"I am not at all a political person," says poet and author Rainer Kunze, 43.
Nonetheless Kunze, exiled from East Germany, may be the most important writer to come out of the East since the Soviet Union expelled Alexander Silzhenitsyn in 1975.
Like the Soviet author, Kunze is important mostly because of what he has written - notably a small volume called "The Wonderful Years," which was slipped out of the East and first published in West Germany last fall.
It has since sold more than 150,000 copies here and was published in English in the United States this spring.
It is a collection of vignettes about daily life in East Germany that captures, in prose that is devastatingly simple, the subtle acts of repression and forced conformity that outsiders could never hope to detect completely.
Unlike Solzhenitsyn, however, Kunze is a quiet exile.
"I write about what shocks me, what moves me, because otherwise I could not cope with it," he said in an interview in this bustling West Germany city some two months after he was allowed to cross the border to the West with his wife and daughter.
"That is why I write about such things. I'm no priest, no pedagogue, no politician. I am an exposer of facts, which I find in human beings, and I suppose this can be a message for some people, but that was not my reason for writing."
Nevertheless, Kunze's prose has become part of the message and a growing ingredient in the emotional and widespread debate now raging between East and West over human rights and individual freedoms.
Moreover, his book may be especially important simply because of its artistry and lack of polemics and because so little of the literature of dissent that has made its wat to the West recently has focused on East Germany, as opposed to the Soviet Union or Czechoslovakia.
West Germany's Nobel Prize-winning author Heinrich Boell calls it "a first that weeps" a book that allows "no room for detour or avoidance . . . A single little volume that is more instructive than several novels."
Kunze is also of interest because he is a victim of the growing Eastern tactic of exile - a strategy in which dissidents are either forcibly exiled frim their native countries or so intimidated and harassed that they accept an exit permit when offered. The strategy has two aims: One to rid societies of dissenters and two, to rob them of their source of inspiration.
Kunze is acutely aware of this.
"When we left East Germany, I knew exactly that this could mean that as an author I will become silent for a while. Literature only develops if something inside you forces you to say something.
"I did not have an alternative whether to choose the West or stay in the East. My health was so bad that I could not go on with the tension of may life during the past 10 years. I had no strength left and couldn't help my friends any more. I also couldn't see my wife suffer. We're both fond of life and life is unthinkable without the other.
"Despite these things. I wanted to stay. But then there were direct threats. There was no telling what they would do to get rid of me and when. We had even more information which made it absolutely necessary for us to get out."
"Now" Kunze adds, "I have to wait and see what will become of me as an author."
Shortly after Kunze's book was published in the West, he was kicked out of the East German Writer's Union. His daughter, Marcella, had been forced to leave school before her final exams as the child of an "enemy of the state." His wife, a Czech-born doctor, was denied a promotion at the hospital where she worked.
Kunze is aware of President Carter's human-rights campaign and aware that it is controversial even among some dissidents.
When asked if he felt the President's effort would bring more repression to the East or help give dissenters moral support, he said. "I think it would help, absolutely. It would certainly help morally. It would be a tremendous help to those people in East Germany who seek to keep up the spirit and insist on human rights."
But, he cautions, "I can see another danger. As soon as such movements are no longer purely moral, one has it think about the danger of manipulating these movements into certain political directions. Moral help isn't all ways enough, and the question is how far one can go in politics."
In other words, Kunze is cautioning against tackling Communist political systems head-on, a warning echoed in much the same words a few months ago by Yugoslav dissident author Milovan Djilas.
Kunze, the son of a miner, studied and then taught at the University of Leipzig but left in 1959, disillusioned by the East German brand of socialism that "annihilates the individual." He became a locksmith and began writing poetry.
In 1968, when Soviet-led Warsaw Pact tanks rolled into czechoslovakia. Kunze quit the Communist Party, and he has been in some trouble ever since.
When he crossed the border in April, Kunze said the East German system "has got nothing to offer."
Today, after a long rest in a hospital, he says he sees "no possibility for fundamental" changes in East Germany. Any changes would have to come from above, and that means Moscow.
"At the moment, I cannot see any alternative to the Western Democracies. I don't say they are perfect, but there are no alternatives. The workers in Socialist countries are worse off than the workers living in Western democracies, and human rights are preserved only in those democracies."
Kunze says there are still many young people in East Germany "who are looking for social change and to achieve more justice for people. But their number is still very small in comparison to the masses."
In a typical high-school class of 24 students, he says, probably two students are "absolutely in conformity with the system by virtue of, their education and influence of state organizations. They would do everything they are asked scrupulously, with fanaticism even, believing that they are doing the right thing."
"Another two pupils would be the sensitive ones. But if they sick to their principles, if they don't want to compromise themselves they will have to leave school. They wouldn't be allowed to go to a university. They might even commit suicide. They have to take the consequences."
The rest of the typical class he says, are those who have been educated to accept opportunism and are willing to accept it.
"You get all kinds, from simple opportunists to calculating cynics who say: "I want to go to a university, to become an engineer, to have a good position, a house, a car. I will say everything I'm asked to say and make my way."
"But those two students who don't want to give in," Kunze adds, "there are really thousands of them. Those are the ones who won't make their way, yet they are the ones on whom everything depends."
Indeed, large and poignant chunks of Kunze's poetry and prose derive from watching his daughter and her friends grow and question things.
Kunze tells of how his daughter yearned to wear wire-rimmed glasses to school, even though the teacher has told another student that they are a subversive, decadent Western, fat. She wants to bring in pictures of her grandfather and great-grandfather, German miners, who wore such glasses.
She brings a picture postcard from Tokyo to school and, when a fellow students tells on her, is reprimanded by a teacher for spreading capitalist propaganda.
In two paragraphs, Kunze writes of a day when his wife nearly tripped over a bouquet of flowers left overnight on their doorsetp. When she comes home from work flowers from friends. Kunze only reports the date - Aug. 22, 1968 - and that his wife is from Czechoslovakia. That was the day the Warsaw Pact invaded Prague.
Thus, he also writes of the survival of spirit and feeling.
He tells in four paragraphs of the death of a person the authorities obviously don't care for and how they make it difficult for people to get to the funeral.
When it's over, it is already dark, but the authorities turn out all the lights. But the mourners line the stairs winding down from the gravesite, each saying only "Step. So that nobody falls."
Kunze's writings thus are important also because they reflect a disciplined style of expression in Eastern Europe that is not fully appreciated in the West: The need to be clever, to say things very carefully without saying them overtly.
"But not everybody is able to do that," Kunze says. "If this person is a great poet, then he is able to express himself in lyrics and the poem may be printed in the East. He can therefore do a lot for people, keep their spirits up, not give them a substitute but real poetry and art.
"But if one's attention is caught by things which depend on political circumstances then it is more difficult. There are limits, and here one is tempted to be an opportunist and to betray the arts.
"Art always means go to the end," a Czech friend of his said. "But a lot of artists don't."