Paul Wiens

Third on my list of corrupt GDR writers is Paul Wiens, a German-Jewish poet, translator, editor, and author of radio plays and screenplays. He was a well-known, well-connected writer and communist party loyalist, who was also an extremely productive informant. A significant number of his East German writer colleagues strongly suspected that he was working with the Stasi, and this had led many of them to dislike him and avoid his company. The words that best describe his behavior as an unofficial collaborator are unscrupulous and amoral. At the conclusion of this piece my reasons for choosing these harsh descriptors will be apparent.

            The very first informant’s report in my file is dated November 25, 1975. It focuses on my activities during my stay in East Berlin in November 1975, when I began visiting and interviewing GDR writers while residing at the Hotel Berolina. These activities, which had the tacit approval of the GDR Writers’ Union, were related to a major book project I was doing on GDR literature in the 1970s. The report was prepared by a Stasi officer, Captain Rolf Pönig, and based in part on information he had received from IME “Dichter” (Poet), a trusted collaborator whose real name was Paul Wiens. It contains information about the purpose and nature of my project, the names of a number of authors I had already interviewed using a portable tape recorder my writer friend Ulrich Plenzdorf had lent me. And the report also reveals how I was planning to transport the tape recordings from East to West Berlin: “In order to avoid possible difficulties at border controls, Dr. Zipser indicated that he could have the tape recordings sent to the FRG via his embassy.” I should mention that the Writers’ Union officials had stipulated that my interviews and conversations with GDR authors were to be conducted without a sound recorder, as Pönig noted for the record in his report.

           I first met Wiens on November 23, 1975 while visiting and interviewing his wife, Irmtraud Morgner, the prominent feminist prose writer who had published a landmark novel in 1974 (Leben und Abenteuer der Trobadora Beatriz / The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice). He was present and listening attentively during our preliminary conversation and throughout the taping of the interview. Morgner, obviously embarrassed that I had contacted her but not approached Wiens in connection with my project, insisted that I include him, which I readily agreed to do. My reward for being so accommodating was ready by the time we concluded the interview. Wiens enjoyed doing pen and ink drawings, and he personalized one he had done of a cat for me while I was conversing with his wife. In this unusual sketch, for which he used blue ink, a sort of cubist cat can be seen sitting upright, its head and face oriented toward the viewer. The cat appears to be composed of three superimposed pieces, each a loop with two sharp points, very weapon-like and menacing. In front of the cat there is a spool of wire leading to a device of some sort, possibly a tape recorder. I think Wiens added the spool while I was conducting the interview. Toward the top of the spool there are two loops that look like Zs—the rounded sort of capital Z one finds in my signature. Beneath the Zs there is a final loop that looks like an S. What does the S signify? Possibly Spion (Spy), what Wiens was and what he thought I might be. Wiens gave me this unique gift as a memento of my visit and the pleasant hours the three of us spent together. I have enjoyed examining it closely and thinking about its creator’s intent while writing this piece.

           But let me focus again on Wiens’s activities as an informant, for which he received several GDR state awards. Not only did he work with the Stasi from the 1960s until his sudden death in April 1982, he also worked repeatedly for the Soviet KGB. According to former GDR writer Joachim Walther in his monumental work, Sicherungsbereich Literatur / Security Zone Literature (Berlin: Ch. Links, 1996, 709 ff.), he provided detailed denunciatory information on writers from East and West and reported on international writers’ meetings in the Soviet Union, Hungary and Yugoslavia. He also provided reports on an astonishing number of his East German author colleagues, West German writers Heinrich Böll and Günter Grass, Russian Nobel Prize laureates Andrei Sakharov and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and other German, Austrian, French, Hungarian, Yugoslavian and Soviet authors. The alphabetical list of these individuals in Walther’s book has more than sixty names on it. I am the sole American. (598)

