Archive for February, 2023

Cocteau Twins

Posted: February 24, 2023 in Chat
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Just because

Thank you Cocteau Twins.

Thank you for your indulgence everyone.

Red Love, The Story of an East German Family, by Maxim Leo. Published by Pushkin Press, 2014. Translated by Shaun Whiteside.

This is not a book review – there are plenty of those for this book online – but a series of impressions, notes, mullings (how’s that for a coining!).


Maxim, his mother and father, Anne and Wolf Leo (Wolf took his wife’s last name), lived earlier in their lives in Karlshorst, a small village outside East Berlin. The village was seperated from Lake Liepnitz by a forest. There was an area of the forest fenced off as far as the lake. A sign warned, ‘Wild Animal Research Area.

Of course, evertone knew that it was where Politburo members had summer houses. Even Eric Honecker had his own swimmimg spot in the lake.

Now, who says they had no sense of humour.

When the Wall came down, so did that fence. Inside that secret world, were ‘simple houses with gray facades.

We can say, Ah the banality behind the edifice – lilttle Oz behind the Wizard – mirroring the little minds at the top. But that’d be patronising and grossly misrepresentational. The Party struggled to make it work, floundering and hectoring, mindless at times. murderous at others. 

But the GDR lived in its people.

Maxim’s grandfathers are presented as exemplifying the two main tensions in that new social, political, experiment. 

One began by drifting into the National Socialist machine. 

The other had to fight it from an early age. He left Germany and fought with the French Resistance, becoming a Communist by choice and committment.

What made the difference? 

He came from a Jewish background. Although completely secular, fight was essential from early in his life.

Fot the other it was more a matter of the substitution of authoritarian regimes. The smaller Germany also offered more opportunity at the reconstruction outset, through less competition. Fall into line, be concientious… and it’ll go smoothly.


There is a very funny episode when Maxim was in school, the changing room to be exact. The head teacher burst in with tears in her eyes, and announced the death of Soviet General Secretary Leonard Brezhnev (1982). She did not get the response she expected, however. Her announcement was met with muted giggling. Another lad had come in late and was dashing about naked behind her trying to retrieve his underpants.

I recall seeing a short film shot in East Berlin in the 1970s. It all looked good in the sunshine. Then we caught a glimpse of a long queue outside a shop, for basic foodstuffs. Normal life; it did not occur to them to edit it out.
The most telling moment was when the camera person approached a group of young teens, with a teacher, on the street.
Dressed in fashionable jeans, laughing and chatting. Then they saw the camera. Instantly there was silence. All stood with blank expressions, would not face the camera, looking down, even when asked questions. Their answers were word perfect, unemotional.
Young lives, so blighted.


Was the GDR such an upheaval that it could overturn year’s of Nazi propaganda/indoctrination? They certainly thought so.
Take the issue of anti-Semiticism, though.
Take this example:
I remember meeting Anne in the street in Karlshorst one day. I must have been about fifteen. When she saw me, she started crying. We hugged and she told me the son of Augustin the baker had called my brother a “stupid Jew” at school.
Incidentally, this is the only reference to another brother.
He continues:
A few weeks later she read to my brother’s class from the memoirs of a Jewish prisoner who had survived Auschwitz. There was no trouble after that.
That’d be the mid 1980s.
We see here Augustin-the-baker’s home attitudes. Do we see, then, that his son sees sense? Maxim and Anne seem to think it was so.
Or was it school policy? And the bureaucratic hand reaching out into every workplace; for once doing some good.

Maxim later consulted Stasi files, and his mother’s Jewish father was there. A respected, loyal comrade and fighter, to whom the Party allowed much lee-way. But there he was. And his Jewishness fully noted. It was all, you get the impression, just in case…. There was enough slanted material there to create ‘a case’, if needed.

Loyal as she was to the GDR, his mother Anne, cautioned him about becoming actively involvement, either for or against. That way problems lay in wait.


Then the Wall came down.
There are so many theories now, as to why, how. The best, for me, is in the book, The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall, by Mary E Sarotte.

There is an episode in Maxim’s Red Love I find a little perplexing.
It was March 1989, and Maxim had heard of the possibilty of obtaining dual passports, allowing him get out of the GDR but also to be able to return, legitimately.
He enquired of a lawyer, whose response was odd:
…the whole thing will take about two years, and the question is whether any problem might not solve itself in some other way.’ I don’t understand what he means. De Maiziere sits down behind his desk, smiles and says that dual nationality assumes the existence of two countries…. there were … states whose future wasn’t… certain.”

Maxim doesn’t understand because some things were unthinkable.
De Maiziere knew something quite devastating and certain about the fate of the GDR, as early as March, 1989. What did the Politburo know on the night of November 9th, 1989? 
It’s details like this make you reappraise what you know. You then read for signs, indications, the ‘colour’ of a statement, the particular wording of a speech.

And after the Wall?
Anne needed the GDR edifice to work within. Wolf needed its friction. Maxim never felt a sense of belonging, until the belittling of their qualifications, experience, lives, by Westerners, got too much. Then he felt belonging, a shared experience.

There never could have been a Third Way, combining Western models, and salvageable, workable, Socialism.
The West saw to that.
The other son is not listed.

Unfortunately it is proving difficult to find much information on Wolf, or his work:

See, for further on the topic of the GDR, this review of Brigitte Reimann’s recently translated novel, Siblings

From The Guardian/Observer review (Matthew Reisz, Sunday January 15, 2023)

 The Holocaust: An Unfinished History, by Dan Stone

In many ways, writes historian Dan Stone, “we have failed unflinchingly to face the terrible reality of the Holocaust”


As this may suggest, Stone is sceptical about the oft-proclaimed benefits of Holocaust education and commemoration. Back in the 1990s, he believes, awareness of the Holocaust was not only widespread but “channelled in favour of human rights, cosmopolitanism and progressive ideas”. Since the millennium, however, “this confident narrative has been derailed. The use of Holocaust memory to further nationalist agendas, to facilitate geopolitical alliances on the far right or to ‘expose’ progressive thinkers for their supposed antisemitism or anti-Israel bias is now a familiar part of the landscape.”

The implications of all this could hardly be more sobering. Just as “Nazism was the most extreme manifestation of sentiments that were quite common, and for which Hitler acted as a kind of rainmaker or shaman”, suggests Stone, the defeat of his regime has left us with “a dark legacy, a deep psychology of fascist fascination and genocidal fantasy that people turn to instinctively in moments of crisis – we see it most clearly in the alt-right and the online world, spreading into the mainstream, of conspiracy theory”. His book offers a brisk, compelling and scholarly account of the Nazi genocide and its aftermath. But never for one moment does it let us believe that the events are now safely in the past.

 The Holocaust: An Unfinished History by Dan Stone is published by Pelican (£22)