Maxie Wander

January 3, 1933, Vienna, Austria - November 20, 1977, Kleinmachnow near Berlin

Maxie Wander, the daughter of a Viennese petrol station attendant, was born in 1933. She faced academic disappointment as a student and embarked on a multitude of different careers in an attempt to find her vocation. Thus, she left the school at the age of seventeen, and did a number of jobs as a secretary, a reporter, a factory worker before turning to writing. She wrote for newspapers and films and published short stories.

In 1958, she moved to GDR with her husband Fred Wander. This move was largely motivated by Fred Wander’s experience as a Holocaust survivor and bound up with the anti-fascist founding myth of the GDR. In the couple’s view, both Austria and West Germany lacked sufficiently strong anti-fascist conviction.

Living in East Berlin, the couple brought up three children, wrote travel books and did journalistic work. They were part of a large artistic circle and particularly close friends with Christa Wolf and Gerhard Wolf. In the midst of all this domestic activity, however, Maxie would retreat to her garden as often as she could and sit in her wooden chair with a typewriter on her lap and type her reflections and ruminations on her life as she was living it.

In the early and mid-1970s, Maxie Wander conducted a large number of interviews with women of all ages and from all walks of life. Then, in 1975, she completed the gatherings and started editing these. In 1977, a volume, titled, Guten Morgen, du Schöne – Frauen in der DDR: Protokolle (Good morning, my lovely – Women in the GDR: Transcripts). This book altered the literary landscape at a single stroke.

Women had never before been heard to speak with such openness and vitality. In these conversations, they speak with brilliance and linguistic power about their lives, the way they were brought up (most of them in GDR era), their new families, work and sexuality, as well as their unfulfilled longings and aspirations. Through the medium of speech they explore areas of life they never explored before, evoking new possibilities of living together or alone by bringing the lives they had lived in the past to the full light of consciousness. Hardly any work says as much about the GDR as Maxie Wander’s volume of transcripts.

The same year when her noted work published, she fell ill with cancer. She died of cancer in 1977 in Berlin. In 1979, her widower Fred Wander published some of her diaries and letters Tagebücher und Briefe, later re-issued as Leben wär eine prima Alternative (Life would be a great Alternative). It is a diary-like chronicle of her struggle with cancer. In 1996 more material followed under the title: Ein Leben ist nicht genug (One Life is not enough).

With reference to her most famous work Guten Morgen, Du Schöne, it could be said that, Wander’s unique contribution was to empower her discussion partners to discover their own voices. While her questions were not directly recorded, her presence as an engaged interviewer is reflected in her subject’s responses.

The voice of the interlocutor or interviewer of these women is not explicitly there, although it can be deduced from various asides and modes of address in the texts. It is thus less the book’s content (i.e. aspects of GDR society that were rarely talked about before) but rather the intensity of its articulation of these themes that make it outstanding.