Nobel Prize for Literature 1972
Böll's first book was published in 1949 and his last one appeared after his death in 1985. He won the Prize of the Gruppe '47 (Group 47) in 1951, and was awarded the Büchner Prize - Germany's highest literary honor - in 1967. In his lifetime, he published eight novels, numerous short stories, brilliant satires, radio plays, and two theatrical plays.
Böll grew up Catholic in the town of Cologne. He began writing before the Second World War, in which he served as a private from the beginning to the end. Publishing at first in the short era of the "Trümmerliteratur" (the literature of the rubble) in the immediate post-war period, his subjects were both the war and the lives of people struggling after the war with its effects. Böll was at times controversial, the author of both bestselling works and a socially-engaged commentator on the state of the German people.
Living mainly in Cologne, Böll and his family traveled widely for the times. They spent much time on Achill Island off the west coast of Ireland. His cottage there is now used as a guest house for international and Irish artists. He recorded some of his experiences in Ireland in his humorous book "Irisches Tagebuch" (Irish Journal).
From the 1950s on, his essays and speeches appeared regularly and were also published as collections. Several documentaries were made of him, and he gave numerous interviews for radio and television, of which transcripts of many were also published. He was president of the then West German P.E.N. Center and subsequently president of the International P.E.N. organization.
Before being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972 after the publication of his novel "Gruppenbild mit Dame" (Group Portrait with Lady), he had come under attack for his subtle essay that January questioning the journalist practices of the Springer Press in Germany. He was the main intellectual involved in the debates concerning terrorism and the state's battle against it. His voice was so established that by the late 1970s a poll found that 89% of those Germans questioned could identify him.
Before his death, Böll's work had been translated already into more than 30 languages. He remains one of Germany's most widely known authors, with the publication of a 27 volume edition of his writings finished in 2010.
Böll was born on December 21st, 1917, in Cologne, Germany to a middle-class, Catholic family. His father was a carpenter specializing in benches and cabinets for churches, whose first wife had died. Böll's father had remarried.
Attending a Catholic high school (Gymnasium), Böll successfully resisted joining the Hitler Youth during the 1930s. He started and broke off an apprenticeship to learn the trade of bookseller, then matriculated into the University of Cologne. His first literary attempts date to 1936.
Drafted into compulsary work service and then the army (Wehrmacht), he served in France, Romania, Hungary and the Soviet Union, and was wounded four times before being captured by Americans in April 1945. He was in Prisoner of War camps until September. During his six years in uniform, he wrote letters almost daily to his wife and family, which were published after his death. His war injuries, which he attempted to prevent healing in order to stay longer as unfit, were a factor in his often poor health.
Böll attempted to live solely as a writer after the war, but was also supported by the income of his wife Annemarie, who worked for several years as a middle school teacher. Together with his wife, who had the primary involvement, the Bölls collaborated on numerous translations of Irish, English and American literature.
Böll's first novel was "Der Zug war pünktlich" (The Train Was on Time), published in 1949. He won the Prize of the Gruppe '47 (Group 47) at Bad Durkheim in 1951. In the immediate post-war period, he adapted memories of the War and wrote of its effects on the lives of ordinary people in his works.
The novel "Billard um halbzehn" (Billiards at Half-past Nine) portrayed three generations of a family and showed the rise and continuity of the Nazi past in Germany.
His novel "Ansichten eines Clowns" (Opinions of a Clown) caused much debate for its depiction of the Catholic church in Germany. In 1976, Böll and his wife left the Catholic church in protest over church taxation.
depicts Böll on the 2nd of December 1953 at a "Wednesday Discussion" of Cologne writers.
1917 Heinrich Böll is born the sixth child of Viktor Böll, master carpenter and woodcarver, and his wife Maria, in Cologne on the 21st of December. Wartime conditions including hunger are at their worst.
1921 The family moves from the southern part of Cologne to the outlying district of Raderberg.
1924 Böll begins elementary school in Köln-Raderthal.
1928 Böll enters the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gymnasium, a well-regarded school in Cologne based on the classics.
1929 The Great Depression brings the collapse of a small bank for craftsmen in which Böll's father had invested. The Bölls have to sell their house in Raderberg and move back to the south-city district Cologne. In the subsequent years, the family knows visits to pawnbrokers, bailiffs knocking on the door, and the seizure of household goods as part of everyday life.
1933 After Hitler becomes Chancellor, the Nazis spread terror in Cologne. The Böll family discusses political events frequently and openly. Böll participates in clandestine meetings of Catholic youth groups held in their apartment.
1936 Dated manuscripts in Böll's papers, including novel fragments, short stories, and poems - show that he starts writing at this time.
