The mietshaus in Brigitte Burmeister's novel Unter dem Namen Norma : a German microcosm : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in German at Massey University
This thesis examines the East Berlin tenement block in Brigitte Burmeister's novel Unter dem Namen Norma, and its symbolic function as an archive of the German condition from the Wilhelminian era to the present. Situated on the corner of Marienstraβe and Luisenstraβe (an extension of Wilhelmstraβe, where many government offices have been and will once again be housed), the house is a cornerstone of Germany, past and present. The narrator of the novel, Marianne Arends, ponders the actions and consequences of these past tenants, combining their experiences with her own imagination to reassure herself of her identity at a time when the socialist society in which she grew up is being replaced by the capitalist system of the West. Brigitte Burmeister's book echoes the themes of Alexander and Margarete Mitscherlich's book Die Unfähigkeit zu trauern as she looks at the way people deal with, or fail to deal with, their past. The same is true for her criticism of stereotypes. A similar link is established between the values shown by Brigitte Burmeister, and the ideas and beliefs of Christa Wolf, to whose work many parallels are drawn. The link between the suspected Stasi informer in Norma and Christa Wolf's own Stasi codename reaffirms this. Along with the Stasi story she makes up, Marianne creates two fictional characters, a 'zweites ich', Norma, who admits truths that Marianne cannot yet bring herself to accept, and a daughter, Emilia, who represents hope for the future. To emphasise the themes of Norma, many images reoccur throughout the novel, and the use of leitmotifs is particularly noteworthy. True to the cyclic pattern of the book, the leitmotifs point back to the central image of the novel: the tenement block.