ERICH KAESTNER’S 1931 WEIMAR NOVEL “FABIAN”

September 2, 2007 at 1:50 am | Posted in Art, Books, Germany, Literary | Leave a comment

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Erich Kästner

1899-1974 K

German satirist, poet and novelist

German satirist, poet and novelist, whose military experiences made him pacifist after World War I and opponent of totalitarian systems. Kästner is best known for his juvenile novels, but they were not popular among Nazis – his famous EMIL UND DIE DETEKTIVE (1929) did not first get publishing permit. Kästner’s children’s books reflected his social optimism based on his belief in the renewing power of the each new generation of youth. His books have been popular among others with Israeli children.

Erich Kästner was born in Dresden as the son of a saddler. He attended the Lehrerseminar, a teacher’s training college, before he was conscripted into an infantry regiment for a year during World War I. The experience made him a life-long opponent of militarism. After military service, he studied German literature at Leipzig university. In the 1920s he worked in a bank and as a journalist, writing for Die Weltbühne. In 1925 Kästner received his Ph.D. for a dissertation on Frederick II and German literature.

When Kästner lost an editorial position he moved in 1927 to Berlin, and became a freelance writer. Kästner’s early works, collections of poems, appeared in the 1920s. After publishing EIN MANN GIBT AUSKUNFT (1930) Kästner devoted himself entirely to writing. In 1931 he was elected to the membership of the German PEN club.

Kästner gained first wider fame with the juvenile novel Emil und die Detektive. Later it has been dramatized and filmed several times. In his books written for young readers, Kästner used humour to expose human folly and social ills. Emil Tischbein, the hero of Emil und die Detective was featured also in EMIL UND DIE DREI ZWILLINGE (1933).

Emil und die Detektive – Emil and the Detective (1931), film directed by Gerhard Lamprecht, screenplay by Billie Wilder, starring Rolf Wenkhaus (Emil), Käthe Haack (Emil’s mother), Fritz Rasp, Rudolf Bierbrach, Olga Engl, Inge Landgut. Remade in 1935 as Emil and the Detectives, directed by Milton Rosmer, original screenplay Billie Wilder. – Following the novel closely but not exactly, the film depicts a valiant boy from Neustadt. Emil is sent off to Berlin to visit his grandmother and his cousin. His mother gives him 140 marks to give to Grandma. On a train a fellow passenger steals the money. In Berlin Emil spots the thief on a streetcar. He finds assistance from a gang of Berlin street kids. They follow the thief into a hotel, but Emil don’t find the money from the man’s room. Next morning a hundred or so children follow the man to a bank, where he tries to change a hundred-mark bill. Emil can prove that the money is his – there is hole in the bill from his pin. The man turns out to be a wanted bank robber. Emil gets a reward, which he uses to buy his mother a new hair dyer. – The novel concludes with a triple moral. When each character has been asked what he or she has learned, Emil responds that you can’t trust anybody, his mother says that you can’t allow children to travel alone, and Grandma states that you should send the money through the post office. – Kästner complained that the screenplay vulgarized the story. Kästner had written the original script in collaboration with Emeric Pressburger.

In the 1920s, the most lively art form in Berlin was the literary political cabaret. In the stage procuctions, Kästner cooperated with Kurt Tucholsky, “a fat little Berliner who tried to stem the catastrophe with his typewriter”, as the author himself put it. Many of his lyrics were set to music and performed in cabarets. ‘Das Abschiedsbrief’ (The Farewell Letter) was composed by Kurt Weill. In one of his poems Kästner parodied Goethe’s ‘Mignon song’: “Do you know the land where cannons are in bloom? /You don’t? You’re going to!”

If we had won the war – good heavens! –
with iron fistst and flags unfurled,
all Germany’d be at sixes and sevens
and look like a madhouse to the world…
Then Reason would be kept in fetters
and forced, at court, to kiss the rod.
New fights would be run like operettas
if we had won the war – however,
we didn’t win it, and thank God.