1937 Böll finishes the Gymnasium and passes his Abitur examinations (school-leaving certificate). He begins an apprenticeship with the bookseller Math. Lemperz in Bonn, but leaves without finishing it.
Between 1939 and 1945 Böll is stationed:
- at a training camp in Osnabrück (August 39 - May 1940)
-in Poland (May and June 1940); in France (June - September 1940)
- in Germany (September 1940 - May 1942)
- in France (May 1942 - October 1943)
- in Russia, the Crimea, Odessa (October 1943 - February 1944)
- at various places on German territory from March 1944 until April 1945, when he is taken prisoner.
Böll temporarily deserts and goes into hiding with his wife in Much, not far from Cologne, but on the other side of the Rhine. Fearing he could be executed as a deserter, he rejoins the army at the end of February 1945.
Almost every day, he writes a letter to his family and to his fiancée Annemarie Cech, whom he marries in 1942.
During the war at least 20,000 people die in a total of 262 air-raids on Cologne. Almost half of its nearly 70,000 pre-war buildings are between 60% to 100% destroyed. Of its pre-war population of 770,000, only about 20,000 are still living in the city at the beginning of April 1945. On the 8th of April 1945, Cologne is liberated by the American army.
1945 Böll is released from captivity as a POW in September. He joins his pregnant wife in Much. His son Christoph, who was born in July, dies in October due to the harsh conditions.
1946 On returning to Cologne, the family moves into a half destroyed house in the Schiller Street, located in the Bayenthal section. Böll enrolls again at the Cologne University in order to obtain a ration card. He works as an assistant in his father's carpentry workshop, which is run primarily by his brother Alois. Böll's wife Annemarie works as a school-teacher at the secondary school in Severinswall and is able to provide for the family, soon to number five. In November, Böll begins to write regularly, working on the posthumously published novels "Kreuz ohne Liebe" (Cross without Love) and "Der Engel schwieg" (The Silent Angel), as well as numerous short stories, fragments, essays, and poems. Many of these works draw upon experiences of the Nazi period, the war, and the immediate post-war period.
1947 In March, Böll submits his first short stories to various magazines and newspapers. On the 3rd of May, one of them entitled "Vor der Eskaladierwand" (Before the escalading wall) is published in an abridged form in the "Rheinischer Merkur" under the title "Aus der Vorzeit" (From prehistoric times). Böll's son Raimund is born.
1948 Böll's son René is born. Böll begins contact with the publisher Friedrich Middelhauve.
1949 Böll signs his first publishing contract and has his first large publication: "Der Zug war pünktlich" (The train was on time). The family faces financial straits, because royalties from his publications are insufficient. Böll seeks a staff position in radio or publishing and often thinks of giving up writing.
1950 His son Vincent is born. Böll takes a temporary job with the city of Cologne during the census of 1950 and is employed from June 1950 to April 1951, counting buildings and apartments. Middelhauve publishes a volume of his short stories: "Wanderer, kommst du nach Spa..." (Stranger, Bear Word to the Spartans We...).
1951 Böll is invited for the first time to a meeting of Hans Werner Richter's "Group 47," held that year at Bad Dürkheim, where he is awarded their prize for the short satire "Die schwarzen Schafe" (Black Sheep). The novel "Wo warst Du, Adam?" (Adam, where art thou?) is published, the last of his works by Middelhauve.
1952 Böll leaves Middelhauve for the publishing house of Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Böll increasingly depicts social problems in the German Federal Republic. He writes essays expressing his views that the moral expectations at the end of the war, which were hopefully to take hold in the new state, are increasingly being sacrificed to economic and political concerns.
1953 Böll's new publishing house Kiepenheuer & Witsch brings out the novel "Und sagte kein einziges Wort" (Acquainted with the night). It is Böll's first financial and literary success. Böll becomes a member of the prestigious German Academy of Language and Literature (Mitglied der Deutschen Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung), which had been founded in 1949.
1954 Böll publishes the novel "Haus ohne Hüter" (The unguarded house). The Bölls move into a house of in Köln-Müngersdorf. They travel for the first time to Irland.
1955 Publication of "Das Brot der frühen Jahre" (The bread of our early years).
1955 Böll receives for the French language version of "Haus ohne Hüter" the Prize of French Publishers for the best foreign novel. Böll joins the PEN Club dof West Germany.
1956 Böll is one of 105 intellectuals and artists - including Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso, Arthur Köstler, Jean Paul Sartre - to sign a protest against the actions of the Soviet Union in Hungary and the intervention of Great Britian and France in Egypt to open the Suez Canal.
1957 "Irisches Tagebuch" (Irish Journal) appears in book form, parts of it having been printed separately in newspapers beginning in 1954.
