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Brigitte Reimann (1933–1973)

Author of Siblings

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About the Author

Includes the name: Brigitte Reimann

Works by Brigitte Reimann

Associated Works

Frauen in der DDR : 20 Erzählungen (1976) — Author — 18 copies


Common Knowledge

Date of death
Burial location
Friedhof Oranienbaum Landkreis Wittenberg, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany
Burg bei Magdeburg, Germany
Place of death
East Berlin, German Democratic Republic
Cause of death
Places of residence
Berlin, Germany
Neubrandenburg, Germany
Hoyerswerda, Germany
short story writer
Pitschmann, Siegfried (spouse)
Awards and honors
Heinrich-Mann-Preis (1965)
Short biography
Brigitte Reimann was born in Burg bei Magdeburg, the oldest of four children of a bank clerk from a prosperous Cologne family. At age 14, she contracted polio and decided to become a writer while she was convalescing. In 1950, she was awarded first prize in an amateur drama competition by the famed Berlin theater Volksbühne. After graduating from high school, she worked as a teacher and reporter to make ends meet while writing. In 1953, she married Günter Domnik, a machine fitter, and they had a child who died at birth; the marriage ended in divorce in 1958. Committed to the East German Communist Party's ideal of writers establishing closer contact with workers, in 1960 Reimann began working at the coal-briquette plant Schwarze Pumpe in a remote area of Saxony. There she and her second husband, fellow writer Siegfried Pitschmann, also ran writing classes. While at the factory, she wrote the short novel Ankunft im Alltag (Arrival in Everyday Life, 1961), praised for its socialist realism. Reimann received the Heinrich-Mann-Preis in 1965 for her semi-autobiographical novel Die Geschwister (Siblings, 1963), about a family split over the issue of fleeing to the West vs. remaining in the GDR. Over time, she experimented with forms of associative and subjective storytelling. She made many friends and colleagues in her radio, film, and television projects as well. When Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968 as a reaction to the Prague Spring, Reimann refused to sign the declaration by the East German Writers' Association (DSV) approving of the measure. From November 1968 she lived in Neubrandenburg, where she married Rudolf Burgartz, a doctor, in 1971. During the last years of her life, she worked on the manuscript of her novel Franziska Linkerhand, although severely affected by cancer. She died at the age of 39 in 1973. Franziska Linkerhand, left unfinished, was published posthumously in 1974 and became a bestseller and a cult hit. Reimann's diaries began to be published in both East and West Germany in 1983 and were translated into English as I Have No Regrets: Diaries, 1955–1963 and It All Tastes of Farewell: Diaries, 1964–1970. Her novel Siblings, originally published in censored form, was reissued by Penguin in 2023 in a complete version translated into English for the first time.



Brigitte Reimann’s novel Siblings, published in 1963, provides a fascinating window on life in the German Democratic Republic (GDR or East Germany) in the early 1960s, at the height of the Cold War. At the core of the novel is the relationship between Uli and Elisabeth Arendt, young siblings who live in the east with their parents. The two are deeply connected and, as children, spent most of their time together. But education and experience have left them divided on ideological grounds, and their disagreements occasionally turn shrill. Elisabeth, trained as an artist, believes passionately that life in the GDR, which she admits is hardly idyllic, presents an opportunity for their generation to construct an egalitarian future in which everyone will strive toward a socialist ideal. Uli, trained as an engineer with a specialization in ship design, wants to follow his chosen profession. But Uli realizes that in socialist East Germany he will be assigned a position that might fill a need but won’t necessarily match his skillset. Where Elisabeth sees opportunity, Uli sees constraint and oppression and when he tells her that he wants to defect to the West, they argue. Uli believes he has no choice. Elisabeth regards defection as betrayal. Adding a bitter edge to the discussion is the fact that the family has already lost older brother Konrad, who defected some years earlier and is, by his own account, doing well for himself. But Konrad’s defection took place before the border dividing the two Germanys was closed (construction of the Berlin Wall began in 1961). Elisabeth narrates. She is a young woman hopelessly divided within herself: in thrall to socialism and suspicious of western influences, but also protective of her brother, wanting him to be happy but unwilling to let him simply walk out of her life. Reimann’s novel generates tension by focusing on the cruel dilemma forced on the population by an iron-fisted regime that had become insular and paranoid as it blindly toed the Soviet ideological line. Siblings is a novel of grim realities that depicts a sad, bleak, utilitarian landscape and at times seems written in shades of gray. In stark contrast, Elisabeth’s fierce intelligence and fiery nature shine through on every page. Brigitte Reimann’s life was cut short in 1973, when she died from cancer at age 39, but she left behind a substantial legacy of fiction and nonfiction works, as well as diaries. Siblings is the first of her novels to be made available in English translation.… (more)
icolford | 5 other reviews | Apr 27, 2024 |
Siblings is the story of three children in the GDR which was part of the Soviet bloc from 1949 to 1990. Konrad has defected to the west and his presence in the novel is mostly a ghostly absence; Elisabeth has embraced the ideals of a glorious socialist future; and her brother Uli is chafing under the oppression of the regime. When he confides in Elisabeth that he is going to defect too, the scene is set for a tussle between love and duty; loyalty and desire. In a microcosm of a world then bifurcated by the competing philosophies of capitalism and socialism, this novel depicts what it meant to families to have to choose.

