Volker Braun was born in Dresden on the 7th of May 1939. After he finished school he was refused entry to university, he then worked in a printing firm, in civil engineering for the collective combine Schwarze Pumpe, and as a machine operator. From 1960 to 1964 he studied philosophy in Leipzig, in 1965 Helene Weigel called him to the Berliner Ensemble, where his first play Die Kipper was staged and then prohibited. From 1972 to 1977 he worked at the Deutsches Theater Berlin and from ’79 to ’90 again at the Berliner Ensemble. Volker Braun received numerous prizes, he lives as a writer in Berlin.
Volker Braun is a political poet with very distinct aesthetic qualities, and the significance of his writing extends to all genres. He was one of the most exciting voices of the “dramatic” life in the GDR of the sixties and seventies. His novel Hinze-Kunze-Roman, a satirical description of GDR-reality, is a showpiece of German prose.
When he was awarded the Büchner Preis in 2000, it was confirmed: “What Heiner Müller means for the history of German drama, Volker Braun means for the history of poetry.”
His extensive oeuvre is many-faceted but centers around the question of political emancipation. In the GDR he criticized the way of “real socialism”, but he never gave up hope that some day - also by means of literature - much could be changed for the better within the GDR. His works were mostly published, censured and shortened, and with considerable delay. From 1975 on Braun was kept under permanent surveillance by the secret police. But despite his confrontation with the reality of the GDR, he considered this state to be the better one of the two German states. As far as the “growing together” of the two states is concerned, Volker Braun remains sceptical till today.
Particularly with his poetic work Braun has become one of the outstanding writers of our times. The lyrical-socialist “I” in Braun’s poems identifies with a possibility that never became reality in the GDR. The discrepancy between Utopia and real socialism is not being described from the outside but is being expressed within the language itself - different voices are speaking, they are playing with different rethorical figures and existential attitudes, sometimes emphasized by capital letters.
The literary principle of his work lies in the friction, the disturbance, be it cast into free form, collage or classical verse. The inherent dialectical relation creates a language which allows Volker Braun to move from abstract concepts of markets and wars to indivdual biography like no other.
In his poems literary and German history as well as the author’s biography are woven together: references, fragments, slogans and verses of other poets; hardly a poem that doesn’t quote Goethe, Hölderlin or Rimbaud, Che Guevara, Marx or Hegel, that doesn’t refer to Brecht, Büchner or Kafka.
Walter Benjamin in the Pyrenees
Woken out of Dogmatic Slumber
O Chicago! O Dialectic!
The Theater of the Dead
The Hill of the Dead
Following the masacre of the illusions
On Lyrikline you can find additional information (in German) about Volker Braun and hear him read his poems.