Tellkamp, who wrote the novel The Tower (2008), had said during a discussion with the poet Durs Grünbein in Dresden: “Most [migrants] do not flee from war and persecution, but come here to immigrate to the welfare system, over 95 percent of them.”
The conversation, organised under the slogan Streitbar by the Saxon newspaper, focused on the migrant crisis and freedom of expression. Several hundred spectators in the Dresden Palace of Culture followed the exchange of blows between Tellkamp and Grünbein. German publishing house Suhrkamp is generally acknowledged as one of the leading European publishers of literature.
The Tower, Uwe Tellkamp’s mammoth saga of middle-class family life in the German Democratic Republic was the winner of the German Book Prize. It is a 1000-page chronicle of a medical and literary clan in 1980s Dresden, representing the crumbling professional elite of Marxist-socialist Saxony. It follows the family, shortly before 1989, reconstructing everyday life in the German Democratic Republic, portrayed as a hyper-bureaucratic police state, farcical and sinister.
The novel describes shortages of underwear, power cuts and mounting suicides; a place where you exchange handwritten notes in a face-to-face conversation because someone might be listening in.
In 2008, Tellkamp won the German Book Prize for The Tower. He has also won numerous regional prizes for poetry, as well as the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize.
Recently, Tellkamp had warned against Merkel’s “political dictatorship” and complained that in Germany freedom of expression is being eroded. Both Tellkamp and Grünbein are native Dresdners and are considered very opinionated. In contrast to Tellkamp, Grünbein defended the refugee policy of the Federal Government.
Tellkamp had lost a place to study medicine in Dresden because of his “political unreliability” and was arrested in 1989 by the communist authorities of the DDR. When enlisted in the National People’s Army as a tank commander, he was imprisoned when he refused to break up a demonstration in October 1989.
The reason for the debate between Uwe Tellkamp and Durs Grünbein was the events at the Frankfurt Book Fair last autumn. The Börsenverein as operator of the book fair had given a podium to conservative and right-wing publishers, had collected stand fees and event costs from them, but then supported protesters against conservative publishers and authors.
In response, the Dresden-based bookseller Susanne Dagen had published the “Charter 2017” which states: “Regarding the events at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the stands of publishers whose programmatic orientation had been declared in advance to the Börsenverein, were destroyed. It does not fit in with an open and tolerant society and is unworthy of a free intellectual life. ”
Along with Uwe Tellkamp, the first signatories included other German authors Cora Stephan, Alexander Wendt and Vera Lengsfeld.