Myth of Russia in German Culture

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The book also lists Europeans’ general modern associations with Russia, among which: imperial mindset, imperial ambitions, the annexation of Crimea, Russia being responsible for the war in Donbass, the Ukrainian conflict. The very title of the book Understanding Russia hints at the word “Putinversteher” (Putin’s supporter), which has already attained negative coloring. Those trying to understand Putin and Russia on the whole instantly become enemies.

The word Putinversteher is also used in the title of the book by M. Bröckers and P. Schreyer Wir sind die Guten: Ansichten eines Putinverstehers oder wie uns die Medien manipulieren (We are the good guys: views of a Putinist or how the media manipulate us) also dedicated to the events in Ukraine. In the book journalists comment on the western reality – a black and white film where all the characters are divided into the good (the USA, the EU, NATO) and the bad ones (Russia, Putin) [7:8]. All that is happening in Russia and that the Germans cannot understand due to the lack of context breeds the image of the enemy, which, it seemed, had disappeared back in the late 80s. In their books M. Bröckers, P. Schreyer and G. Krone-Schmalz try to contrast demonizing Russia with something material and tangible. They take their mission as journalists seriously and document the facts not asking who is good and who is evil under these circumstances.

“The Russian theme” was widely covered in German literary works and op-ed articles of the 20th and 21st centuries. The theme was especially acute in the 20s, the post-war period and the beginning of perestroika. In the 21st century a desire remains to get to know the “unofficial” Russia, which the Western media only gives glimpses of. Russia’s image gets more and more complex. Authors share their impressions of Russia they got first-hand in the country itself. They follow Wolfgang Koeppen’s tradition, who tried to create an objective image of Russia back in the 50s. In the book To Russia and Elsewhere. A sentimental journey (1958) besides intrinsic structural elements like a land with no end in sight, piercing cold, a sledge, a fur hat, the Russian troika, vodka, caviar, the Volga, balalaika,  gold-domed churches, new elements are introduced, among them Rasputin, the Romanovs, the Russian theatre, Stanislavski, Meyerhold, Dead Souls, Crime and Punishment, Tolstoy, Gorky, World War II, Stalingrad, construction site, the Iron Curtain, soulless planned beauty, the philistine idyll of capital museums and veneration of poets [8:124].

However, despite their quest for neutrality the authors still created a fairytale image of Russia. In this respect they carry on Friedrich Spielhagen’s tradition. But whereas he talks about Russian people living in sparkling ice castles, modern authors write about golden domes of churches, wooden cabins, carved window surrounds. Fabulousness and irrationality are crucial structural elements of the Russian image by Marian Ershova, who devoted much of her work to the Russian theme. In her works Russia is contrasted with the Western world. The writer believes that absolutely everything is different in these two realities. Russia has no limits. It is a sea rather than land. The sea is blue. And its blueness is familiar or at least it seems familiar, as if someone promised to paint a picture in such blue hues [9: 5]. But with this vastness come motifs of abandonment and loneliness. Russia is a lost country, a dismal and dreary territory. But dullness and dismal are inconsistent with Russian people’s image. They possess a unique trait of character – they solve all the problems masterly and have an incredible sense of humor.

Austrian novelist, whose works are well-known in Germany, is directly connected with Russia. She lived in Moscow for 12 years, started a family here, learnt all the peculiarities of the Russian character which Europeans find so hard to understand and of “the Russian soul” that is caught right between two extremes – official and unofficial Russia. In her novella The Wind from the East (1991), novels Sweet Country – Bitter Country (1990), (Do not) Forget Russia (2009), and travel notes Air Castles and Ice Palaces (1995) the author tries to break stereotypes about Russia.

Ershova’s beloved characters are educated, selfless and loving women. These traits are attributed to the general image of a Russian person. The emotional tone in the narrative is maintained by using superlatives. The writer is amazed by the widest streets, the biggest stadium, and the most extensive underground network. At the same time, she does not mind sometimes excessive use of a diminutive-hypocoristic suffix –chen. With its help Ershova conveys her warm attitude to the people and things around her, demonstrates how tiny, fabulous, cute, helpless, and abandoned they are.  The author also emphasizes the particular nature of the language and people, who can talk about everything tenderly.

The concept of Russia in Ershova’s works includes such elements as cabin, small village, turret, grove, kindergarten, chapel, creek, hummock, as well as the great wide open, Volga-Matushka (Mother Volga), Father Baikal, red rowan berries, poverty, kommunalka (communal flat), Vysotsky, hospitality, dacha, art of survival, incomprehensible way of thinking, contrasts, unpredictability, Stalin, KGB, perestroika, coercion measures, freedom-bred chaos, mafia, downfall, Chechnya, bureaucracy, people’s optimism, sense of humor, friendship, selfless women. 

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