(from Wit as a Weapon by Egon Larsen, 1980)

As a poet Kästner represented the “new factualism” movement that began in Germany in the 1920s. In the four collections of verse published between 1928 and 1932, he combined stylistic elements of expressionism with conservative verse forms and his own social philosophy. The accuracy of Kästner’s view of the prewar Germany was well exemplified in his satirical poem ‘Kennst du das Land, wo die Kanonen blüchen?’ (1928, Knowst Thou the Land Where Only Cannons Grow?), in which he predicted the rise of Nazism. Walter Benjamin criticized Kästner’s poems, coining the phrase “left-wing melancholia”. According to Benjamin, the left melancholic “takes as much pride in the traces of the former spiritual goods as the bourgeois do in their material goods.”

In 1931 appeared Kästner’s tragic novel FABIAN (Fabian: The Story of a Moralist), a story about Germany’s ‘lost generation’, in which he analyzed the chaotic last years of the Weimar Republic. Jakob Fabian, the protagonist, loses his job, girlfriend, and his friend commits suicide. Fabian returns to his home town, Dresden, but there is no hope for him. “What was the point of his staying in this town, in this box of building-bricks gone mad?” Kästner asked. “After all, he could watch Europe’s decline and fall just as easily from the town where he was born.” Despite the sad story, Kästner uses humour, but his view of women, particularly lesbians, have been considered sexist. The Nazis attacked the book because of its sex scenes. “There was a mirror on one side of the lift. Fabian took out his handkerchief and rubbed the blotches from his face. His tie was askew. His temple was burning; and the pale blonde was looking down at him. “Do you know what a megaera is?” he asked. She put her arms around him. “Yes, but I’m prettier.”

In spite of the pressure of the Nazis, Kästner refused the membership of Reich Chamber of Literature, controlled by Goebbels’s propaganda ministry. He also refused to move to Switzerland. From 1933 to 1945 he was prevented from publishing his books in his home country – they appeared first in Switzerland. Emil and the Detectives remained still available also in Germany. Unlike several other intellectuals and writers, who suffered from Nazi policy, Kästner remained in Germany during Hitler’s rule. He was among the few authors, perhaps the only, who was present, when the Nazis burned books in May 1933, his own included.

Kästner was arrested by the Gestapo in 1934 and 1937 because he used to cross the border regularly to consult his Swiss publisher. For Josef von Baky’s film Münchhausen (1943), starring Hans Albers in the title role, he wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym of Berthold Bürger. The spectacular Agfacolor production was set in motion by the propaganda minister Josef Göbbels to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the UFA studios. After the film was released, Hitler ordered that he should receive no further commissions. At the end of the war, Kästner became magazine editor of Die Neue Zeittung of Munich. He also founded the children’s periodical Der Pinguin. During the postwar years, Kästner was an active participant in the Munich cabaret Die Schaubude (from 1951 Die kleine Freiheit). In his play DIE SCHULE DER DIKTATOREN (1949) Kästner unmasked inhumanity in the form of comedy , but he did not gain such success as with his portrayals of immorality in his novels and poems.

Among Kästner’s other best-known juvenile books are DAS FLIEGENDE KLASSENZIMMER (1933) and DAS DOPPELTE LOTTCHEN (1949). The novel DREI MÄNNER IM SCHEE (1934) was written for adults, and successfully filmed in the 1930s. DIE KONFERENZ DER TIERE (1949, The Animals’ Conference) was written in the mode of George Orwell’s famous Animal Farm (1945). Later works include memoirs, ALS ICH EIN KLEINE JUNGE WAR (1957), a diary NOTABENE 45 (1961), plays, several collections of poems, and anthologies of world humor.

In 1957 Kästner was awarded the Büchner Prize for literature. From 1952 to 1962 he was president of the West German chapter of the PEN Club. Kästner died on July 29, 1974 in Munich. His grave is situated in an idyllic churchyard of the baroque Church of St George in Bogenhausen. After Kästner’s death, the Bavarian Academy of Arts established a literary prize in his honor. In Dresden, a café-bar on Alaustrasse, Neustadt, was named after Kästner. A statue stands close to the house where he was born.

