste dies büßen. Für ein Jahrzehnt verschwand er in der Versenkung, ehe er aus dem Nichts wieder auftauchte. Als Prügelknabe vom Dienst sollte er auch späterhin noch oft herhalten müssen. / (The political bard Kurt Barthel […] had lured the naïve youth who was looking into the future with open eyes into a trap. An unequalled villany. While others in those years were sent to Bautzen or Workuta for deviations from the right path as Daddy Stalin had marked it out, he [Streubel] got away with a death threat and a scare. This early experience he had had at the Meeting of Young Artists in Karl-Marx-Stadt, shaking his very existence, remained burned-in for the rest of his life. Later, he found out how legitimate his fear of his arrest had been. The talented young poet who – asked to speak out freely without worry – had allowed his mentor Kuba to lure him out of his cautious silence, had to atone for it. For a decade, Streubel was a persona non grata before he reappeared out of nowhere. Also later on he often had to serve as a punching bag whenever one was needed.) (55)
As a consequence of Kuba’s intrigue, Streubel’s carrier in the GDR came to a halt for over ten years in which he was not allowed to publish. As Rudolf Scholz remembers: “Förderer und Gönner zogen sich zurück. Desillusionen und Defizite summierten sich” / (“Benefactors and sponsors withdrew. Desillusionment and deficits were summing up”) (37-8). In 1992, Streubel committed suicide after the mysterious visit of a tall, slim, dark haired stranger whom the police was never able to identify (Serke 131). Streubel was researching the death of his father in a secret Soviet prison camp in East Germany at that time.
Christa Wolf portrayes Kuba more sympathetically as the tragic victim of his own idealism:
Der Dichter KuBa […] hatte an [die kommunistische Utopie] geglaubt und uns an sie glauben gemacht und war außer sich geraten, als unser Glaube nachließ, und war zusammengebrochen, als sein unverrückbarer Glaube ihm mit Hohn und Spott vergolten wurde. Ich konnte in den Hohn nicht einstimmen und kann es bis heute nicht. / (The poet Kuba […] had believed [in the communist idea] and he had made us believe in it; and he was beside himself when our belief weakened, and he had collapsed when he got repayed for his belief with disdain and scorn. I couldn’t join in this disdain and can’t do it until today.) (83)
However, that Wolf cannot laugh about Kuba as bitterly as Streubel does in “Sancho Pansas Nachruf”, might have to do with the fact that she did not have to pay so much for having known Kuba. Her career was not destroyed by the man’s fanaticism that drove him to incredible unscrupulousness.
To interpret a fanatic communist as a Don Quixote is legitimate as can be seen in Gustav Regler’s depiction of communist party officials in the French camp Le Vernet who, according to the narrator, were Quixotes although they had nothing of the “charm and gallantry and gentleness of heart” (Regler 335) of Cervantes’s protagonist. As Elisabeth Frenzel stated, a quixotic figure is blind to reality as the consequence of “Lektüre oder einer fixen Idee” / (“reading or an obsession”) (116). In Kuba’s case, both come together. The uncritical reading of communist literature, Marx’s and Lenin’s works as well as of party brochures, had caused Kuba’s obsession with the idea of a classless society; and both the reading and the obsession made him blind to the present he lived in. Gazing into the desired future that was pictured in his books in all glory, the man was unable to see the reality around him, including the chasm that Streubel had pointed out between GDR readers and the writers who indulged in “hohle[m] Pathos” / (“bathos”) (Serke 142). Furthermore, Kuba himself was one of those writers, as his “Kantate auf Stalin” / (“Song for Stalin”) (1949) demonstrates. Although Streubel did not mention Kuba’s name when he criticized GDR writers for their “bathos,” Kuba might have taken the criticism as a personal attack.
As Elisabeth Frenzel also stated, Don Quixote who fantasizes “zum fahrenden Ritter und Kämpfer gegen das Unrecht bestimmt zu sein” / (“to be chosen to be a knight-errant and fighter against injustice”) often creates the “Mißstände” / (“nuisances”) (112) that he wants to abolish. In Kuba’s case this is important. To transform reality in the name of his utopian dream, he is riding into battle to kill Streubel and his friends, whom he fantasized to have become class-enemies. As an outcome, he makes the GDR reality worse than it already is.
