The Stasi Poetry Circle: Interview with Philip Oltermann

July 13, 2022, 12 p.m. PDT

 

Berlin, 1982. Morale is at rock bottom in East Germany as the specter of all-out nuclear war looms. The Ministry for State Security is hunting for creative new weapons in the war against the class enemy – and their solution is stranger than fiction. Rather than guns, tanks, or bombs, the Stasi develop a program to fight capitalism through rhyme and verse, winning the culture war through poetry – and the result is the most bizarre book club in history. But as the agents involved became steeped in poetry and reveled in its imaginative ambiguity, the program took a strange turn. Rather than entrenching State ideology, they began to question it, and the GDR’s secret weapon dramatically backfired.

Philip Oltermann was born in Schleswig-Holstein in 1981, moved to England when he was 16, and went on to study English and German literature at Oxford University and University College London. He now lives in Berlin with his family. As a journalist, he has written for GrantaThe LRB, and The Guardian, for whom he is the Berlin Bureau Chief. He is the author of Keeping Up with the Germans (2012) and tweets at @philipoltermann.

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