Comic book author Birgit Vaye: It’s Paradise Cold
Birgit Vaye combines avant-garde comics with the African language of forms. In Madgermanes [“Majermans”], she captured the story of the Mozambican workers in the GDR. They were promised education, but they received only casual work. After 17 hours, they were supposed to stay in their dormitories, women and men were housed separately, and communication with the locals was not welcome. Pregnant women had to have an abortion, or they were sent back, and half of their earnings were sent to Mozambique to guarantee their subsequent return to their homeland. So in the 1980s there were about 20,000 contract workers from Mozambique – they were called the “Majermans”: apparently, intentionally distorting the phrase “Made in Germany” in the socialist fraternal country of the GDR. A Special Chapter There is one special chapter in the history of the German Democratic Republic going down, which Birgit Vaye reveals in Madgermanes. As in many stories about the GDR, the tragic and the absurd are next to each other. “They took off in response to a promise that they would go to heaven and learn something,” says Birgit Vaye, a German artist and comic book author born in 1969 who grew up in East Africa and came to Germany to study only at the age of 19 years. Therefore, she has no problem reproducing the first impressions of the Mozambicans: “It is interesting that most of them arrived in the winter, everything was gray, cold and devoid of colors, and the Germans were closed. They immediately wanted to go back, but they signed a contract for four years and got a job that did not interest them at all. ” Great was the disappointment of the Mozambicans who were seconded to the VEB Gummiwerken enterprise for the production of rubber heating pads – this was not a task that would later open up professional prospects for them in their homeland. Three biographies Initially, Birgit Vaye planned to make this material in the form of a report. But after the first interviews, she found herself hearing the same stories over and over again. Vaye squeezed numerous life stories recorded in Mozambique and Germany into three exemplary biographies: Jose Antonio Mugande, a romantic and communist who believes in a better future as a teacher and ultimately returns home with a broken heart. Bonvivan Basilio Fernando Matola is more interested in German women than his professional growth, and almost does not think about the future. Anabella Mbaneze Rai, thanks to her intelligence and endurance, was able to leave with VEB Gummiwerke and began to study medicine; Today she lives in Germany and works as a doctor. The stories of these three differently depicted characters are interconnected: José and Basilio lived in the same dormitory, and Anabella was José’s friend until she became pregnant and had an abortion without his knowledge in order to stay in the GDR. So Birgit Vaye creates a microcosm that is so believable that there is not even a question of documentary reliability. In Madgermanes, which was recently awarded the most important German comic book award (Max and Moritz Prize for the best German-language comic book), Birgit Vaye tells the same story from three different points of view and thus covers topics of exclusion, integration, discrimination, absence homeland and prospects. Aliens in their country “What is a homeland? What shapes us, and how do we cope with our experience when we try to integrate into another cultural environment? ”Birgit Vaye asks himself these questions and tries to answer them with the sensitivity and consciousness that was imprisoned for this topic by her own biography and experience of living in Africa and Germany. In her previous books Reigen (2011) and Im Himmel ist Jahrmarkt (2013), she has already addressed issues of identity, family and society history, emigration and return. During our conversation, Birgit Vaye also talks about how terribly she took, the 19-year-old, to return to an alien homeland, and how surprised she heard this from the Majermans: “In fact, being in the GDR was not easy, most of them say but it was also something new and exciting, an adventure. The return was more difficult for many: their view of their homeland changed, and they brought with them experience that they could not share with anyone. Many Majermanians still feel like strangers in their own country. ” The return was difficult for other reasons. After the collapse of the GDR, most of the contract workers were sent to their homeland wounded by the Civil War. There, they discovered that the money with which they wanted to build a new life was lost. Nevertheless, in Mozambique, Majermans are considered wealthy and privileged, and many reproach them for leaving their homeland in the midst of a civil war. Many Majermans, like Basilio, today live with their families in poor huts, they keep afloat due to auxiliary work and every week they go to demonstrations in Maputo, demanding recognition, justice and money – however, to no avail. This is the worst thing in the whole story, says Birgit Vaye.