Another of Frenzel’s reflections on Cervantes’s Don Quixote is relevant in this context: “Die Illusion einer in die Wirklichkeit umgesetzten Kunstwelt gerät da an ihre Grenzen, wo gutgläubige Mitspieler aus der ihnen vorgespiegelten Wirklichkeit Folgerungen und Ansprüche ableiten zu können glauben” / (“The illusion of a fictional world transformed into reality reaches its limit at the point at which partners acting in good faith think they could infer conclusions and claims from this fictional reality”) (120). Sancho, for instance, when he finally has become the governeur of an island, has to quit after the obstacles have grown too monstrous due to an intrigue by the evil Duke and Duchess. Since Streubel and his friends were in the role of the “gutgläubigen Mitspieler” / (“partners acting in good faith”), by believing Kuba that they could speak freely at the Congress of Young Artists, they committed the fatal error of criticizing aspects of the life in the GDR and suggesting improvements. At this point, the game of the “umgesetzte Kunstwelt” / (“fictional world transformed into reality”) was over for them.
The transition from Erich Arendt’s poem “Don Quijote” to Manfred Streubel’s “Sancho Pansa’s Nachruf” seems to be an allegory for the history of the communist experiment in the GDR – the transition from an idealistic commitment to the promised land without classes in the future to dangerous foolishness. How dangerous it was for the individual you can understand by reading Streubel’s poem; just identify with Sancho who still after the Don’s death can feel the shudder in his bones!
According to Luis Astrana Marín, “in the seventeenth century [Don Quixote] was greeted with an outburst of laughter, in the eighteenth, with a smile, and in the nineteenth, with a tear […]” (quoted in Durán and Rogg 127). In the GDR, things seemed to have gone the opposite way around since the Spaniard was first greeted smilingly (Arendt) and, approximately twenty years later, with laughter (Streubel). The following example of Don Quixote’s reception is a poem by Wilfried Bonsack (born in 1951). In his poem “Keine Ode: Aber auch an Dulcinea” / (“Not an Ode, but also for Dulcinea”), published in 1982, the Spanish protagonist is greeted with a tear:
in diese zerbissene Zeit
den tango des monsieur capone
der grüngreise papst
auf der windmühle gekreuzigt
und bei den weinschläuchen begraben
aus transparentem papier
in this broken time
the forgotten clown
the tango of monsieur capone
the green-old pope
crucified on the windmill
and buried next to the wineskins
from transparent paper) (36)
Interestingly, Bonsack speaks of both in this poem, the protagonist Quixote and his creator, Cervantes. The expression “walled in” indicates that the context is probably that of the GDR. According to the first stanza, Don Quixote, a “forgotten clown,” seems very sad; he is without doubt the protagonist of Part Two of Cervantes’s novel whom the cruel practical jokes of the Duke and Duchess have led to a great melancholy. That he dances “the tango of monsieur Capone” might refer to Al Capone, the gangster boss, who transcribed the song “Mama Mia” while he was imprisoned in Alcatraz. In the second stanza, the poet shows the author Miguel de Cervantes crucified on a windmill — the very object that Quixote attacked, believing it to be a ferocious giant. Why is Cervantes crucified in the GDR? It’s probably because he is a utopian in an anti-utopian age. But, how can it be that the real existing socialism in the GDR is described as antiutopian? To be crucified in a socialist country because you cannot stop following your utopian dream? Furthermore, why did the poet chose the word “crucified” instead of “shot” or “driven into suicide”? “Crucified” evokes the figure of Jesus. The situation hinted at in the poem reminds us of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamzov (1880) according to whom Jesus, if he returned today, would have to be eliminated because his presence would interfere with the mission of the church. It seems that by 1982, the time when Bonsack wrote the poem, most people in the GDR had woken up from the illusion of a “sozialistische Menschengemeinschaft” / (“socialist society of human beings”) and saw reality as it was. The joke that Marx “würde sich im Grabe umdrehen” / (“would turn around in his grave”) if he witnessed what was done in his name was common. Who continued to be a believer (not in the dogma, but in the possibility of changing reality) could end up being crucified as it happens to Cervantes in Bonsack’s poem. Christa Wolf in Stadt der Engel (2010) describes what happened to East German communists after most people of that country had stopped believing:
Als die “große Sache” vor ihren Augen zusammenbrach, reagierten sie jeder und jede auf seine oder ihre Weise: mit Verzweiflung, mit Abwehr, mit Depression, Wut und Schweigen, mit Leugnung der Tatsachen, mit Selbsttäuschung. Und mancher von ihnen mit Dogmatismus und Rechthaberei / (when the “great cause” collapsed in front of their eyes, they all reacted in their own way: with desperation, with defense, with depression, fury and silence, with denial of facts, with self-deception. And some of them with dogmatism and bossiness) (87).
