Kosmos Wiepersdorf


Stop 10: Park exit
© Dirk Bleicker

Stop 10
Park exit

Between loyalty to the state and dissidence: Wiepersdorf and the GDR

Wiepersdorf Castle has been able to embellish its image with various names since 1946, such as “Artists’ Residency Center,” “Writers’ Retreat Center,” “Workplace for Writers,” “Intellectual Recreation Center,” to name a few. Otherwise it was also called “Work and Recreation Center for Cultural and Other Intellectuals,” “Bettina von Arnim Artists’ Residency Center,” and finally “Bettina von Arnim Work and Recreation Center for Writers and Artists.”

Achim von Arnim would probably be amazed if he could see his barnyard today. He had it built in order to seriously tackle his agricultural ambitions. Where once there were cows, horses and pigs, are now more than a dozen rooms for fellows from all over the world. There are also two conference rooms, a studio, and a library in the barnyard. The library here not only houses a collection of GDR and international literature, but also respectable holdings on Romanticism and, of course, a number of volumes of the Arnims. But what gives it its special profile are the books of writers, the artists’ catalogs, and the sound recordings of composers who have pursued their work at Wiepersdorf.

Since it was founded as a writers’ retreat center in 1946, Wiepersdorf has always had political significance too. In the past, the artists’ residency center has always had the reputation of being a paradise for the nomenclatura, that is, GDR writers loyal to party lines, regardless of whether they were funded by the German Writers’ Foundation, the Writers’ Association or the Ministry of Culture or the Cultural Fund of the GDR. This was correct, to a degree, in that one could not be a guest in Wiepersdorf without the consent of the Writers’ Association—or, in the last GDR decade after representatives of other art disciplines also began working at the site, the consent of their artists’ associations.

Anna Seghers, who always had a room at her disposal in the 1950s, was not only a famous author, but also president of the GDR Writers' Association for over two-and-a-half decades. But a wide and varied spectrum of guests stayed at Wiepersdorf Castle: it ranged from prominent cultural functionaries to lesser-known authors—who were neither opportunistic in their political leanings nor actively opposed to the state—to marginal or decidedly critical writers, such as Thomas Rosenlöcher or Volker Braun. Shortly after a stay in Wiepersdorf and Wolf Biermann's spectacular expatriation, the great poet Sarah Kirsch left for West Germany in 1977. Wiepersdorf could be a place of work and retreat—a place where one could seek refuge from the fuss and commotion of public life in Berlin in the supposed political backwater of Niederer Fläming.

Supposedly: because it was in the nature of the GDR state that it also and, in particular, took an interest in those people who did not want anything to do with the state.

The history of the GDR in Wiepersdorf shows how difficult it can be to distinguish between “loyalty to party lines” and “dissidence.” On the one hand, this was because the gray area between “loyalty to the line” and “dissidence” was vast. And, on the other, because the GDR’s cultural policy—especially in the arbitrary measures it resorted to in the early years—could declare overnight comrades-in-arms and sympathizers to be spies, saboteurs, or enemies because of their Jewish origins or having been in places of exile in Western countries. Later, from the 1970s onward, “loyalty to party lines” often turned into “dissidence”—or at least profound political skepticism—out of disappointment over the GDR’s betrayal of socialist utopian ideals.

Those who came to Wiepersdorf were by no means without exception part of the establishment. But neither did all the established artists of the GDR come here. Erik Neutsch, for example, whose books were widely read in GDR schools and who was the author of the novel Spur der Steine (Trail of Stones), on which the eponymous film with Manfred Krug was based, felt uncomfortable in the stylish surroundings and its tradition of high culture. Multiple political and cultural fronts could therefore overlap in Wiepersdorf. Against this backdrop, it is understandable that in the early 1990s, in the midst of the political and social upheavals in the wake of reunification, there were many disputes about the interpretive sovereignty in relation to Wiepersdorf Castle and its history. Only from today’s perspective do we have the advantage of being able to illuminate the gray areas, to name perpetrators and victims in a differentiated way.

After the Stiftung Kulturfonds replaced the Kulturfonds der DDR, and took over the funding, Schloss Wiepersdorf reopened its doors as an artists’ residency center in 1992—now for writers, artists, composers, and scholars of the humanities receiving residency grants from various providers. In this context, the name of Clara von Arnim must be mentioned. The wife of the last private owner was initially the founder of the “Friends of Wiepersdorf Castle” in 1991, before she renounced claims for restitution in 1998, thus finally paving the way for the current use of the castle.

Until an interim closure owing to the breakup of the Stiftung Kulturfonds in 2004, the fellows at Wiepersdorf included important protagonists of German-language literature, such as Marcel Beyer, Volker Braun, Adolf Endler, Elke Erb, Jenny Erpenbeck, Wilhelm Genazino, Katharina Hacker, Thomas Hettche, Wolfgang Hilbig, Felicitas Hoppe, Katja Lange-Müller, Thomas Lehr, Martin Mosebach, Ulrich Peltzer, Kathrin Röggla, Ralf Rothmann, Kathrin Schmidt, and Julia Schoch. But not only German-language literature was represented at Wiepersdorf Castle: it can boast Inger Christensen from Denmark, Laszlo Darvasi from Hungary, Dzévad Karahasan from Bosnia Herzegovina, or the Nobel Prize winners Olga Tokarczuk and Svetlana Alexievich among its most renowned international guests.

The Schloss Wiepersdorf Cultural Foundation was established by the state of Brandenburg in 2019. It brought a new profile with it on taking over the castle: Wiepersdorf now became visible as a place where artists, scientists, and scholars of different disciplines and origins could pursue creative work alone or in collaborations in a protected space. Thus Wiepersdorf Castle is a venue for artistic creation and discussion about cultural identity in our society that includes a global perspective.

Thank you very much for your visit.

Editors: Steffen Richter and Nathalie Mälzer