Biermann & Berlin

Wolf Biermann had always been a sort of heroic figure: the intrepid, engaged, peace-mongering, guitar-slinging song-writer poet, heir to Heine & Brecht in a minor key, who kicked himself out of West Germany at 17 to move to East Germany & its vision of a Socialist state — & who is years later kicked out of the German Democratic Republic for critizing its policies. He has by now muted into a grumpy pro-American (I mean: pro US-government) septuagenarian who raises the heckles of the current German Left — in Berlin for example, where a recent scandal involved the cities’ fathers fight over whether to make Bierman an honorrary citizen of the new German capital. Below, via signandsight, a article by Thomas Steinfeld (the opening paras, that is; you can read the rest here) covering this story:

Honour the eternal dissident!

For Thomas Steinfeld Wolf Biermann deserves the honorary citizenship of Berlin and every form of patriotic distinction going

It was in the art of bidding farewell that poet and singer Wolf Biermann revealed his greatest talents. In a demonstration of personal greatness he left his home town of Hamburg at the age of 17 to become a citizen of the GDR. His public value catapulted to giddy heights when in the autumn of 1976, after a concert in Cologne’s Sporthalle, he was told he would not be allowed back into the GDR. And a flicker of this greatness could be glimpsed again when he, now firmly established as the eternal dissident, broke with socialism in the 1980s and in the early 90s, when he revealed his hawkish streak, leaping to the defence of America’s wars. Since then Wolf Biermann has faced problems on two fronts. One is the lack of anything worthy of an earnest farewell. The other stems from his being much better at farewells than arrivals – which is due in part to the difficulty of imagining an eternal dissident really arriving anywhere, even if he does pause in his wanderings briefly to hug a couple of reactionaries.

The CDU in Berlin wanted to make him feel as if he’d arrived when on his seventieth birthday last year they suggested this was a fitting occasion to make him an honorary citizen of the city, number one hundred and fifteen. This would put him up there with Heinrich Zille, Nelly Sachs, Anna Seghers, Wieland Herzfelde und Heinz Berggruen. The suggestion unleashed weeks of bickering among the city’s politicians. The ruling Social Democrats are unnerved by any form of partisanship with the USA in war. The Linkspartei which is also in power has refused to issue any clear statements – but they could obviously never embrace the idea of an honorary citizen who never felt himself in any way indebted to the intellectuals of the GDR and the “critical solidarity” with which they accompanied his career in the West. […]

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