And When We Arrived at the Shore

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Wolf Biermann at a city festival, Hamburg, West Germany, 1977. Image credit: MoSchle / CC BY-SA 3.0

And when we arrived at the shore
And were long sitting in the boat
Then it was we saw the sky
Most beautifully in the water
And through the pear trees flew
A few little fish. The plane swam
Straight across the lake and gently
Crashed into the willow trunk
— into the willow trunk

What shall ever become of our dreams
In this torn land
The wounds just won’t seal
Under the filthy bandage
And what shall become of our friends
And what of you, and what of me —
I’d much prefer to be elsewhere
And much prefer to stay
— much prefer to stay

— Wolf Biermann
(Trans. by Peter Lach-Newinsky)

East German dissident Wolf Biermann grew up in Hamburg, where his parents were members of the Communist Party. In 1939, his father, Dagobert Biermann, was sentenced to six years for sabotaging Nazi ships; in 1942, Dagobert was sent to Auschwitz, where he was subsequently murdered (February 22, 1943). Wolf remained in Hamburg with his mother for the duration of World War II. After the war, when he was 17, Wolf emigrated to East Germany to study political economy and mathematics. He began to write poetry and songs in 1960, but in 1962 was banned from performing because of his criticism of the government. After several months, he was given permission to perform in public, but soon lost it again. In November 1976, Wolf was allowed to tour West Germany, but after his first concert, was informed that his citizenship had been revoked for “denigrating his country and the socialist cause.” He was not permitted to return to East Germany until reunification.

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