A review of Jede Liebe ist Liebe (Every kind of love is love) by Heinz Birken (Copenhagen, 1981)
The following article was written by doctor of law Eduard Brongersma for “Boycaught”, his regular column in Pan magazine, in its issue 11, March 1982, pp. 33-35.
Heinz Birken was the pen name of the German writer and bookseller Heinrich Eichen (1905-86).
Dr. Brongersma (1911-98) was a long-term member of the Dutch Senate rewarded for his services by being made a Knight in the Order of the Netherlands Lion by the Queen in 1975, by when he was already openly a pederast and the leading Dutch activist and writer on the subject.
It seems only a short time ago that homosexual and boy-love fiction was sad and pessimistic, the testimony of a persecuted and misunderstood minority. Some heroes abstained, in despair and misery, from the desired but all too dangerous physical expression of their love; others, in its consummation, were overwhelmed with feelings of guilt or sin, committed suicide or ended their days in prison. Doom permeated everyone and everything. It was the authors' intent to show how cruel and stupid society was in its treatment of innocuous, kindly men, making their lives a hell without any good arguments for doing so. The very fact that homophiles and boy-lovers, through no choice of their own, were differently constituted from the majority seemed reason enough for society to despise them, punish them, render them nervous wrecks and finally to kill them. The sexual nature of these unfortunate heroes conflicted with Christian morality, thus society felt justified making their lives as unhappy as possible.
Fortunately, the period which produced this kind of literature is drawing to a close. These tales stimulated self-pity in like-constituted people, and to pity oneself is dangerous. The authors also hoped to reach "the others", those who weren't attracted to young people or members of their own sex, and infuse them with justified pity and so change their attitudes, but this was always in vain. No minority ever gained a greater measure of human rights because the majority began to pity it. A minority which is serious about emancipating itself has to show both force and its own capacities: it must impose itself into society and had best hide its tears. Nobody honours a weeping beggar.
In recent years it seems authors have become aware of this and have changed their tactics. They are no longer dramatizing the way society cripples innocent people for being what they are but are showing what profit society can reap when it leaves such people alone and allows them to live in accordance with their own inclinations. In the old-fashioned boarding-school novels boys were driven to suicide (Peyrefitte's Amitiés particulières) or socially ruined (Montherlant's La ville dont le prince est un enfant) for loving each other. In their modern counterparts boys find a lot of satisfaction, happiness and health in getting on intimate terms with a friend of about their own age or with an adult man; at the end the boy-heroes seem better prepared for love and sexual relationships with either a girl or a man, each according to his nature.
An excellent example of this new kind of novel is Jede Liebe ist Liebe (Every kind of love is love) by a 77-year old German writer who, using the pen-name of Heinz Birken, has published quite a number of shorter tales in such magazines as Pikbube, Ben, (Germany) and Der Kreis (Switzerland). In 1980 Foerster Verlag (Berlin) made a collection of some of these in a volume called Knabenträume (Boys' dreams). A book of his verse has been illustrated by Richard Steen and is called Jungen an meinen Wegen (Boys on my paths). But Jede Liebe ist Liebe is his first full-length novel and was published last year (in German), by COQ, in Copenhagen.
The story concerns Lothar a fourteen-year-old boy living in East Berlin who is sent for the summer holidays by the school doctor to a children's camp on the Baltic. There he meets Wolfgang, who lives on an adjacent farm and is two years his elder. Between them a warm friendship flowers, and this soon shows all the symptoms of real love. But Wolfgang doesn't want to "seduce" his younger friend and Lothar isn't yet able to see a link between the sex games he observes among his comrades in the dormitory and the exalted feelings which surround his relationship with Wolfgang. When the holiday is over and Lothar must return home for his last year at school the separation for both of them is awful. Will Lothar ever be able to come back again? But the two boys write each other regularly and their friendship continues undiminished by distance.
Lothar grows, physically and mentally: a late starter, he enters puberty; his outlook is much influenced by his school-mate Norbert, a somewhat bigger boy who likes and protects his smaller friend. Soon Norbert is telling him about his own love and sexual relationship with an older man. In due course Lothar meets this man and gets a very positive impression of him and his relationship with Norbert. Lothar comes to see such a friendship and its sexual expression as beautiful and natural, and now, with his whole being, he wishes to experience the same thing with Wolfgang.
Fortunately, when Lothar leaves school the following summer, the doctor still finds his health delicate and recommends another two months on the Baltic before starting his apprenticeship with a hairdresser. After some hesitation, Mrs. Wagemuth, director of the seashore camp, lets Lothar board with Wolfgang's family rather than in the dormitory. She recognizes the love between the two boys and is very much aware of what will happen when the two of them share Wolfgang's bedroom. But her own son once had such a relationship with an adult friend and when her husband found out about it he went to the police and as a result the boy committed suicide. This she tells the two boys as a cautionary tale, but they are very sure of themselves and Lothar is quite prepared for his initiation by Wolfgang. Their first night together is ecstatic, and this is followed by many more happy episodes.
For two months Lothar is in paradise. Wolfgang's parents are naturists; his smaller sister and brother habitually play naked in the garden and so Lothar learns not to be ashamed of his own nakedness. A visit, with the whole family, to a nudist beach, where they meet other naturists, is a fine and instructive experience.
While the love between Lothar and Wolfgang has sex as an important element, it comprises a lot more. They share their thoughts, their literature, their knowledge of people and things. When summer is over their farewell is no less passionate than the year before, but less sorrowful for Wolfgang will be going to the University of Berlin to study history and they will soon be reunited.
Alas, they are destined never to see each other again. The catastrophy is quite unexpected. On his return home Lothar is immediately smuggled by his mother to West Berlin (these are the days before the infamous Wall), for his step-father has made a political blunder. Now any letter or message to East Germany would endanger its recipient, so Lothar can't even tell his friend what has happened. Lothar is sorely tempted to leave his family and flee back to East Berlin and Wolfgang, but he finally follows his parents when they are relocated to the area around Bonn.
A year passes. Wolfgang is certainly not forgotten, but the boy slowly accepts the fact that this phase of his life has come to a close forever. One day he meets a sympathetic man who is still grieving over the loss of his fifteen-year-old boyfriend, killed three years before in a motor accident. By the end of the book it is clear that Lothar and this man are entering into a love relationship with one another.
A well-constructed story, but one which might have a lot of pitfalls for the unwary author. Heinz Birken must be complimented in his ability at avoiding them. It would have been easy sentimentality for Lothar to hold true forever to his lost love, or easy heroism for the fifteen-year-old boy to forsake his family and return to East Berlin. As it stands, the tale is much more true to life. The only criticism I would make is that Birken, evidently a man of fine character, seems unable to create really bad or disagreeable people. Lothar finds an unbelievable amount of understanding everywhere, from Mrs. Wagemuth to Wolfgang's parents. The benevolence of his own mother and stepfather are improbably large, but this does show that giving boys a free hand in the expression of their positive feelings towards each other is much more constructive pedagogy than an intolerant fight for obedience to traditional morality.
Birken should also be praised for the good balance he obtains between pornography and prudery. Sex and its manifestations play an important part in the story but this never becomes obsessive, nor is it exaggerated. It is described, frankly and without reticence, just as it ought to be in the life of a healthy boy of Lothar's age: not something to be ashamed of or shy about, but a mysterious source of joy and pleasure, a natural force impelling him toward friendship and love.