GITTERSEE by Charlotte Gneuß wins Jürgen Ponto Debut Prize 2023

This book got me so excited from page one and I could not put it down. I thought I had read everything and every way there was to write about how it was to grow up in the GDR. But Charlotte Gneuß finds a whole new voice! Once a year, the Jürgen Ponto Foundation awards their literary prize to young authors who are working on their first book manuscript and show special literary talent. I guess they see what I see 🙂

„Charlotte Gneuss effortlessly points out that the former (East) German Democratic Republic is not yet finished. In a literary autumn of impressive debuts, Gittersee (…) shows deep entanglements, grave moments, miniatures drifting apart with just a few strokes. At stake are first love, great care, innocence, betrayal and loyalty. Gneuss, who can now be counted among the best of the youngest generation of German-language authors (…) narrates the difficult field of individual history, state doctrine and the desire for freedom from a surprising perspective. The 16-year-old Karin experiences what it means to find one’s role within an opaque, threatening system. (…) The lives we roam in Gittersee as readers never leave us. The open ending of the book and the unscripted survival of the protagonists are cliffhangers into our destabilised present.“ – the jury

The year is 1976 in the GDR. Karin, 16, lives in Dresden’s workingclass suburb of Gittersee, where she looks after her toddler sister and helps her obstinate grandmother around the house, who is still lamenting the end of her time in the Wehrmacht. Karin’s father is struggling to keep his Skoda and family life running, while her mother wishes she had a different existence altogether. Karin’s only confidante is her friend Marie, a girl with big dreams: she wants to be the first woman on the moon. Karin is also head over heels in love with her boyfriend Paul, who aspires to be an artist but works in the mines. When Paul takes off on a weekend outing and doesn’t come back, two policemen turn up at Karin’s door asking his whereabouts. Her world is turned upside down and in her confusion, she seeks support from the attractive policeman Wickwalz. He in turn persuades her to inform on her family and friends as an unofficial collaborator. When she realises she’s been betrayed by Wickwalz, she takes drastic measures to break free again.

 “Does that sound familiar? Your heart is burning, but you’re pretending it never burned? Charlotte Gneuss’s heart is a lonely hunter.” Monika Helfer

Charlotte Gneuss was born in Ludwigsburg in 1992, studied social work in Dresden, creative writing in Leipzig and writing for the stage in Berlin. She has published her work in literary magazines, is a guest writer for ZEIT Online, and has been invited to literary workshops by the Jürgen Ponto Foundation and the Kölner Schmiede. She is also the winner of the Leonhard Frank Scholarship for New Drama and the editor of the anthology Glückwunsch, published by Hanser Berlin. Gneuss’ work repeatedly returns to the GDR – the reality and utopia of the country where her parents grew up, but which no longer exists.

Previous winners of the Jürgen Ponto Foundation’s Literary Prize include Sasha Marianna Salzmann, Deniz Ohde, Kim de l’Horizon and Miku Sophie Kühmel.