For further reading: Social Criticism in the Early Works of Erich Kästner by J. Winkelman (1953); The Poetic Style of Erich Kästner by J. Winkelman (1957); Erich Kästner in Selbstzeugnissen und Bilddokumenten by L. Enderle (1966); Erich Kästner by K. Beutler (1967); Erich Kästner: Studien zu seinem Werk by R. Benson (1973); Erich Kästner by H. Wagener (1973); Erich Kästner by R.W. Last (1974); Erich Kästner by H. Kiesel (1981); Erich Kästner by W. Schneyder (1982); Erich Kästner, ed. by R. Wolff (1983): Erich Kästner: Eine Personalbibliographie , ed. by U. Lämmerzahl-Bensel (1988); Erich Kästner by H. Bemmann (1994); Erich Kästner, ed. by M. Flotnow (1996); Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, vol. 2, ed. by Steven R. Serafin (1999) – Other major writers banned in the 1930s and during WW II: Alfred Döblin, Bertolt Brecht (fled to the United States), Thomas and Heinrich Mann (fled to the United States), Franz Werfel (fled to the United States), Erich Maria Remarque (fled to the United States), Joseph Roth (fled to Paris and died in a poorhouse), Robert Musil (fled to Switzerland), Nelly Sachs (fled to Sweden) – see also Ernest Jünger, who first supported the Nazis.

Selected works:

  • HERZ AUF TAILLE, 1928
  • LÄRM IM SPIEGEL, 1929
  • EMIL UND DIE DETEKTIVE, 1929 – Emil and the Detectives (trans. by May Masse) – Pojat salapoliiseina – film 1931, dir. by Gerhard Lamprecht, written by Billy Wilder; film 1935, dir. by Milton Rosmer; film 1954, dir. by R.A. Stemmle; film 1964, dir. by Peter Tewksbury; film 2001, dir. by Franziska Buch, starring Tobias Rezlaff, Anja Sommavilla, Jurgen Vogel, Maria Schrader
  • EIN MANN GIBT AUSKUNFT, 1930
  • LEBEN IN DIESER ZEIT, 1930
  • FABIAN, 1931 – Fabian: The Story of a Moralist (trans. by Cyrus Brooks)
  • PÜNKTCHEN UND ANTON, 1931
  • DER 35. MAI; ODER, KONRAD REITET IN DIE SÜDSEE, 1931 – The 35th of May; or, Conrad’s Ride to the South Seas
  • ANNALUISE AND ANTON, 1932
  • DAS VERHEXTE TELEFON, 1932
  • ARTHUR MIT DEM LANGEN ARM, 1932
  • GESANG ZWISCHEN DEN STÜHLEN, 1932
  • EMIL UND DIE DREI ZWILLINGE, 1933 – Emil and the Three Twins
  • DAS FLIEGENDE KLASSENZIMMER, 1933 – The Flying Classroom – Lentävä luokka – film 1954, dir. by Kurt Hoffmann
  • DREI MÄNNER IM SCHNEE, 1934 – Three Men in the Snow – Kolme miestä lumesa – film Stackars miljonärer (1936), dir. by Tanced Ibsen and Ragnar Arvedson; film Paradise for Three (1938), dir. by Edward Buzzel; film 1955, dir. by Kurt Hoffmann – a busenesman goes to Germany to find out how the workers live
  • LAS LEBENSLÄNGLICHE KIND, 1934
  • DER VERSCHWUNDENE MINIATUR ODER AUC DIE ABENTEUER EINES EMPFINDSAMEN FLEISCHERMEISTERS, 1936 – The Missing Miniature – Varastettu koru
  • DOCTOR ERIK KÄSTNERS LYRISCHE HAUSAPOTHEKE, 1936
  • GEORG UND DIE ZWISCHENFÄLLE / DER KLEINE GRENZVERKEHR, 1938 – A Salzburg Comedy
  • STREICHE DES TILL EULENSPIEGEL, 1938 – Till Eulenspiegel, the Clown
  • BEI DURCHSICHT MEINER BÜCHER, 1946
  • TUCHOLSKY, 1946
  • ZU TREUEN HÄNDEN, 1948
  • DER TÄGLICHE KRAM. 1948
  • DAS DOPPELTE LOTTCHEN, 1949 – The Double Lottie / Lottien and Lisa (trans. by Cyrus Brooks) – Lisen ja Lotten salaisuus – film 1950, dir. by Josef von Baky; film Twice Upon a Time (1953), dir. Emeric Pressburger; film The Parent Trap, dir. by David Swift Twin daughters of separated parents determine to bing the family together again
  • DIE KONFERENZ DER TIERE, 1949 – The Animals’ Conference
  • DIE SCHULE DER DIKTATOREN, 1949 – The School of Dictators
  • DIE KONFERENZ DER TIERE, 1950
  • KURZ UND BÜNDING, 1950
  • DER GESTIEFELTE KATER, 1950 – Puss in Boots
  • DIE KLEINE FREIHEIT, 1952
  • DES FREIHERRN VON MÜNCHHAUSEN WUNDERBARE REISEN UND ABENTEUER ZU WASSER AND ZU LANDE, 1952
  • DIE SCHILDBÜRGER, 1954
  • DIE 13 MONATE, 1955
  • DER GEGENWART INS GÄSTEBUCH, 1955
  • EINE AUSWAHL, 1956
  • DON QUICHOTTE, 1956 – Don Quixote
  • ALS ICH EIN KLEINER JUNGE WAR, 1957 – When I was a Little Boy
  • DER KLEINE GRENZVERKEHR, 1957 – A Salzburg Comedy
  • ÜBER DAS NICHTLESEN VOM BÜCHERN, 1958 (with Paul Flora)
  • GESAMMELTE SCHRIFTEN, 1959 (7. vols.)
  • HEITERKEIT IN DUR UND MOLL, 1959
  • HEITERKEIT KENNT KEINE GRENZEN, 1960
  • NOTABENE 45, 1961 – Päiväkirja 45
  • GULLIVERS REISEN, 1961
  • HEITERKEIT BRAUCHT KEINE WORTE, 1962
  • DAS SCHWEIN BEIM FRISÖR, 1962
  • KÄSTNER IN PROBEPACKUNG, 1962
  • LIEBE WILL GELERNT SEIN, 1962
  • WIESO, WARUM!, 1962
  • VON DAMEN UND ANDEREN WEIBERN, 1963
  • DER KLEINE MANN, 1963
  • Let’s Face It: Selected Poems
  • DER KLEINE MANN UND DIE KLEINE MISS, 1967 – The Little Man and the Little Miss
  • KENNST DU DAS LAND, WO DIE KANONEN BLÜHEN?, 1967
  • UNTER DER ZEITLUPE, 1967
  • WAS NICHT IN EUREN LESEBÜCHERN STEHT, 1968
  • DA SAMMA WIEDA, 1969
  • GROSSE ZEITEN, KLEINE AUSWAHL, 1969
  • FRIEDRICH D. GR. UND DIE DEUTSCHE LITERATUR, 1972
  • WER NICHT HÖREN WILL, MUSS LESEN, 1972
  • HEITERKEIT BRAUCHT KEINE WORTE, 1972
  • EIN MANN, DER IDEALE HAT, 1973
  • DER ZAUBERLEHRLING, 1974
  • DIE ZEIT FÄHTR AUTO, 1974
  • DAS GROSSE ERICH KÄSTNER BUCH, 1975
  • BRIEFE AUS DEM TESSIN, 1977
  • MEIN LIEBES, GUTES MUTTCHEN, 1981
  • GEDICHTE, 1983
  • LETZTE KAPITEL, 1988 – Final Chapters
  • GEMISCHTE GEFÜHLE, 1989
  • The Selected Poetry of Erich Kastner, 1997 (trans. by Ted Bookey, illustrated by Ruth Bookey)

