Essential German Authors: Nobel Laureate Heinrich Böll

Essential German Authors: Nobel Laureate Heinrich Böll
Heinrich Böll was born in Cologne in North Rhine Westphalia in 1917 to a Catholic family and grew up during National Socialism’s rise to power. As a child in the 1930s, Böll refused to join the Hitler Youth. After a degree in German at the University of Cologne, he became a writer full-time following the publication of his first novel, Der War Pünktlich (The Train Was On Time) in 1949. He is one of Germany’s most popular writers from the postwar period and was a vocal critic of the Federal Republic of Germany in his novels, short stories, radio plays, and political essays. His works have been translated into 30 different languages and have been adapted for a number of films.
Henrich Böll © Harald Hoffmann Wikicommons

Early Life

Heinrich Theodor Böll (Dec. 21, 1917 – July 16, 1985) graduated from high school in 1937 and in 1938 was named for obligatory labor service, where he served for six years in German Army. He was eventually captured by the Americans and held as a prisoner-of-war. His personal war experiences as a soldier exerted great influence on his writing. He portrayed the changing nature and psychology of German society during and after war.

© Steve Flickr

Major Works

Heinrich Böll became popular for short stories that were first published in 1947 and later compiled in Wanderer, kommst du nach Spa… from 1950 (Stranger, Bear Word to the Spartans We…). The title story discusses the suffering of a wounded solider and how he came back to his routine life. Böll described the misery and gloominess of a soldier’s life in his novels Der Zug war pünktlich (1949, The Train Was On Time in English) and 1951’s Wo warst du Adam? (Adam, Where were you?). Perhaps his most famous novel, Ansichten eines Clowns from 1963 (The Clown) depicts protagonist Hans Schnier’s emotional and financial suffering as an artist after the war, as well as the conflict between Protestants and Roman Catholics in Europe.

The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum © AL Flickr

Böll’s writings comprise a tangle of famous works. Und sagte kein einziges Wort from 1953 (And Never Said A Word) is based on the changing relationship of a married couple with three children after the post-war period in Germany. Ende einer Dienstfahrt (1966, End Of A Mission) explains the character of inhabitants during the trial of a father and son. Gruppenbild mit Dame from 1971 (Group Portrait With Lady) reflects on German society from the time of the World Wars up until the 1970s thorough protagonist Leni Pfeiffer. Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (1974, The Lost Honour Of Katharina Blum) criticized contemporary German values and modern journalistic ethics. Was soll aus dem Jungen bloss werden? Oder: Irgendwas mit Büchern from 1981 (What’s to Become of the Boy? or: Something to Do with Books) is a chronicle of the time between 1933-37. Der Engel schwieg (The Silent Angel) was written in 1950, but published posthumously in 1992, a story about the struggles of a German solider. Der blasse Hund (1995, The Mad Dog) is a collection of his unpublished short stories. Kreuz ohne Liebe (Cross Without Love) was published in 2003.

Murke's Collected Silences © AL Flickr

Awards and Honors

Heinrich Böll was awarded many national and international awards and honors over the course of his life. His debut novel, Der Zug War Püntklich, was deemed the best at the influential Gruppe 47 in 1951. Böll was also awarded the German Critics’ Prize and Award of the Cultural Committee of German Business in 1953. In 1958, Böll won the Eduard von der Heydt Culture Prize, then the Georg Büchner Prize in 1967, and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972. Later, he was given the Carl von Ossietzky Medal. He became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1974, became a Member of the Academy of Arts (Berlin) in 1975, an honorary citizen of the city of Cologne in 1982, and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1984. Böll was made Professor of North Rhine-Westphalia and was granted the European Centre of Solidarity award in 2015 for his support of the Solidarność Movement in the fight for freedom and democracy. There are many institutions, scholarships, roads, and places named after Heinrich Böll. Heinrich Böll Foundation is an example; the foundation awards scholarships to students in Germany who demonstrate a proven dedication to Green issues and social cohesion.