In seiner frühen Kindheit ein Garten

[This page by Astrid Köhler]

In seiner frühen Kindheit ein Garten; In his early Childhood, a Garden (2005)

This is the first work of Hein’s in which he deals mainly with West German history. It concerns the RAF (Red Army Fraction, a leftist terrorist group active mainly in the 1970s), or rather, it is about the aftermath of its existence. As many RAF members had sought cover in the GDR and been given new identities there, the collapse of the East German state led to a renewed hunt for these former terrorists by the authorities of the now unified Germany. The last major intervention in this respect took place in 1993. Birgit Hogefeld and Wolfgang Grams were to be arrested in the North-Eastern town of Bad Kleinen, and in the course of the action, Grams and a police officer died. While it was initially claimed that Grams had committed suicide, some eyewitness accounts pointed towards an execution-style murder of Grams by the police special forces. However, an official investigation failed to prove such claims, though it became clear that several operational mistakes had occurred and the suspicions were never fully disproved.

At the centre of Hein’s novel, we see the parents of a former terrorist (here called Oliver Zureck) who had died in precisely such an action. Oliver’s father, a retired civil servant with a hitherto absolute faith in the state’s authorities, grows suspicious and becomes determined to discover the truth about the death, or possible murder, of his son. Having lived a bourgeois and adapted life with his wife, he had never been able to understand his son’s views and actions. But now, in simply trying to ascertain the truth about his son’s death, the former headmaster of a school finds himself fighting against the windmills of the justice system. In his search, he also attempts to understand his son’s motivation for aligning himself with the political underground, and slowly but surely, he loses his core belief in the society he has lived in.

The story of the Red Army Fraction had been of interest to artists, writers and film directors for some decades. One of the earliest artistic responses to the RAF (or rather, the state’s reaction to it) was Heinrich Böll’s novel Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum) which appeared in 1974. The book was met with controversial acclaim and was made into a film by the directors Volker Schlöndorff and Margarete von Trotta in 1975. Christoph Hein’s novel In seiner frühen Kindheit ein Garten makes clear intertextual references to Böll’s book (for instance, one of the characters is named Katharina Blumenschläger), thereby linking up his own work with a West German tradition of politically committed literature.

Further Reading

Stefan Aust, The Baader Meinhof Complex (1983) (English version 2008)

Astrid Köhler, Brückenschläge. DDR-Autoren vor und nach der Wiedervereinigung (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2007), pp. 150-56