Symposium

A brief history of fan fiction in Germany

Vera Cuntz-Leng

Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany

Jacqueline Meintzinger

Stuttgart, Germany

[0.1] Abstract—Because the history of fan fiction in Germany is not congruent with the more dominant Anglo-American history of fan fiction, it requires separate revision and evaluation. By outlining the history of fan fiction in Germany, we present and discuss certain national aspects in the development of the phenomenon, arguing that although the Internet globally links fans, the production of fan fiction is still strongly rooted in a national writing community.

[0.2] Keyword—Fan culture

Cuntz-Leng, Vera, and Jacqueline Meintzinger. 2015. "A Brief History of Fan Fiction in Germany." In "European Fans and European Fan Objects: Localization and Translation," edited by Anne Kustritz, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 19. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2015.0630.

1. Introduction

[1.1] Fan fiction has been explored from the perspectives of literature studies, media studies, cultural studies, and sociology, among others. Nevertheless, there are only few historical examinations of the evolution of fan fiction in media fandoms so far (e.g., Verba 2003; Coppa 2006). The history of local, regional, and national fan fiction communities has also been neglected. However, historical analysis is necessary to gain a deeper understanding of the emergence of certain fandoms, trends, and tropes, and to provide evidence for the heterogeneity of fan communities and their cultural assets and products in general.

[1.2] Although the evolution of the Internet and the predominance of Anglo-American fandom research have flattened the perception of national identity and certain nation-level specific elements in fandom, a closer look reveals that many fan activities, objects, and phenomena taking place within German fan culture are uniquely German: Depeche Mode parties, the Karl-May-Spiele (Karl May festival) in Bad Segeberg, the Vollplaybacktheater (the theatrical reenactment of the radio drama series Die drei ??? (1979–), based on the American children's detective books series The Three Investigators [1964–87]), so-called Trek Dinners (regulars' tables of Star Trek enthusiasts), or parodic fan dubs of Hollywood movies that are colored by regional dialects. Thus there must also be something specifically German about German fan fiction, aside from the language, that may be uncovered in the context of German fan fiction's history (note 1).

2. The roots of derivative writing in Germany

[2.1] It is no secret that Goethe ([1771] 1896) was a fan of Shakespeare and that Schiller was an admirer of Goethe (Hart 2005). Further, Goethe's novel Die Leiden des jungen Werther (The Sorrows of Young Werther, 1774) was not only followed by a wave of copycat suicides by readers/fans (the so-called Werther effect), who strongly identified with the tragic protagonist, but also triggered follow-up derivative novels (Wertheriaden) by other authors, including Freuden des jungen Werthers (Young Werther's Pleasures, 1775) by Friedrich Nicolai and Der Waldbruder, ein Pendant zu Werthers Leiden (The Friar of the Forest, 1776) by Jakob M. R. Lenz (Engel 1986). These texts, as well as Goethe's and Schiller's writings themselves, are characterized by their reliance on preceding works by other authors. However, these derivative texts do not match the contemporary notion of what fan fiction is (Jamison 2013). Further, their localization in high culture seems to have guaranteed them the impossibility of being critically discussed in the context of fan writings (Bourdieu 2010).

[2.2] These high-culture derivative writers can be contrasted with con man and prolific formula fiction writer Karl May (1842–1912). May provides a safe and conclusive starting point for discussing German derivative fiction using terms drawn from fan studies because he is as close as it gets to a pop cultural phenomenon. May remains one of the most read, most translated, and most adapted writers of the German tongue (Petzel and Wehnert 2002). Even during his lifetime, he had a huge following, with fans who produced stories in May's fictional universe—for example, Franz von Kandolf's In Mekka (1923). The earliest documentation of transformative works originating from May's novels is from 1895: May responds to the letter of a fan who had asked for permission to write a story involving the characters Old Shatterhand and Winnetou for boy's magazine Der Gute Kamerad. May gave his permission on the condition that the author of the new story "mich von feindlichen Indianern nicht etwa ermorden zu lassen, denn alle meine Leser wissen, daß ich noch lebe" ("not have me killed by hostile Indians, because all my readers know I am still alive") (May [1895] 1998, 41, our translation). May had spread the legend that his novels were autobiographic.