Erich Kästner

(February 23, 1899July 29, 1974)

Erich Kästner (February 23, 1899July 29, 1974) was one of the most famous German authors, screenplay writers, and satirists of the 20th century. His popularity in Germany is primarily due to his humorous and perceptive children’s literature and his often satirical poetry.

Biography

Dresden 1899 – 1919

Kästner was born in Dresden, Germany. He grew up in the Königsbrücker Strasse of Dresden’s Äussere Neustadt. Close by, the Erich Kästner Museum is located on the ground floor of Kästner’s uncle Franz Augustin’s former villa on Antonstraße next to the Albertplatz.

Kästner’s father Emil was a leatherworker. His mother Ida, née Augustin, was a maidservant and housewife, and in her thirties trained to be a hairstylist in order to supplement her husband’s income. Kästner had a particularly close relationship with his mother. While he lived in Leipzig and Berlin, he wrote her fairly intimate daily letters and post cards. His novels, too, seem to be pervaded by overbearing mothers. It was rumored that Erich Kästner’s natural father was not Emil Kästner, but rather the Jewish family doctor, Emil Zimmermann (1864-1953). These rumors never were substantiated. Kästner wrote about his childhood in his 1957 autobiography When I Was a Little Boy. According to Kästner, he did not suffer from being an only child, had many friends, and was not lonely or over-indulged.

