Books that are well-informed, well-written and well-timed are rare commodities. It is disappointing that Michael Simmons’s sketch of East Germany, or rather the German Democratic Republic (GDR) – depending on which side of the fence (perhaps ‘wall’ in this case) you come down on – is mainly well-timed. Originally conceived to coincide with the fortieth anniversary of the GDR, Simmons and his publishers are probably a great deal happier with recent developments than Erich Honecker, but The Unloved Country would have been a much better book if it was twice as long and had probably just missed the 42nd or 43rd anniversary.
In fact nothing is clearer from The Unloved Country than that 1949, when mythically the phoenix of German Communism rose from the ashes, was an arbitrary and insignificant punctuation mark in German history. It would have been equally appropriate to publish on the anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which so decisively shaped the post-war settlement, or on the anniversary of the doomed ‘Sparticist’ revolution in 1919 and the deaths of Luxemburg and Liebknecht. Perhaps the most significant date, as acknowledged by the East German authorities, was after all the SOOth anniversary of Martin Luther’s birth (1483). The complex algebra of Protestantism, Prussian nationalism and Proletarianism is barely alluded to, the unsolved terms of the equation left hanging in mid-air.
The thematic design of The Unloved Country is ambitious enough, the first part interleaving a periodic history of Marxism from Hegel to Honecker with journalistic impressions of key sites and monuments of German history. In one way this is neat enough and accomplishes the purpose of combining narrative with guidebook-style