[2.3] However, two world wars and especially the repressive politics of National Socialism put a stop to whatever creative potential had existed in German culture in terms of derivative fan productivity. Whereas the 1930s were a prolific era for science fiction fandom in the United Kingdom and the United States (Coppa 2006), developments in Nazi Germany led to an "interrogation of cultural values" (Uricchio 2008, 21), and the post–World War II period was defined by the struggle for and (re)evaluation of a (new) German national identity—although some, such as Odin (2008), may argue that Germans still struggle today with this trauma and loss of identity. Only in 1955 was the first German-language science fiction fanzine Andromeda published (Kuttner 2006; Witting 2013) by the newfound Science Fiction Club Deutschland (SFCD). One of the key players at the SFCD was Walter Ernsting, who later became popular under the pseudonym Clark Darlton as one of the creators of the successful German science fiction pulp booklet series Perry Rhodan. The story of the titular Perry Rhodan, which began in 1961, unfolds over 160,000 pages so far, and there is still no end in sight. Although Perry Rhodan has been translated into several other languages, it is still a distinctly German phenomenon, and from the start, fan writings have been an integral part of Perry Rhodan. In 1969, Perry Rhodan exposé writer Karl-Herbert Scheer told the German national broadcast magazine Monitor that fan letters to the editors of the series influenced the narrative. When the Perry Rhodan–related Atlan booklet series came to its end with issue 850 in January 1988, fans initiated an Atlan fanzine series that revived and perpetuated some story lines that the series had abandoned; 23 fanzine volumes were published between August 1989 and March 2001. Contributing authors included Rüdiger Schäfer and Michael H. Buchholz; among the five authors was also one woman writing under a male pseudonym. Although the Perry Rhodan series shares several generic commonalities with Star Trek, a key text in terms of fan fiction production in the Anglo-American science fiction fan community from the 1960s on, Star Trek's success in Germany only began in 1979 with the release of the first movie (note 2). Popular German print Star Trek fanzines included Trekworld (1986–99), Warp (1987–2002), and Transwarp (1987–2002). Sternreisen (1981) was the first German Star Trek fanzine that featured both translated and original German fan fiction. Later Star Trek fanzines devoted to slash fan fiction were Cock-Tail (1992–94) and Nevasa (2001–4). Cock-Tail and Nevasa had only five and four issues, respectively. This tells us a great deal about the popularity and the proliferation of (slash) fan fiction in Germany—especially compared to the roughly 250 English-language fanzines with sometimes numerous issues that were solely dedicated to the Kirk/Spock pairing.

[2.4] Aside from Perry Rhodan and Star Trek, some distinctly German media fandoms existed in the 1980s and 1990s, including Lindenstraße (1985–), Die drei ???, and Anna (1987). However, it seems that before the 2000s, only transnational fandoms like Donald Duck, the TV series Beauty and the Beast (1987–1990), The A-Team (1983–87), Knight Rider (1982–86), Miami Vice (1984–90), The X-Files (1993–2002), Baywatch (1989–2001), and Beverly Hills 90210 (1990–2000), as well as the first trilogy of Star Wars movies (1977, 1980, 1983) and the Darkover novels by Marion Zimmer Bradley (1958–84) provoked fan writing production and were exploited in fanzines like Der Hamburger Donaldist (1976–85), Relais (1986–2006), and Sternenkristall (1986–92) in the Darkover fandom, the Baracus News (1987–97) in the German-speaking A-Team fandom, or Hopes and Dreams (1989–93) in the Beauty and the Beast fandom.

