Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier issued the following statement today (13 April) in response to news that Günter Grass had passed away:
In Günter Grass, Germany has lost one of its true greats today. Grass was a father figure for philosophy and literature in the Federal Republic as our country grew to maturity. He was someone who rubbed many people up the wrong way – especially those who wanted to lay the past to rest as quickly as possible. With his narrative clout and his artistic passion, but also his fallibility, his belligerence and his affectionate curmudgeonliness, he embodied more than just Germany’s literature. Stonemason, artist and man of letters, he said humans were like crooked trees, hard to bend; he knew that change could only be wrought with great effort. He was second to none in the way he put in that effort – in his books, his art and his life.
The Nobel Prize he was awarded in 1999 thus also honoured German literature and the fact it had once more found its voice, and it honoured our country, which had found itself in Grass' work.
Grass always saw the literary as political. Nobel laureate though he was, he did not consider himself above the daily grind of civic participation. To him, it was every citizen’s indisputable duty to take an argumentative role in public political debates, to stand up for his convictions and to accept that this meant he would be seen as controversial. He stood up for minority rights, social justice and democracy like no other German artist. Born in Danzig, now Gdansk, he was always certain that Germany could have no future in Europe without successfully seeking reconciliation with Poland. He supported Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik right from the start, promoting it and defending it against those who wanted to impose as standard their own limited black and white view of the world.
For me personally, the passing of Günter Grass means the loss of a treasured fellow traveller and political comrade-in-arms. We recently launched a European writers conference together where we passionately advocated the essential need to have and to shape a Europe for the future. I was delighted to hear that he later invited the young authors who had attended the conference to visit him at home. As we could not have known at the time, he was thereby handing on the baton of the politically engaged writer.
This great citizen of Lübeck will not now witness the day when the G7 Foreign Ministers meet in his city to help shape current global politics. But he lives on in the works he produced, and through them his critical eye will continue to scrutinise our actions.