When the heart calls 1983 a novel

"You have to hang your heart on something that pays off"

Book review:

“You have to hang your heart on something that is rewarding”.

(The history of the Aufbau-Verlag 1945 - 2020)

Konstantin Ulmer, Aufbau-Verlag, 2020

The Aufbau-Verlag, founded in Berlin by the Kulturbund for the democratic renewal of Germany in August 1945, developed into the most important literary publisher in the GDR. In the 75 years of its existence, it has published more than 15,000 titles and thus helped shape German and international literary history.

The author of this fluently written publishing history is Konstantin Ulmer, a recognized expert on the German literary scene. He received his doctorate in 2014 with a work on the sociology of literature on Luchterhand-Verlag, which had developed into the most important partner of the Aufbau-Verlag in the West in the last few years of the GDR.

Starting with the successful connection of the returned authors from exile with those of the Inner Resistance and the appeal to the legacy of classical world literature, he introduces the most important authors and publishing staff who shaped and defied the Aufbau publishing house's program in the following years and decades Many concessions to the political balance of power in the GDR justified its outstanding literary importance, which ultimately made its renaissance after the fall of the Wall possible in the first place.

His claim, "the" Writing the history of the Aufbau-Verlag, however, fails due to the inability to present not only the consequences of the political events in the GDR for the program design, but also the specific legal, economic and institutional foundations and conditions of the business of the Aufbau-Verlag.

He accurately describes the establishment of the Aufbau-Verlag GmbH in 1945 and its acquisition by the Kulturbund, but the general conditions for publishing activities in the later GDR remain largely unexplained.

The open-ended license document with the number 301, with which the Office for Literature and Publishing after the founding of the GDR, the Kulturbund as the sole owner granted the "approval to exercise the publishing activity ... within the framework of the Aufbau-Verlag company", remains unmentioned, although it was up to to abolish the license and printing permit requirement was the condition for the publishing activity and was dutifully stated in every book.

He does not explain why the Kulturbund commissioned the SED's own printing and publishing office from 1951 with the economic direction and administration of the publishing house, although the publishing house was thereby adapted to the planned economy structures and the economic accounting of the state-owned enterprises. It is even more astonishing that the author does not at all appreciate the “Statute for the Aufbau-Verlag, Verlag des Deutschen Kulturbund” issued by the Presidential Council of the Kulturbund on January 1st, 1961. In it, the legal, organizational and economic structure of the publishing house in the GDR, its working method, the cooperation with the authors and the tasks of the publishing house management were determined in a binding manner. This "basic document for publishing work" (DKV) was supplemented in February 1964 on the occasion of the profiling of the publishing industry in the GDR ordered by the Politburo of the SED by a contract concluded between the Ministry of Culture of the GDR and the Kulturbund, which regulates the economic and ideological administration of the Construction publishing house transferred to the main administration for publishers and bookshops.

In 1955, the Aufbau-Verlag GmbH was deleted from the commercial register B and the publisher was entered in the commercial register C as an “organizational company” of the Kulturbund that was legally equivalent and legally capable of the state-owned companies. Konstantin Ulmer's comments on the fact that the GmbH was “not dissolved at all in the course of the conversion. Structure remained a GmbH of the Kulturbund "are wrong, as the BGH ruled three times between 2008 and 2010.

After the astonishing successes also enumerated by Konstantin Ulmer in the first years of publishing activity, which established the Aufbau-Verlag as an indispensable institution in the German publishing landscape, the legendary publishing director Walter Janka failed in the fifties with his attempt to programmatically and economically at least “die To preserve the indivisibility of German book production ”and to distribute the contemporary literature published by Aufbau-Verlag on both sides of the border. These efforts were not only literarily but also economically motivated. In this way Walter Janka wanted to generate the foreign exchange necessary for the license business with foreign countries. Konstantin Ulmer put the end of these efforts in 1955, but after the SED had refused to found a publishing house, Walter Janka actually planned the establishment of a book distribution company in West Germany, which had already been approved by the ministry, when he was arrested in December 1956 and shortly afterwards in a Stalinist show trial Was sentenced to 5 years in prison.

Konstantin Ulmer talks about the difficulties of the Aufbau publishing house in paying the authors from the West and brings Walter Janka close to the later common pirated prints, which became notorious after 1991 as "plus editions":

“Occasionally Janka was able to take a few thousand West Marks with him from the GDR during his travels and pay them out to West German recipients. But behind the scenes, the cultural officials worked out another solution: “To save foreign currency”, Aufbau simply did not settle some subsequent editions from licensed authors. The purpose of providing readers in the GDR with Western texts justified the means. For many years the license partners had no idea of ​​this continued fraud. Meanwhile, Janka, meanwhile a welcome guest in the dignified villa on Kilchberg, used the personal sympathy to sign a contract for Klaus Mann's controversial novel Mephisto ... "

Ironically, in this book on his own history published by Aufbau-Verlag, Walter Janka, one of the most righteous people of his time, is dishonestly described as a fraud.