3. German fan fiction from the 2000s to today

[3.1] Two factors were important for transforming fan fiction writing in Germany from a niche phenomenon into a core element of German fan culture: the (late) success of anime and manga in Germany in the 1990s (Malone 2010) (note 3) and the introduction of the Internet. Between 1998 and 2000, several mailing lists and Yahoo! groups were founded, granting higher visibility and accessibility to German fan writings, including the work of members of groups such as the German Speaking Slashers United (GSSU), Deutsche Fanfiction Liste (DFFL), Deutsche Fanfiction Mailingliste, Diskussionsforum Science Fiction, and the Usenet newsgroup de.rec.akte-x. The year 2000 may be described as a turning point for German fan fiction because two different fan fiction multifandom platforms—Animexx (http://animexx.onlinewelten.com/fanfiction/) and Fanfiction Paradise (2000–2008)—were established online. The years 2000 to 2004, when the German fan fiction platform with the largest impact factor, FanFiktion.de (http://www.fanfiktion.de/), was established, were characterized by an increasing awareness and acceptance of fan fiction within German fan practices. During this period, German fan writers also discovered English-language fan texts and started uploading their stories to FanFiction.net (https://www.fanfiction.net/). Parallel to the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 2001, the first German-language Harry Potter fan fiction was published on FanFiction.net: H.P. und Die Pudelmuetze/H.P. and the Woolly Hat by Sinical-Sarchasm. This story is an interesting example because it highlights the transitory nature of foreign-language fan fiction in the predominantly Anglo-American sphere because the story is available in both German and English. Further, the writing style suggests that the author is not a native speaker of German but an American testing her skills in German. The first German-language Star Wars fan fiction on FanFiction.net was Sons of the Dark Siders by Tifa_Lockheart_Nibelheim, posted in April 2001. Although the text is written by a native German speaker, the story title, summary, and disclaimer are in English. A third interesting example of German fan fiction at FanFiction.net is Star Trek Zurruck in das Gegenwarrt, published in 2003 by Coldmirror, who later became a German big-name fan (note 4), which was the first German-language Star Trek fan fiction. The title is an onomatopoeic malapropism of Americans trying to speak German. Therefore, all three early examples of German fan fiction on FanFiction.net share a certain awareness of the relations between different languages in fan cultural contexts and imply an (assumed) secondary status of German in an Anglo-American-dominated Internet-based fan environment.

[3.2] The significance of manga and anime in German fan fiction remains recognizable today. 29 percent of all pieces of fan fiction uploaded to FanFiktion.de and 49.5 percent of the 148,220 fan writings on Animexx are categorized as manga/anime (the latter unsurprising considering that the Web site caters to anime and manga fans), whereas the international FanFiction.net archive lists only 25.3 percent of its 41,183,979 texts in these categories and Archive of Our Own (https://archiveofourown.org/) not even 12 percent (Table 1).

Table 1. Data of 11 fandoms and their percentage of the respective platforms' total volume of fan fiction*

Fandom FF.de (N = 303,316) AO3 (N = 1,452,704)
Harry Potter 36,877 (12.2%) 69,072 (4.8%)
Naruto 26,404 (8.7%) 9,987 (0.7%)
Twilight 13,954 (4.6%) 4,397 (0.3%)
One Piece 8,781 (2.9%) 3,175 (0.2%)
One Direction 6,308 (2.1%) 33,217 (2.3%)
Yu-Gi-Oh! 4,522 (1.5%) 2,339 (0.16%)
Tokio Hotel 4,453 (1.46%) 725 (0.05%)
Supernatural 3,449 (1.14%) 91,848 (6.3%)
Sherlock Holmes 2,867 (1%) 72,637 (5%)
The Avengers 1,074 (0.35%) 53,888 (3.7%)
Doctor Who 677 (0.2%) 36,896 (2.5%)

*Data shown are for the seven largest fandoms on FanFiktion.de (http://www.fanfiktion.de/) and the five largest on Archive of Our Own (https://archiveofourown.org/). Data retrieved January 11, 2015.

[3.3] Table 1 shows that there is less diversification in the German fan fiction community (the percentage of the largest communities on FanFiktion.de is higher than for the largest communities on the Archive of Our Own). In addition, only Harry Potter and One Direction fandoms are of roughly equal popularity on both platforms. The anime/manga fandoms of Naruto, One Piece, and Yu-Gi-Oh! are very small on the Archive of Our Own; the same is true of Tokio Hotel bandom. Whereas prime time television programs like Supernatural (2005–), Sherlock Holmes (2010–16), and the rebooted Doctor Who (2005–) are important for fan production on the Archive of Our Own, the most important television fandom on FanFiktion.de is the crime series NCIS (2003–), with only 4,204 posted stories (1.39 percent).