In 1913, Kästner entered a teaching school in Dresden, but left the school in 1916 shortly before completing the courses that would have qualified him to teach at public schools. Germany was in turmoil. In 1914, when he was 15, World War I broke out. He later wrote about the event that it “brought an end to my childhood.” Kästner was drafted in 1917 and became part of a heavy artillery company. The brutality of the training he underwent as a soldier impressed Kästner strongly; this and the slaughter of the war in general had a strong influence on his anti-militarist opinions. Moreover, the merciless drilling by Kästner’s sergeant Waurich caused the author a life-long heart affliction. Kästner critiques the sergeant’s character in his poem “Sergeant Waurich”. At the end of the war, Kästner returned to school and achieved the Abitur with distinction, earning a stipend from the city of Dresden.

Leipzig 1919 – 1927

In the autumn of 1919, Kästner enrolled at the university of Leipzig to study history, philosophy, German language and literature and theatre. His studies took Kästner to Rostock and Berlin, and in 1925 he received a doctorate for a thesis on Friedrich the Great and German literature. Kästner paid for his studies by working as a journalist and theatre critic for the prestigious Neue Leipziger Zeitung newspaper. Kästner’s increasingly critical reviews and the “frivolous” publication of his erotic poem “Evening Song of the Chamber Virtuoso” (with illustrations by Erich Ohser) got him fired in 1927. The same year, Kästner moved to Berlin. He did, however, continue to write for the Neue Leipziger Zeitung under the pseudonym “Berthold Bürger” (“Bert Citizen”) as a freelance correspondent. Kästner would later use several other pseudonyms, for example “Melchior Kurtz,” “Peter Flint,” and “Robert Neuner”.

Berlin 1927 – 1933

Kästner’s years in Berlin from 1927 until the end of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Nazis in 1933 were his most productive. In just a few years, Kästner became one of the most important intellectual figures in the German capital. He published poems, newspaper columns, articles, and reviews in many of Berlin’s important periodicals. Kästner was a regular contributor to different daily newspapers such as the Berliner Tageblatt and the Vossische Zeitung, as well as to the theater journal Die Weltbühne. In Kästner’s “Complete Works” (published in German in 1998), editors Hans Sarkowicz and Franz Josef Görtz list over 350 articles from 1923 to 1933, but the actual number may be much higher. Much was lost when Kästner’s flat burnt during a World War II bombing raid in February 1944.

In 1928 Kästner published his first book, Herz auf Taille, a collection of poems he wrote in Leipzig. Kästner published three more collections of poetry by 1933. His Gebrauchslyrik (“Lyrics for Everyday Use”) made him the leading figure of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement, which focused on a sobering, distant and objective style employed to satirize contemporary society. Other major writers of the movement include Joseph Roth, Hermann Hesse, Carl Zuckmayer, Erich Maria Remarque, Thomas Mann, and Heinrich Mann.

In the autumn of 1928, Kästner published his best-known children’s book, Emil und die Detektive (“Emil and the Detectives”). The owner of the Weltbühnen-Verlag publishing house, Edith Jacobsen, had suggested the detective story to Kästner. The book sold two million copies in Germany and has been translated into 59 languages, including English. The most unusual aspect of the novel at the time was that it was realistically set in the suburbs of Berlin, and not in some fairyland. Its 1933 sequel Emil und die Drei Zwillinge (“Emil and the Three Twins”) was set on the shores of the Baltic.

The Emil books had an important role in popularising the sub-genre of “Children Detectives“, later taken up by other writers of children’s books such as Enid Blyton.

Kästner followed up on his success with Pünktchen und Anton (1931) and Das fliegende Klassenzimmer (1933). Walter Trier‘s illustration helped make the books as popular as they still are.

Gerhard Lamprecht‘s 1931 film version of Emil und die Detektive was a great success. Kästner, however, was dissatisfied with the screenplay. This led him to work as a screenwriter for the Babelsberg film studios located just outside Berlin‘s Versailles-equivalent Potsdam.

Kästner’s only adult novel of stature is Fabian (1931). Kästner wrote the novel in an almost cinematic style: Rapid cuts and montages are important stylistic elements. The novel is set in early 1930s Berlin. Kästner lets the unemployed German literary expert Fabian explain the uproarious quick pace of the times and the downfall of the Weimar Republic.

