Talk to Anne Gesthuysen and Benedict Wintgens

New series of talks at the NRW History House
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History (s) overlooking the Rhine

In the series of talks of the same name at the House of History in Düsseldorf, literature about the region is combined with the history of Rhenish.

The anniversary exhibition “Our Country – 75 Years North Rhine-Westphalia” at Behrensbau in Mannesmannufer is accompanied by the discussion series “History (s) overlooking the Rhine”. Invited to the first event were journalist and author Anne Gesthuysen and historian and political scientist Benedikt Wintgens, the panel was moderated by Rebecca Link (WDR5).

In his introduction, Hans Walter Hütter, Chairman of the Presidium of the Foundation of the Federal Republic of Germany, House of History, highlighted the evening question: To what extent can novels with historical content play a role in the historical awareness of the population? Maybe they are just building a supposed reality? Starting with “We Were Sisters” (2012), Anne Gesthuysen became famous through several post-war books based on her family history. “My first came by chance,” she said. “I did not intend to write a historical novel.” Her three aunts from Lower Rhine were models, who all lived over 100 years of intellectual freshness. “Many things are fictitious, but supported by research. On the other hand, the politician and member of parliament of the CDU state that I describe in the novel, really existed. He was married, had a long extramarital affair with one of my aunts. “

In the chapter she was reading, “Body in the Basement”, the author describes an episode shortly before the end of the war. On March 22, 1945, the English crossed the Rhine near Xanten, Winston Churchill was there and observed the troops. That day, the family finds a severely wounded young soldier, who was sheltered in the basement and died there.

“In these thrilling scenes of a historic cesarean, Lower Rhine and world politics are intertwined,” commented Benedict Wintgens. He too has made post-war history his theme. He wrote his dissertation on the novel “Das Treibhaus”, part of Wolfgang Koeppen’s “Failure Trilogy” (1953). “The writer explored the question of how a new beginning can succeed in a devastated country and how a democratic community can grow from it,” Wintgens said. “Basically, though, the book is a brutal satire on politics.” Both his dissertation and his scientific museum work required absolute accuracy of facts, he said. But historical novels do not necessarily lead in the wrong direction. I recommend Anne Gesthuysen’s books to anyone who wants to read about everyday life in post-war Germany.

The author reported on the desire to research: “I studied journalism, I can do it.” She enjoys the luxury of being able to choose and shape her characters. “You unite a world and if a part is missing, I replace it with fiction. That way, I can look forward to a friendlier time. ” After “Sei mir ein Vater” (2015) and “Mädelsabend” (2018), her new work “We are finally who” for a young pastor in the Lower Rhine is currently. climbing the bestseller lists. Anne Gesthuysen also grew up there in a small village. The trail lasts for a lifetime, including that of the church. “I went in and out and found that I could not get out of it completely,” she says. “It also has to do with belonging, a village must stay together. The church ensures homogeneity and is conducive to social control. ”

Asked about the prevailing themes of NRW for 75 years, Benedikt Wintgens answered with four key words: “Urban and rural coexistence, inclusion in the European area, symbolized by the Rhine. Then immigrants and structural change in an industrial region. ” Anne Gesthuysen recalled the strong movements coming from the village. For example, anti-nuclear demonstrations or violence by the RAF. The names and shots of the terrorists at the gas stations burned her when she was a child.

In the end, Rebecca Link wanted to know if her guests felt comfortable. Gesthuysen, who had repeatedly stated that she did not write historical novels, it was a great honor, reacted immediately: “I feel overrated, but comfortable.”

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