[3.4] Participants in transnational or border-crossing fandoms have multivalent relationships to globally shared media contents that may be driven by personal emotional investments or "affective affinities" (Chin and Morimoto 2013, 92) to the fan object. They are not necessarily connected to a specific nation, language, or national identity, but it is crucial "to be more closely attuned to the socio-historical and political economic backdrop of popular culture consumption and consumerism" (98). As a consequence of an Anglo-American cultural dominance, specifically German national fan fiction communities have previously led a niche existence and have been ignored in the critical discourse about fan fiction. A closer look at the content on FanFiktion.de reveals several national phenomena that are worth further study: Die drei ???, K11—Kommissare im Einsatz (2003–14), Tatort (1970–), Niedrig und Kuhnt—Kommissare ermitteln (2003–14), Notruf Hafenkante (2007–), Die Schulermittler (2009–13), and other German crime TV programs); the Edelstein novels by Kerstin Gier; Joachim Masannek's soccer novels and movies (including Die Wilden Kerle, released in Germany in 2004); soccer real person fiction; real person fiction about the German boy band Tokio Hotel and the German fun punk cult band Die Ärzte; and a strong affinity for fan fiction about musicals (e.g., The Phantom of the Opera [1986] and Dance of the Vampires [1997]).

4. Epilogue

[4.1] This very brief analysis of the history of German fan fiction, as well as the results of our cursory comparison of the exclusively German-language archive FanFiktion.de and the international Archive of Our Own, suggest that fandoms, fan practices, and fannish affections are complex and heterogeneous. Generalizing assumptions about an (imagined) unity in a specific fan fiction community are highly questionable. There is not, for example, a single Harry Potter fan fiction community but rather numerous ones that differ in their sets of rules, the socialization and education of their members, and the popularity of certain characters, pairings, tropes, or genres. In addition, political, historical, economic, and legal factors influence a national fan fiction history.

[4.2] Nevertheless, the Internet and the online fandoms hosted there comprise an English-speaking realm. Quantitative analysis will be necessary to verify this hypothesis, but we assume that German fan fiction writers of a certain age and education tend to migrate to English-speaking areas of fan culture. There are several reasons for this. First, English has become the most common language for communication in and about fandoms. Whereas LiveJournal featured distinctly German fan fiction communities, social media Web sites like Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, which have become more popular in terms of their significance for online fan culture during the past 5 years, have less clearly defined language barriers. Second, from a reader's perspective, English-language fan fiction is more attractive than German-language fan fiction because it offers more stories of greater variety. In addition, the English-speaking fan fiction community has a culture of recommendation lists, which help readers navigate the confusing jungle of content. In contrast to the German fan fiction sites FanFiktion.de or Animexx, multifandom archives like Archive of Our Own feature sophisticated search tools that allow very specific queries for desired sorts of stories. Third, from a writer's perspective, publishing in English increases the impact of a story because it will be read by more readers (note 5). Fourth, compared to English-language fan fiction Web sites, German archives have stricter youth-protection rules and tend to be more careful about legal issues (maybe because German copyright law does not include the notion of fair use). And fifth, in general, the consumption of foreign media in their original language has increased in Germany because a version dubbed or subtitled in German is likely to be delayed, nonexistent, or of low quality. With the increasing and direct availability of media content online (such as live streams or BitTorrent downloads), English-language media consumption in Germany has become a part of everyday life—a crucial cultural paradigm shift since the 1980s and 1990s that will certainly influence further developments of national fan fiction communities.

5. Notes

1. A more detailed discussion of some ideas presented in this paper can be found in my 2014 German-language essay "Das 'K' in Fanfiction: Nationale Spezifika eines globalen Phänomens."

2. Similarly, German-language Harry Potter fandom emerged only with the release of the movies.

3. In addition to Malone's (2010) essay on the German boys' love fandom, Lamerichs (2013) presents an interesting comparison between different local anime fandoms that supports the hypothesis that transnational fandoms carry distinct national forms, characteristics, and certain unique developments—a thesis further explored by other essays in this issue.

4. Coldmirror became so famous for her Harry Potter fun dubs on YouTube (e.g., Harry Potter und der geheime Pornokeller) that the German digital public broadcaster Einsfestival hired her for her own show, Coldmirror TV (Einwächter 2014, 209-212).

5. The fan fictions posted by Lorelei_Lee, a longtime and active participant in the German fan fiction community, permit a useful comparison. Lorelei_Lee uploaded both German- and English-language versions of the same three Sherlock stories to the Archive of Our Own: "Never Change a Running System," "Hochzeit mit Hindernissen" (Not necessarily nuptials), and "Wo du schon glaubst, da denk ich noch" (Reason goes before a fall). Taken together, the German versions received 277 comments, 191 kudos, and 6,616 hits; the English versions of the same stories received 674 comments (2.4 times as many), 1,598 kudos (8.4 times as many), and 61,030 hits (9.2 times as many).

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