For Elisabeth, an artist working in an industrial complex to train the workers as artists too, the GDR offers opportunity. But Uli's career has been blighted by a fleeting association with a university professor who transgressed against the regime. He has excellent qualifications as an engineer but can only get work as a draughtsman.

In a narrative that weaves the recent past with the present, the fault lines begin to emerge as Elisabeth encounters criticism from the Party at work. She had made the mistake of expressing her reservations about one of her worker painters that had been foisted on [her] by an overly ambitious union man.
A few of them had only their longing and love of painting to offer. Two or three of them had real talent, and for these I had high hopes. But mostly there were too many clever amateurs who copied soppy landscapes of purple heather and idealised fisherman's cottages. You could have bought half a dozen decent reproductions for the prices they wanted for their kitsch. I would argue with them, then run, sobbing, to tell Lukas that he could carry out his damned cultural revolution on his own, for all I cared. (p.36)

60 years after this novel was published, contemporary readers are familiar through books and film with the modes of suppression and surveillance in the Soviet bloc, but this novella — drawing on the experience of the author's brother's defection and her own work leading a circle of writing workers at a coal mine — was courageous in its time. Brigitte Reimann (1933-1973) rejected Party interference in the arts. According to Wikipedia...
Reimann never joined the Socialist Unity Party of Germany and was critical of the East German state's involvement in the country's literary movement. She wrote in her diary that there were 'Opportunists and numbskulls everywhere. The only subject worth discussing in a novel, it seems, is the need to increase work productivity ... Human problems are not in vogue.'

Ultimately, Siblings is about the very real human problem of political differences within families.

To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2023/11/20/siblings-1963-by-brigitte-reimann-translated...
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anzlitlovers | 5 other reviews | Nov 19, 2023 |
I really liked this book a lot, the writing was really tight and evocative. Also, I learned new things about the DDR, which is always exciting. There's nothing like a good fiction book to make historical things come alive for me, and to stay in my mind for later contemplation and reference and understanding.

There are two reasons why this isn't a 5 star book for me: first, the jumping around in time confused me a bit; second, the ending didn't make sense, and this point probably needs some elaboration.

Basically, Uli wants to go over the Wall and explains pretty clearly to Elizabeth why this is so; Elizabeth debates him several times, but is unable to refute his problems except with "You have to fight if you feel you've been treated unjustly". For the whole 2.5 days (I think? Again, the timeline is hard to follow) he is dead set on leaving, and then in the end Joachim shows some interest in a book Uli is reading and now Uli isn't going to go over the wall - what the hell is that about? It never addresses the fundamental problem: Uli is unable to get work with his engineering degree and must work in a factory all because there is a black mark (unwarranted) next to his name, and he's not a Party member. This problem is 100% not addressed, he seemingly out of nowhere decides to just stay, apparently to toil away at a job he hates with no prospects of life ever getting better.

The book was written by an East German in 1963, and while the ending makes sense in that context it is pretty clumsily done. The author should have shown the reader how this change of heart happened, to help the reader understand something so drastic, but perhaps it was left open because the intended audience was East German and they wouldn't have needed any further elaboration. In any case, it's hard to understand from this distance and culture.
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blueskygreentrees | 5 other reviews | Jul 30, 2023 |
This short novel is the first work by the German writer Brigitte Reimann (1933-1973) to be translated into English, and I hope there will be more. Apparently new editions of several of her books have been published in Germany.

Die Geschwister was first published in 1963 and set in 1960, and explores life in a divided Germany, through a whole series of arguments and conversations.

Elisabeth and her brothers grew up in Dresden where they would have been children at the end of the war and the Nazi regime, and the geographic/political partition of Germany. She still lives and works as a painter and a factory based artist/art teacher in the German Democratic Republic, the Communist State of East Germany, under a government cultural scheme. However, she has issues at work with a senior male colleague and famous painter over their differing views on art, factory workers, probably history and society.

Now, she is arguing with her beloved brother over his plans to leave East Germany for the West. He feels that his chances of a good life in the GDR are blocked because their brother Konrad already defected a few years ago, drawn to capitalist and consumerist values. Elisabeth also had a schoolfriend/old flame who she visited in West Berlin.

So the story is structured through conversations, flashbacks to Elisabeth's more recent past as a very young adult and further back to her childhood. In fact the present of the story is only a couple of days.

To be approved by the censors and published in the GDR, this story would have to have a constructively "happy ending" or at least some kind of positive resolution, and to make it clear that the GDR offers a good life to supporters of this model of socialism. Apparently this translation includes material from Reimann's manuscript that probably didn't originally get past the 1960s censors. For all that, the story offers an interesting and more nuanced look at the dilemmas of the characters, and an insight into the sexism faced by a woman on both sides of the border. It is significant that it was set before the Berlin Wall was put up to stop the likes of Uli, Konrad and Gregory simply choosing to move to the capitalist side of the border.

I was disappointed that this edition of the book in the Penguin Classics series doesn't include an introduction or afterword, just a very brief biographical paragraph. That Siblings may be partly autobiographical is really just hinted at. Also, the novel has its own interesting backstory. There are four pages of interesting and relevant endnotes which help in understanding some of the terminology and references in the story. I really want to know more about Brigitte Reimann and hope some more of her work will be translated and published in English.
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elkiedee | 5 other reviews | May 25, 2023 |



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