Abstract

Between 1964 and 1968, the writer-members of the East and West German chapters of PEN International tried to set up cross-border literary initiatives, relying on the Contact Committee ( Ständiger Verbindungsausschuss ). The chapters had different visions of the Committee from the outset; neither group had many resources to devote to it. In the end, after a few successful literary evenings on both sides of the relatively new Wall, political pressures forced the East German PEN leaders to abandon the enterprise. The West Germans protested, but acquiesced. Yet the Contact Committee’s short, problematic, surprisingly successful existence offers a way of reassessing European and German–German cultural politics at the midpoint of the Cold War. A study of the Contact Committee complicates our understanding of cultural diplomacy; of the divisions and distinctions between East and West, national and international, the cultural and the political. It requires reassessment of the efforts of intellectuals to claim political legitimacy on both sides of the Wall. Additionally, the Contact Committee provides a vantage point for examining the ways the Iron Curtain was ‘made’—or, as this episode demonstrates, made, unmade, remade, then reached across—at a level distinct from the ‘Wall in the head’, high politics, or belles-lettres .

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