I spoke to Walter Janka several times about this topic, who had no problems with the truth, and researched it in the publisher's archive and deny these allegations, because Walter Janka would have immediately noticed and prevented such practices because of the printing permission required for reprints in the GDR .

It is only true that because of the scarce foreign exchange in the GDR, it was difficult to pay the fees in convertible currency. Most of the amounts owed were in East Marks on GDR accounts for a long time. But to the best of my knowledge, Walter Janka did not deceive anyone about these circumstances, and he certainly did not initiate secret “additional editions”, the fees of which were paid not to the authorized authors, but to the SED.

His successor, Klaus Gysi, was, however, like Elmar Faber later, of a different caliber. He narrowed the publisher's program to the party line prescribed by the SED. The Aufbau-Verlag deliberately gave up the until then fruitful part of the philosophy program and drastically reduced the proportion of Western literature. The reorientation of the publishing program towards a “national literature of the GDR” served on the one hand for ideological isolation, on the other hand it was due to the GDR's foreign exchange shortage, which then led to the systematic “plus editions” in the early 1960s.

The “profiling” of the publishing houses, which was prescribed by the Politburo of the SED on January 1, 1964, reduced the entire branch to only 78 licensed publishers, some of which worked in joint companies, but remained legally independent because the Politburo and the Council of Ministers had determined “the Ownership structure remains unchanged ”.

The Aufbau-Verlag of the Kulturbund then became the most important literary publisher in the GDR, as Konstantin Ulmer described in detail and in a very competent manner in terms of the sociology of literature. His broad field encompassed all German literature from its beginnings to the most recent contemporary literature, all foreign literature from antiquity to the present, and literary studies. The Aufbau-Verlag contributed more to the German-German literary exchange than any single publisher in the Federal Republic, including the Luchterhand Verlag, whose edition history Konstantin Ulmer researched so thoroughly.

In 1966 Klaus Gysi became Minister for Culture of the GDR. His successor was long-time editor-in-chief Fritz Georg Voigt, who again expanded the programs of both publishers and carefully opened them to contemporary literature from the “capitalist” countries.

Fritz Georg Voigt had not only edited excellent editions of works of classical literature, but had also brought together some of the most important contemporary writers from the GDR and abroad in the Aufbau-Verlag's program when he fell ill and was finally replaced in 1983 by Elmar Faber as head of the publishing house.

This brought a person to the head of the Aufbau-Verlag who appeared very self-confident towards the higher-level authorities, employees and colleagues, including in the printing companies.

In this publishing story, Elmar Faber is portrayed as a descendant of the cunning Odysseus, who performed heroic deeds “just as cunning as he was risky” in the Aufbau-Verlag or who only told them about them, and always modestly emphasized that he was only doing his moral duty.

Konstantin Ulmer calls the publication of Christoph Hein's book “Horns Ende” a “tactical masterpiece”, although the compulsory printing permit was quickly granted after the censors had proven their right to exist with a few small corrections. Only after the specimen copies arrived did the Culture Department at the Central Committee stop deliveries to the book trade on the instructions of Politburo member Hager. In Faber's autobiography, published by Aufbau-Verlag, and in other books and media, however, the fairy tale was spread that Faber had had this title printed and delivered in a daring hussar piece without permission or even against the will of the SED.

Konstantin Ulmer half-heartedly calls this a legend that "was later rumored". But it is not a legend, but a lie that Faber told himself and added that it was not a heroic deed because he only acted out of self-respect. With his assertions he invents a GDR in which freedom would have been possible if only it had been used like him. In reality he had only waited, because the Aufbau-Verlag was just as powerless as all other publishers at the mercy of censorship. For political reasons, the SED alone did not grant the publishers “freedom”, but “freedom” in which - as the history of literature shows - valuable literature can also be created.

In order to save a bit of Faber's alleged “hussar piece”, Konstantin Ulmer claims that “Aufbau then had a four-digit number of books that landed on Französische Strasse” delivered on their own. ”Even the word“ allegedly ”does not help here: In fact, the approximately 1,000 copies stored in the publishing house were only released for sale after the end of the delivery block, and some of them ended up in bookshops in West Berlin.

In the last quarter of the book there are also interesting views on the sociological classification of the published books in terms of literature, but the book does not offer a thorough review of the publishing history after the fall of the Wall. The ongoing dispute over the ownership of the Aufbau-Verlag and the criminal behavior of the Treuhandanstalt / BVS against the Kulturbund, the publisher and the buyers, but also the no less scandalous behavior of Elmar Faber, and the actual circumstances of the insolvency - not the publisher , but the property-less shell of the Aufbau-Verlagsgruppe GmbH - or the pathetic behavior of the judiciary, are simply accepted as if none of this had anything to do with the Aufbau-Verlag.

If you then ask what remains after 75 years, the banal answer is: "Books and the certainty that many more will follow."

When I was asked what it was about on the 50th anniversary of the founding, my answer was: about the democratic renewal of Germany.

Bernd F. Lunkewitz

August 2020


This entry was posted in General on by Bernd F. Lunkewitz.