            Paul Wiens spent his childhood in Berlin until his Jewish mother and he emigrated to Switzerland in 1933. After the end of World War II, he returned in 1947 to Berlin where he worked as an editor and translation editor at Aufbau-Verlag until 1950. From 1952 onwards, following the publication of his first poems and youth songs, he became a freelance writer. He wrote mainly poetry and texts for group songs with political messages, as well as screenplays. Even though Wiens was a mediocre writer, he was the recipient of several remunerated GDR book prizes and the National Prize of the German Democratic Republic. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal of the National People’s Army three times (in Bronze, Silver, and Gold). Also, he twice was awarded the Patriotic Order of Merit for his outstanding contributions to the GDR state and society. And, in 1980 the Stasi recognized his excellent work as an informant by awarding him the bronze Brotherhood in Arms medal, a military honor usually reserved for persons in the armed services. From 1961 to 1969 Wiens was chairman of the Berlin district association of the GDR Writers’ Union. At the end of 1981, he was appointed editor-in-chief of the influential literary journal Sinn und Form, a position he held from the beginning of January 1982 until his death in April of that year at age 59. After his death Wiens’ writings gradually and predictably drifted into obscurity. What remains and what legitimately could be called his legacy are file records of the work he did for the Stasi and all the reports he wrote as an informant.

            Wiens provided the information for the final report in my file for 1977, which is dated December 30. The report, which again was prepared by Captain Pönig, summarizes what transpired in Wiens’ meetings with the American Germanist Zipser on December 8 and December 15, 1977. A memo attached to the report, dated January 5, 1978, indicates that Pönig received the information from IME “Dichter,” who is known to be a reliable source. Below are some excerpts from this report, which contains no information of earth-shaking importance.

Regarding the transcript of the tape recorded interview he and I did for my book project:

During the first meeting ZIPSER asked the unofficial collaborator to review his contribution to ZIPSER’s book on GDR literature with regard to its correctness and accuracy in representing the unofficial collaborator’s views.

ZIPSER stated to the unofficial collaborator that, as far as possible, he ought not to make any modifications. He said he has experienced major difficulties with a number of writers lately. The reason for this is because he conducted interviews with writers primarily at the end of 1975 and in the first half of 1976. In the aftermath of the Biermann affair many of them now want to rewrite their contributions. [The “Biermann affair” reference is to the wave of protests by leading intellectuals that occurred after GDR authorities expatriated popular dissident poet songwriter Wolf Biermann in November 1976.]

[…]

The unofficial collaborator told ZIPSER that he is not one of those persons who change their opinion at every opportunity. If ZIPSER has represented his views correctly, he will not make any changes. It was agreed that ZIPSER can return to pick up the unofficial collaborator’s contribution on 12/15/1977, after the unofficial collaborator has reviewed it.

Regarding the publication of my book manuscript and my return to Berlin in May 1978, in order to finalize work on my project:

[…] ZIPSER offered the following comments on his literary project:
This book will not be published initially in the English language in the USA, but rather in German by a FRG [West German] publishing house. In order to finalize the work on this manuscript, he will return to the GDR on 5/15/1978. The unofficial collaborator commented that this ought not to be a burden to him and that a serious collaboration also demands a certain honesty, since ZIPSER chose this date in order to be in Berlin during the 8th Writers Congress. After the unofficial collaborator made this direct reference, ZIPSER confirmed that it is his intention to confer with as many GDR writers as possible during the Writers Congress.

Regarding assistance I received from my friend, writer Ulrich Plenzdorf:

ZIPSER mentioned further that Ulrich PLENZDORF has given him much assistance with this book project and that he sometimes stays at his countryside cottage. The working conditions are very favorable for him at PLENZDORF’s home in [blacked out], he said.

Zipser promised to get in touch with the unofficial collaborator in 1978, after he returns to the GDR.

In my conclusion to this piece, I want to put the spotlight once again on Paul Wiens’ reprehensible second

career in the service of the Stasi. The poet was not only an informant in his professional life, he was also active as an informer in his private life. In his IM-file, according to Joachim Walther, there are private letters from the year 1972 to Irmtraud Morgner, to whom Wiens was married from 1971 on, with the notation: “From ‘Poet,’ hand over at meeting.” (598) We now have evidence that Wiens was also secretly informing on his wife, who divorced him in 1977. His behavior was appallingly unscrupulous and amoral as well.

%d bloggers like this: