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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Das unbesetzte Gebiet

Volker Braun

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To purchase Das unbesetzte Gebiet

Title: Das unbesetzte Gebiet
Author: Volker Braun
Genre: Fiction
Written: 2004
Length: 126 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Das unbesetzte Gebiet - Deutschland
  • Das unbesetzte Gebiet has not yet been translated into English
  • Includes: Im schwarzen Berg

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Our Assessment:

A- : fascinating take on a bit of history (and more), a unique (if typical Braun) approach

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 6/10/2004 Harald Hartung
NZZ . 5/10/2004 Beatrix Langner
Die Zeit . 7/10/2004 Martin Lüdtke

  From the Reviews:
  • "Erzählen heißt hier nicht malen, sondern zeichnen: weglassen. Nicht der Roman, die Kurzprosa ist Brauns Medium. (...) Volker Braun wäre nicht er selbst, wenn er bei der Resignation stehenbliebe. Die kleinste Restmenge Hoffnung genügt ihm, sein Erzählen zu tragen." - Harald Hartung, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Das unbesetzte Gebiet vibriert von der poetischen Kraft braunscher Sentenzen. Die reale, dokumentierte Geschichte wird postum besetzt, ohne enteignet zu sein. Aus der politischen Anekdote wird so allein durch Sprachkunst ein geschichtsphilosophisches Exemplum, die Verfassungspräambel einer freien Republik des Geistes." - Beatrix Langner, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "So entsprang aus der Anarchie eine Utopie, hofft, nachträglich, Volker Braun. (...) Die Episoden, die uns Braun aus dem Wartesaal der Geschichte im Tonfall des Chronisten erzählt, die kleinen, oft funkelnden Miniaturen, die Geschichten von den Nöten und Kämpfen, von den Menschen, die damals an- und zugepackt haben und doch nie wussten, wohin das Ganze denn gehen sollte, diese Geschichte von Schwarzenberg wird, im zweiten Teil des schmalen Buches, ergänzt von einer Anekdotensammlung Im schwarzen Berg, die teils an Kalendergeschichten ("wie von Hebel"), teils an Herrn Keuner von Brecht erinnert." - Martin Lüdtke, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Das unbesetzte Gebiet ('the unoccupied territory') focusses on an historical oddity from the end of World War II: at the end of the war an area of Germany called Schwarzenberg, compromising several towns and villages, went unoccupied, neither the Americans nor the Russians advancing into it. Self-governed, it was, for a brief 42 days, an almost utopian ideal (if not idyll -- war-ravages had left their mark on both the population and the area). Volker Braun sees it as a short-lived alternative, the possibility of true self-determination -- and a separation from the ideological Cold War alternatives quickly arising in East and West -- briefly raised.
       Das unbesetzte Gebiet is presented in two parts. The first half is an account of those 42 days, while the second (titled: Im schwarzen Berg) consists of brief prose (for the most part) pieces (few longer than a page or two) inspired by these events -- many set in the contemporary world, refracted by that brief alternative experience.
       The title section closes with the claim -- as part of the text, not a separate note -- that:

Keine Gestalt und Begebenheit ist erfunden; Abweichungen von real existierenden Personen sind Zufall.

(No character or event is invented, any deviation from real, existing persons is coincidental.)
       This is a work of fiction, but perhaps it can more accurately be described as a work of anti-fiction (and opposition is what Braun has always been best at). (This final section also begins: "Ende der Geschichte" -- more than a mere: 'End of story' as Geschichte can mean both 'story' and 'history', and it is certainly an end of conventional history that he has presented here, a new world that Braun sees in what took place in Schwarzenberg.)
       The narrative itself is more or less straightforward, describing the various events: the uneasy transition, the uncertainty of what exactly to do with the Nazis (who controlled the local bureaucracy). It is documentary, short sections offering pictures of the quickly changing situation (including forays into the occupied territories to the east and west). Braun does not construct an idealised image of what might be (or might have been): the narrative remains surprisingly grounded. Potential is in the air -- a truly different sort of government --, but day-to-day reality is always more pressing, the little things that have to be dealt with.
       The first part of the book is almost anti-climactic, as Braun does not let his imagination or enthusiasm run away with the marvellous premise, six weeks of statelessness and complete self-control. (Reality, of course, means it was far less idyllic than a novelist would care to imagine it.) It is the second half of the book that really reveals and reinforces Braun's disappointment, the thwarting of a possible superior alternative felt to be truly crushing as he tells a variety of anecdotes, stories, and bits of history.
       The pieces are varied, some returning to Schwarzenberg, others contemporary -- ripped generally not from the headlines, but from the backpages: a boy who sells his soul on the Internet, an Austrian POW forgotten in Russia, returning home only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. It is a commentary on the failures of the state, in particular, since World War II -- the German Democratic Republic, for one, but also re-unified Germany, and the United States.
       Schwarzenberg was a path not taken, thwarted by greater powers; the paths that were taken have proven failures: that is certainly one reading of this book -- but Braun is rarely obvious in his presentation, allowing more to be seen and read into it. Where he stands is clear, but his attacks are multi-pronged, a barrage of pin-pricks from unexpected vantage points (the stories or chapters or episodes in the second part are hardly obviously connected). He keeps the reader guessing -- and working: it's not easy reading, but it is literally engaging.

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Das unbesetzte Gebiet: Reviews: Volker Braun: Other books by Volker Braun under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       (East) German poet and dramatist Volker Braun was born in 1939. He has won numerous literary prizes, including the Heinrich Mann Prize, and the Georg Büchner Prize.

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