The last, “dogmatism und bossiness,” is Kuba’s reaction as described in Streubel’s poem. While “depression” is very likely the reaction of Bonsack, who identifies with Don Quixote after he woke up from his fantasy world in the end of Cervantes’s novel. Why is Cervantes called a “pope”? It’s probably because his messages are still up-to-date; Don Quixote of la Mancha “regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works ever published” (“Don Quixote” 1). That makes Cervantes into a kind of authority or “pope” to those who are believers in the possibility of change. The oxymoron “grüngreis” used as an adjective to characterize this “pope” seems to make sense: “grün” means fresh; “greis” means very old; could it signify that, according to Bonsack, Cervantes’s messages, although they are very old, are still fresh, relevant in the GDR during the early 1980s? And “to knot mazes” – how could we interpret this image? I would suggest the following reading: Cervantes, although crucified in the GDR, must have been resurrected. He is present in that country — writing books that are labyrinths, not so easy to read for the censor, especially since they are written on “transparentem Papier” / (“transparent paper”).
In Arendt’s poem, Quixote is a romantic hero; the name Knight of the Lions that Quixote gave himself after the adventure with such an animal, would fit. In Bonsack’s poem, the name Knight of the Sad Countenance, as the defeated Don Quixote calls himself according to Sancho’s suggestion, is more appropiate. Therefore, it is correct to state that Bonsack greets him with a tear.
The following poem “Quichote und die Windmühlen” by Hinnerk Einhorn (born in 1944), written shortly before the fall of the Wall, is more difficult to interpret; its message is ambivalent because Quixote can be read as a hero fighting against injustice or as a lunatic who is just dreaming of such a fight:
Und streckt ihr auch Arme aus
mehr als Briareus
ihr nennt euch Riesen?
ich biete die Stirn
Jeder Furz treibt euch um
jedes göttliche Flüstern
Eure Kalkgräten knack ich
ich stutz euch im Sturm
euch hab ich
ja hab euch
Hilf Sancho! Wo bin ich?
Ihr Mühlen, euch zeig ichs (82)
(Even though you stretch out your arms
more than Briareus
you call yourself giants?
I challenge you
Every fart makes you restless
every divinely whisper
I’ll crack your fossil bones
I’ll break you by force
I got you
Yes, you I got
Help, Sancho! Where am I?
