Kosmos Wiepersdorf


Sonja Hilzinger: Anna Seghers in Wiepersdorf


Sonja Hilzinger: Anna Seghers in Wiepersdorf

Anna Seghers wrote in 1969: “I miss Wiepersdorf very much and it’s been a long time now since I was there last ... Today it seems to me as if I had never been so carefree and happy, for no particular reason, as when we were staying there and roaming through the forest.” After she returned from Mexican emigration and until the 1950s, Wiepersdorf was a place of retreat and where she could work undisturbed.

Her Remington typewriter was her companion here too. Friends had given it to her as a present when she arrived in Mexico: it was a symbol of solidarity in exile. In the story “Das Duell” (The Duel), Anna Seghers created a lasting monument dedicated to the memory of the castle and park. The short stories “Die Umsiedlerin” (The Resettler) and “Der Kesselflicker” (The Tinker) from the volume Friedensgeschichten (Peace Stories) probably also process impressions from her time as a live-in resident at the castle. Seghers enjoyed the old chestnut trees and the overgrown park, in which she could also find “strange plants and trees” that came from Mexico, a place she pined for now.

Anna Seghers was quite alone when she returned to Berlin in April 1947. Her mother and other relatives had perished in concentration camps or were scattered all over the world. In the meantime, her children lived in Paris, where they had grown up. Her husband had remained in Mexico and did not come to Berlin until 1952. Seghers met some comrades from the past again, but others, like Philipp Schaeffer, had been murdered by the Nazis. She wrote in 1948: “I feel as if I have entered into an ice age, everything seems so cold to me.”

Seghers emigrated from Berlin to France in 1933 and from there to Mexico in 1941. Despite extreme difficulties, during the years of exile she published several novels and participated in the fight against fascism. She returned as a successful, internationally recognized writer—but her German compatriots knew neither her nor her books. Raised in a Jewish family in Mainz, Hungarian by marriage, now a Mexican citizen, she continued to wish for a cosmopolitan life—but that was impossible with the struggles involved in getting a visa and with the bureaucracy of the postwar period.

The first years after her return, Seghers lived in a boarding house in the southwest of Berlin, and was able to witness how, one by one, the works she had written in exile were published, such as Das siebte Kreuz (The Seventh Cross), Transit (Transit), Ausflug der toten Mädchen (Excursion of the Dead Girls), and Die Toten bleiben jung (The Dead Stay Young). In her books and speeches she had set herself the task of “being a teacher for a whole people.” Fascism was and remained the point of reference for her stories. On issues she kept silent about in public during the GDR years—as a party member and cultural functionary—she took a stand on in her writing.

Until 1955—when she had to be rushed from Wiepersdorf to Berlin in an ambulance after suddenly becoming seriously ill—Seghers frequently stayed in Niederer Fläming. There she met up with old friends such as Nico Rost, whom she still knew from Berlin in the Weimar Republic and who had translated several of her books into Dutch. She was also able to invite her children from France to Wiepersdorf. A photograph expresses more eloquently than words what Wiepersdorf meant to Seghers: in it she stands on the outdoor staircase, laughing merrily in a fluttering skirt. She always wrote of “Bettina Brentano’s castle” in her letters. To her, Bettina was always the merchant’s daughter from Frankfurt am Main, to whom she probably felt, as a fellow native of Mainz, an affinity that amounted to more than their mutual geographic origins.

The years after her return were characterized by an enormous restlessness and probably also loneliness. Seghers traveled a lot: to the meetings of the World Peace Council in various European cities, where she also met friends from her time in exile; to Paris to visit her children; to the Soviet Union to visit friends; to West Germany; and through the Soviet occupation zone/GDR. And more and more frequently, she fell ill for longer periods of time.

Seghers had lived under democratic governments in the Weimar Republic, France, and Mexico; she had experienced Nazi rule only briefly, and never personally that of the Soviets. The anti-Semitic Stalinist purges, which also affected the GDR in the 1950s, put Seghers and her comrades, who had returned from Western countries of exile, in mortal danger. Seghers, at that time the only big literary name with international standing in the GDR (besides Brecht, who died already in 1956), survived this period.

She succumbed to the pressure to move to the “East Zone” for good and finally relinquished her Mexican citizenship too, so she could continue traveling to Paris to visit her children and to the meetings of the World Peace Council. She rented an apartment in Adlershof, and from 1955 lived there together with her husband. This apartment on Volkswohlstraße, now Anna-Seghers-Straße, has been preserved to this day and can be visited.

Dr. Sonja Hilzinger, literary scholar, lives in Berlin. Publications include „Herzhaft in die Dornen der Zeit greifen ...“ Bettine von Arnim in Berlin (2020), Christa und Gerhard Wolf: Gemeinsam gelebte Zeit (2014), Elisabeth Langgässer (2009), Christa Wolf (2007), „Das Leben fängt heute an.“ Inge Müller (2005), Anna Seghers: „Das siebte Kreuz“ (2004), Anna Seghers (2000), editions of works by Christa Wolf and Inge Müller, most recently Christa Wolf: Essays und Reden (2021).