Before it came crashing down in 1989, the wall that divided East Germany from the West had stood for a generation. Now, a later generation in the East still bears vestiges of that Cold War separation.
Courtesy of a Fulbright grant, Tweedie (Writing Arts/Rowan Univ.) took a post teaching English composition for a year in what, in former days, was the heart of the communist German Democratic Republic. He was based in Erfurt, once the regional center of the Stasi secret police. Nearby is a Buchenwald memorial. Today, Western influence has seeped into Erfurt; Tweedie notes McDonald’s and American music. The Tweedie family was housed in a dreary concrete prefab apartment. Though he had merely passable language skills, the author nevertheless soon found Germany and Germans to be comfortable and cordial, and he and his family made good friends. Tweedie works hard to find significance in all that happened during the year, from a stolen car to rides on the streetcar. Double beds and dinky Trabant autos serve as analogies for life after the phantom Wall, and there’s further importance to Karl Marx kitsch or participation in an acrobatic circus performance. Readers are led down divergent paths with varied narratives, anecdotes and snapshots. Yet, despite imagination and experience, the author acknowledges the lack of a genre, a form on which to draw—thus, perhaps, the stretched metaphors and his tendency to overwrite (for example, the time he “chortled” at a comment).
Readers may not relish the country or love the people as much as the author confesses he does, but despite the overblown search for meaning, they may enjoy the trolley ride.