From 1927 until 1929, Kästner lived in the Prager Strasse 6 in BerlinWilmersdorf. From 1929 to 1944, he then moved to the Rocherstrasse 16 in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg.

Berlin 1933 – 1945

Kästner was a pacifist and wrote for children because of his belief in the regenerating powers of youth. He was opposed to the Nazi regime in Germany that began January 30, 1933, but unlike many of his fellow authors critical of the dictatorship, Kästner did not emigrate. Kästner did travel to Meran in Switzerland just after the Nazis assumed power, and he met with exiled fellow writers there. However, Kästner returned to Berlin, arguing that he could chronicle the times better from there. It is probable that Kästner also wanted to avoid abandoning his mother. His epigram “Necessary Answer to Superfluous Questions” (“Notwendige Antwort auf überflüssige Fragen”) in Kurz und Bündig explains Kästner’s position:

I’m a German from Dresden in Saxony
My homeland won’t let me go
I’m like a tree that, grown in Germany,
Will likely wither there also.

The Gestapo interrogated Kästner several times, and the writers’ guild excluded him. Fanatic mobs burnt Kästner’s books as “contrary to the German spirit” during the book burnings of 1933. Kästner witnessed the event in person. Kästner was denied entry into the new Nazi-controlled national writers’ guild, the Reichsschrifttumskammer, because of what officials called the “culturally Bolshevist attitude in his writings predating 1933.” This amounted to a gag order for Kästner throughout the Third Reich. Instead, Kästner published apolitical, entertaining novels such as Drei Männer im Schnee (Three Men in the Snow) (1934) in Switzerland. Kästner received an exemption to write the well-regarded screenplay Münchhausen under the pseudonym Berthold Bürger in 1942. Bombs destroyed Kästner’s home in Berlin in 1944. In early 1945, Kästner and others faked a filming engagement in the remote Mayrhofen in Tyrol to avoid the brutal Soviet assault on Berlin. Kästner was in Mayrhofen when the war ended. He wrote about this time in a diary that he published in 1961 as Notabene 45.

Munich 1945 – 1974

After the end of World War II Kästner moved to Munich. There, he was the culture editor for the Neue Zeitung newspaper and published a magazine Pinguin aimed at children and teenagers. Kästner was also active in literary cabaret; he was involved in productions at the Schaubude (1945 – 1948) and Die kleine Freiheit (after 1951). Additionally, he worked for different radio networks. During this time, Kästner wrote a number of skits, songs, audio plays, speeches, and essays about National Socialism, World War II, and the stark realities of destroyed post-war Germany. These works include the “Marschlied 1945”, the Deutsches Ringelspiel, and the children’s book Die Konferenz der Tiere, the latter made into an animated film by Curt Linda. He also renewed his collaboration with Edmund Nick whom he had met in Leipzig in 1929 where Nick, then Head of the Music Department at Radio Silesia, wrote the music to Kästner’s very successful radio play Leben in dieser Zeit. Nick was now the Musical Director at the Schaubude and set more that 60 of Kästner’s songs to music.

Kästner’s optimism during the immediate post-war years gave way to resignation as the people of West Germany attempted to normalize their lives following the economic reforms of the early 1950s and the ensuing boom called the “economic miracle” (“Wirtschaftswunder“). His pacifism suffered further with the call by chancellor Konrad Adenauer and his realpolitik allies to remilitarize West Germany so that it could do its part in defending the democracies of Western Europe and the NATO against the Soviet dictatorships, including Communist Eastern Germany, which formed the Warsaw Pact under the leadership of the Soviet Union. Kästner remained a pacifist, speaking at the anti-militarist Ostermarsch demonstrations that protested the stationing of nuclear weapons in West Germany. He later also took a stand against the Vietnam War.

Kästner began publishing less and less, in part because of a growing alcoholism. He did not integrate into any of the post-war literary movements in West Germany and in the 1950s and 1960s was perceived mainly as an author of children’s books. Kästner was not rediscovered as the serious writer of his work during the Weimar Republic until the 1970s. His novel Fabian was made into a movie in 1980, as well as several of his children’s books.

