Four Questions for Susanne Buddenberg

Susanne Buddenberg/Thomas Henseler: Berlin – Geteilte Stadt. Berlin: Avant-Verlag.

Comic authors Susanne Buddenberg und Thomas Henseler tell five true stories about the Berlin wall in their volume Berlin – Geteilte Stadt. For their book, the two authors interviewed living witnesses, leafed through photo albums and recorded their experiences. Both authors studied at the Potsdam University of Film and Television (HFF) and work in the areas of comics, storyboards and game design.

Your book “Berlin – A City Divided” narrates the period between 1961 and 1989 in five different stories. How did this project come about?

Our researches were very comprehensive and the selection of possible stories very extensive. We discovered the basis of the story of Jan Hildebrandt when we read an interview with his mother that can be consulted in the Berlin Wall Memorial. All five stories of contemporary witnesses were our absolute favourites. When we contacted the living witnesses for the first time, we were very excited about how they would react to an inquiry about telling their stories in comic format, and whether they would say yes. In the beginning, the living witnesses were in fact sceptical, but we built up trust through the interviews and by including them in the work process. The cooperation was very warm and friendly, and we were very happy when we could see the family photo albums. By the way, the fact that the comic was especially directed at a young target group was a central motivation for the living witnesses to give the project their support. And the project would not have been possible without the financial sponsorship of the German Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship (Bundesstiftung zur Aufarbeitung des SED-Diktatur).

How many of the stories’ elements are fictional?

The stories are not fictional, they were researched as exactly as possible. All are based on sources, conversations with living witnesses, photos and historical documents. The portrayal is our artistic interpretation, of course.

One condition for selecting individual stories was that we be able to interview all of the protagonists. Just as the locations are all recognisable in the comic, the figures are, too: they are very much like their originals. One real challenge was the reconstruction of the crime scene in the second story. We had viewed a lot of material and puzzled around for a long time until we were able to put together a comprehensive picture of the situation.

What does your cooperation with Thomas Henseler look like concretely?

Susanne Buddenberg. Foto: Anna SchmelzWe work together from the first idea to completion of the comic projects. The project development is divided into various phases: conception, research, interviews, script development, resolving the images into settings, sketches, page layouts, drawing and colouring. The most exciting part is always the moment when we get to know the living witnesses and their personal perspectives. We then develop the script and the settings. In particular, the resolution of the images into their various settings is an especially intensive process where we are in close dialogue and struggling for each picture, and are trying to find the best possible setting. Some pictures then change yet again, when we optimise the page layout. Only then does Thomas begin with the drawings, and I follow with the greyscale values. We also had the support of historians and other expert consultants during the entire project.

Has your relationship to dealing with history and remembrance changed through your work?

Thomas Henseler. Foto: Anna SchmelzWe seek to make history palpable with our comic projects. Because we are neither historians nor living witnesses, we work out the contexts bit by bit, with studying documentation alternating with conversations with living witnesses. There’s always something to discover that we didn’t know beforehand. That makes one curious and eager for more. So, in this way, for the most part, an idea for a new project arises from the work on the one we’re doing.

Bok tips: 
  • Susanne Buddenberg/Thomas Henseler: Berlin – A City Divided. (english) Berlin: Avant-Verlag. 100 pp.  
  • Susanne Buddenberg/Thomas Henseler: Grenzfall. Berlin: Avant-Verlag. 104 pp.
Rieke Harmsen conducted the interview.
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
November 2012
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