You, mills, I will show you) (82)
In this poem, Don Quixote challenges the windmills that represent the powerful GDR authorities. Cervantes’s famous windmills had served before as a useful metaphor in the context of anti-Stalinist literature. In an advertisement for Peter Weiss’ Notizbücher 1971-1980, it is said that the author is “mal ein Don Quichotte, der seine Lehren gegen die riesigen Windmühlen kommunistischer Machtpolitik führt, mal ein melancholischer Zweifler an allen Doktrinen” / “at times a Don Quichotte who raises his teachings against the huge windmills of communist power politics, at other times a melancholic man who doubts all doctrines” (Weiss 271). In Einhorn’s poem, these windmills stretch their arms even more than Briareus — according to Greek mythology Briareus is one of the three ferocious giants with a hundred hands and fifty heads who helped to overthrow the Titans. This image (based on the substitution of windmill vanes by arms of a giant), taken from Cervantes’s famous episode in part one of Don Quixote, indicates how strong these “windmills” are. However, the expression “eure Kalkgräten” / (“fossil bones”) – probably a hint at the old age of most of the members of the GDR Politbüro – states that just the opposite is true; the “giants” appear to be strong, but they are not; their bones are brittle. Therefore, challenging them is not as mad as it seems; you have a chance to win. “Jeder Furz treibt euch um” / (“Every fart makes you restless”) can be interpreted as a reference to the paranoia of many East German officials as, for instance, Erich Mielke, the head of the Stasi, and his fellow ideologues. Ludwig Harich, who met Einhorn after the Fall of the Wall in the West when he read from his volume of poetry Quichote und die Windmühlen (the book has the same title as the poem analyzed here), reads line 13 in which Quixote asks Sacho for help: “Don Quichote und Hinnerk Einhorn brauchen ihre praktisch denkenden und arbeitenden Nachbarn, um im Leben zurechtzukommen.” / (“Don Quixote and Hinnerk Einhorn need their practically thinking and working neighbors to cope with life.”) (113) This reading hints at the identity of Einhorn, the poet, and the poem’s lyrical ego, Quixote. The knight-errant performs as a GDR dissident who challenges those in power with a cocky self-assurance and quixotic bravery. However, a closer look at line 13: “Help, Sancho! Where am I?” undermines such a reading. The lyrical ego might as well be a patient in an insane asylum — his brains so severely addled that he is incompetent to fight against whatever authority; his bravery is just wishful thinking.
Do we laugh, smile or cry about Einhorn’s Quixote? We do not cry because there is no melancholia in this Quixote’s heart; instead, we smile or laugh about him, according to our interpretation. If we choose to laugh (interpreting the lyrical ego as a lunatic), our laughter would be without the spiky sarcasm of Streubel’s poem where Quixote is dreaming of a glowing future so strongly that he commits crimes in the present as means to an end. In no way is Einhorn’s Don Quixote portrayed as a dangerous man; he is rather viewed as benign. And, most importantly, this Quixote is not one of those Kubas who tried to enforce the laws of their revolutionary fiction in the GDR without consideration of their suitability. Just the opposite is true; Einhorn’s Quixote tries to fight against the Kubas – either in reality or just in his wishful thinking.
To summarize, the examination of four GDR poems published between 1952 and 1989 reveals that Varela Iglesias is right in stating that Don Quixote is “obra proteica susceptible de numerosas interpretations” / “a proteic work that can be interpretated in numerous different ways” (45). Arendt sees the Spanish protagonist romantically as a modern knight-errant who is bravely undoing wrongs in the name of a better future. Streubel portrays Quixote satirically as a dangerous lunatic who is disregarding friendship and common sense for the sake of his fantasy world. In Bonsack’s poem, Quixote is a melancholic man – a clown, whom nobody wants any more. His creator, Cervantes, is being crucified in the GDR and, after resurrection, writes critical literature striving for a change in reality, fooling the censor. Einhorn, on the other hand, portrays Quixote as a self-assured GDR dissident, although the poem can be read differently, as a parody of such a figure. In all four poems, the authors use the famous Spanish protagonist to articulate their point of view regarding the historical period in which they live.
1 In 1957, the editorial Junge Welt published a comic book about Don Quixote. The Spanish protagonist was presented again to the GDR public in 1981 in the journal Mosaik – a journal that, as Gernot Gabel stated, “schnell einen Kultstatus unter jungen und alten Lesern der DDR erlangt hatte” / (“quickly had reached a cult-status among young and old GDR readers”) (52). It would be interesting to compare presentations of Don Quixote in East- and West German Childrens’ literature.
2 Kuba’s “Kantate auf Stalin” (music by Jean Kurt Forest) was comissioned by the SED Kulturabteilung in 1949. The work was supposed to teach people about “den großen Revolutionär und Staatsmann Josef Stalin” / (“great revolutionary and statesman Joseph Stalin”) (“Kantate” 1). Die Sätze sind für Chor, Solostimmen, Orchester, und das Finale auch für Tanzensemble geschrieben.
3 The term was coined by Walter Ulbricht (1893-1973).
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