Nevertheless, Kästner was very successful. His children’s books sold well and were translated into many different languages. Several of the novels were made into movies. Kästner received a number of prizes, including the Filmband in Gold for the best screenplay for the movie Das doppelte Lottchen in 1951, the prize in literature of the city of Munich in 1956, and the Georg Büchner Prize in 1957. The German government honored Kästner with its order of merit, the Bundesverdienstkreuz, in 1959. In 1960 Kästner received the prestigious Hans Christian Andersen Prize and in 1968 the Lessing-Ring together with the Prize in Literature of the German Masonic Order.

In 1951, Kästner was elected president of the West German P.E.N. Center, and he remained in office until 1961. In 1965 he became the group’s president emeritus. Kästner was also instrumental in the founding of Munich’s Internationale Jugendbibliothek library.

Kästner never married. However, Kästner wrote his last two childrens books Der kleine Mann and Der kleine Mann und die kleine Miss for his son Thomas Kästner, who was born in 1957.

Kästner frequently read from his works. Already in the 1920s, he recorded his socio-critical poems. In movies based on his books, he often lent his voice to the narrator, as he did for the first audio production of “Pünktchen und Anton”. Other recordings for the Deutsche Grammophon include poems, epigrams, and his version of the folktale Till Eulenspiegel. Kästner also read in theatres like the Cuvilliés-Theater in Munich, and for the radio, such as Als ich ein kleiner Junge war (“When I Was A Little Boy”).

After his death in Munich‘s Neuperlach hospital July 29, 1974, Kästner was buried in the St. George cemetery in the Bogenhausen district of Munich.

Popularity in Israel

Hebrew is among the many languagues to which Kästner’s works were translated, and they enjoyed enormous popularity in Israel during the 1950’s and 1960’s – a very exceptional phenomenon at the time, when there was among Israelis a very strong aversion to and widespread boycotting of all things German, in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Even parents who were themselves Holocaust survivors are known to have bought Kästner books for their children. As a kind of unintentional “cultural ambassador”, Kästner may have helped prepare the ground for the gradual rapprochement between Israeli Jews and Germans taking place since the middle 1960’s.

It should be noted that in the Hebrew translation of Das doppelte Lottchen, the chapters taking place in the original at München were transferred to Zürich, apparently due to the translator and publisher’s special aversion to the city where Hitler started his career.

Kästner and the bombing of Dresden

In his 1945 diary, published many years later, Kästner describes his shock at arriving at Dresden shortly after its firebombing in February 1945 and finding it a pile of ruins, so much so that he could recognise none of the streets and landmarks among which he had spent his childhood and youth.

His autobiographical book When I was a Little Child begins with a lament for Dresden: “I was born in the most beautiful city in the world. Even if your father, child, was the richest man in the world, he could not take you to see it, because it does not exist any more. (…) In a thousand years was her beauty built, in one night was it utterly destroyed”.

Translations of this book had the effect of making children aware of the Dresden bombing in countries where this aspect of the Second World War was obscured in school curricula.

Works

A list of his works, by their German titles and publication dates, follows

Notes

  • Ladenthin, Volker: Erich Kästner, the Innovator: Modern Books for Modern Kids. In: Ladenthin, Volker / Hucklenbroich-Ley, Susanne(Ed.): Erich Kästner Jahrbuch Bd. 3. Würzburg 2004. S.19-26

Erich Kaestner 1931 novel, Fabian:

In 1931 appeared Kästner’s tragic novel FABIAN (Fabian: The Story of a Moralist), a story about Germany’s ‘lost generation’, in which he analyzed the chaotic last years of the Weimar Republic. Jakob Fabian, the protagonist, loses his job, girlfriend, and his friend commits suicide. Fabian returns to his home town, Dresden, but there is no hope for him. “What was the point of his staying in this town, in this box of building-bricks gone mad?” Kästner asked. “After all, he could watch Europe’s decline and fall just as easily from the town where he was born.” Despite the sad story, Kästner uses humour, but his view of women, particularly lesbians, have been considered sexist. The Nazis attacked the book because of its sex scenes. “There was a mirror on one side of the lift. Fabian took out his handkerchief and rubbed the blotches from his face. His tie was askew. His temple was burning; and the pale blonde was looking down at him. “Do you know what a megaera is?” he asked. She put her arms around him. “Yes, but I’m prettier.”

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