History

The foundation of the German Academy for Language and Literature was publically announced on 28 August, 1949 in St Paul’s Church in Frankfurt am Main. The Academy is located in Darmstadt since 1951.

1949 – Difficult Beginnings
1950s – Democratisation
1968 – Turbulent Times
1989 – East-West Issues
1997 – Questions of Language
2006 – an Academy in Europe

1989 – East-West Issues

As early as 1967 the Academy resolved to actively seek out corresponding members from »Eastern Bloc States« as well as initiate a dialogue with the Literature and Language Cultivation section from the Academy of Arts based in East Berlin. The selection of Reiner Kunze and Christa Wolf (both in 1977), Zbigniew Herbert (1986) and Pavel Kohout (1987) as Academy members and the awarding of the Büchner Prize to Reiner Kunze (1977), Christa Wolf (1980) and Heiner Müller (1985) are illustrative of the slow evolution of this process, one which was to be faced with numerous difficulties. If nothing else, the situation of those elected had to be taken into account and possible negative consequence for them had to be avoided. For example, in contrast to convention, Christa Wolf was allowed to introduce herself to the Academy members in a private session.

Gabriele Wohmann, Christa Wolf, Hilde Spiel (f.l.t.r.) in the Darmstadt Orangery, 1980.
© Deutsche Akademie

The situation changed fundamentally with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the confrontation between East and West. On 30 November, 1989, together with the Academy of Arts in Berlin, the German Publishers and Booksellers Association, the German Academy of Performing Arts, and the P.E.N. Centre of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Academy declared: »Writers, actors, visual artists and musicians lend their courage, their voice to ›revolutionary renewal‹ (Christa Wolf). In this hour in which the borders disappear, their curiosity is nearly limitless: they want to use their hard-fought rights to become acquainted with the art and cultures of the rest of Europe. We need them no less than they need us. They will need us as interrogators, approaching us as learners to establish free ideas and institutions in their countries. But we will continue to need their questions to examine our own ideas and institutions, for ›stagnation‹ (the lack of imagination, the blunting of the media, the hardening of the status quo) exists in more than material want, in more than political repression« (Chronik, 182). What was called for was a wide-reaching program of support from the Federal Republic and its states in the spirit of free exchange, for »if there is to be a new Europe, then it will not be a Europe of dogmatic teachers and humble pupils. We need a Europe of mutual learning« (Chronik, 183).

Shortly after German reunification in autumn 1990 the Academy once again issued a statement: »Since 3 October at the latest there has been a question to be answered (...) ›What is our role among the peoples of a unified Europe?‹« (Chronik, 188). Negotiations for the treaty of union were criticised for a perceived lack of attention paid to cultural matters, although culture was above all »the way in which citizens of a country interact with one another« (Chronik, 189). That is why the possibilities of a simultaneously German and European cultural policy was discussed in detail by the numerous invitees to the workshop »German Cultural Policy in an Independent and Unified Europe« (1-2 February 1991). One result of the consultations was an appeal to the German government and the Minister Presidents of the German states that they create the basis for the Federal President to establish a »Council for German Cultural Policy«. Its task would be to advise the public and the government »independently, expertly and continuously« in questions of cultural policy (Chronik, 189).

»German Cultural Policy in an Independent and Unified Europe« – Workshop in Darmstadt in 1991
© Barbara Aumüller

Visible expression of the Academy’s new commitment were the locations in the former East Germany and neighbouring states in Eastern Europe selected for the spring conferences in the following years. It began with an »Exchange of Ideas about Our Language« at the Weimar conference in May 1991. Under the heading of »German – Language in a Divided Land«, an initial attempt was made to take stock of the traces four decades of isolation left on language usage. The consequences of the GDR’s regulation of language were discussed as well as the »increasing obfuscation« of language usage in the public discourse of the Federal Republic observed by representatives of linguistic criticism in the Academy. At the general assembly on 17 May the question of which conclusions should be drawn by the Academy from the changed political situation was made the focus of discussion. Reinhard Baumgart proposed transferring Academy headquarters from Darmstadt to Weimar. This would give visible expression to the weight being given to the new German states. A move to Weimar would also allow the Academy to draw on the traditions established by its 1949 proclamation marking the 200th anniversary of Goethe's birth in a new way. This initiated a vigorous debate: while Beda Allemann argued for the dissolution of the Academy and its re-establishment in Weimar, Jürgen Becker and Harald Weinrich proposed a more moderate solution of two Academy sites. However, as Günter de Bruyn objected, this threatened to degrade Weimar to a branch office; Hans Maier even spoke of the danger of colonisation and warned to exercise caution. Herbert Heckmann referred to the organic relationships with Darmstadt and emphasised that such a step could only be deliberated together with the Minister Presidents of both states as well as the Lord Mayors of Weimar and Darmstadt. Following long and lively discussions, the motion failed to receive majority backing.

»Culture and State. Which Culture do We Need?« Spring conference in Jena, 2003. Joachim-Felix Leonhard, Klaus Reichert, Bernhard Vogel, Jan Philipp Reemtsma, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann (f.r.t.l.)
© Isolde Ohlbaum

It was agreed, however, that the new opportunities for contact and cooperation should be exploited to the full. In the years to come, the Academy would seek to hold its spring conferences if not abroad, then in the former East Germany. And indeed, members met in Leipzig in 1994, Dresden in 1996, and in Erfurt in 1999.

Literature:

Chronik: Zwischen Kritik und Zuversicht. 50 Jahre Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung. Herausgegeben von Michael Assmann und Herbert Heckmann. Göttingen: Wallstein 1999. 81 Abb., 479 S.