1958 Böll's name is first mentioned as a possible candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature. Böll recieves several prizes.
1959 Böll publishes the novel "Billard um halbzehn" (Billiards at half past nine), in which he depicts characters belonging to a family of architects named Fähmel, whose history is traced through three generations. Böll emphasizes that the present state of the Federal Republic is the continuation and outcome of the last fifty years of German history. Symbolically, the ruthless and powerful "Büffel" (buffaloes) are contrasted with the gentle and passive "Lämmer" (lambs). Böll helps to establish the "Germania Judaica" (German Jewry) section of the Cologne City Library dedicated to the history of the Jews in Germany.
Böll's concerns about the role of the Catholic Church in Germany grow in this decade and he criticizes its close links with the ruling CDU (Christian Democratic Union) political party, whose central figure is the German Chancellor - a former mayor of Cologne in the pre-Nazi period - Konrad Adenauer.
1960 Böll delivers a speech in Düsseldorf on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Association of Victims of Nazi Persecution. His father dies at the age of 90. Böll is a Coeditor of the magazine "Labyrinth", which has as its goal the formulation of a christian vision of society.
1961 Böll's "Irishes Tagebuch" (Irish Journal) appears in paperback as the first volume of the new "dtv" Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag (German Paperback Publishing House). Böll is awarded a scholarship as "Ehrengast der Deutschen Akademie" (Honored Guest of the German Academy) to live with his family at the Villa Massimo in Rome. The start of the building of the Berlin Wall on August 13th begins a heated controversy over the role of writers as the "Gewissen der Nation" (the conscience of the nation). "Spiegel" publishes a long article in its issue of December 6th on Böll with him on the cover. Böll's play "Ein Schluck Erde" (A mouthful of earth) premieres in Düsseldorf to a largely negative response from critics.
1963 Böll's novel "Ansichten eines Clowns" (The Clown) is published.
1964 At the University of Frankfurt, Böll delivers several lectures on literature in which develops ideas on what he terms an "Ästhetik des Humanen" (Aesthetic of the Human).
1965 Böll decries the attacks against the poet and singer Wolf Biermann which had appeared in East German newspapers.
1966 Böll publishes "Ende einer Dienstfahrt" (The End of a Mission). At the dedication of a new theater in Wuppertal, Böll delivers a speech entitled "Die Freiheit der Kunst" (The Freedom of Art), discussing the relation between art and the state.
1967 Böll receives the highest literary award of the West German republic, the Georg Büchner Prize of the German Academy for Language and Literature (Georg-Büchner-Preis der Deutschen Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung). The collection "Aufsätze, Kritiken, Reden" (Essays, Reviews, Speeches) is published. Böll is seriously ill, diagnosed with hepatitis and diabetes.
1968 In May, Böll addresses some 70,000 demonstrators in Bonn; they have gar-thered to oppose the passing of the "Notstandsgesetze" (Emergency Laws). At the invitation of the Czech Authors' Association, Böll visits Czechoslovakia in August and witnesses the invasion of the country to end to the 'Prague Spring'. He publishes an account of these events appears in "Spiegel". The Bölls purchase a farmhouse in Langenbroich in the Eifel.
1969 At the founding meeting of "Verband Deutscher Schriftsteller" (The Association of German Writers) held in Cologne, Böll delivers a speech on "Das Ende der Bescheidenheit" (The end of modesty). The Bölls move into an apartment in the Hülchrather Street.
1970 Böll speaks at the founding meeting of the German Writers' Association in Stuttgart on the "Einigkeit der Einzelgänger" (Unity of the loners). Böll is elected President of the PEN Club of the Federal Republic of Germany for the period 1970-1972.
1971 Publication of "Gruppenbild mit Dame" (Group Portrait with Lady). At the 38th meeting of the International PEN Club in Dublin, Böll is elected to be the next President.
1972 On January 10th, 1972, the 'Spiegel' publishes an article by Böll with a title he had not approved: "Will Ulrike Gnade oder freites Geleit? (Does Ulrike Meinhof want mercy or a safe conduct?) He vehemently attacks the way in which the newspaper "Bild" had reported a bank robbery that took place at Kaiserslautern on December 23rd, 1971. "Bild" blamed the crime on the Baader-Meinhof Group with the headline "Baader-Meinhof mordet weiter" (Baader-Meinhof gang goes on murdering), when in the text the police are quoted as having no evidence as to whom was responsible. This article unleashes a harsh campaign in right-wing publications against Böll lasting for months. At the beginning of June, while in various police raids leading terrorists are arrested, the police also search Böll's country house in Langenbroich. Böll learns in October that he will receve the Nobel Prize for Literature. Böll is active in a Social Democratic Voters' initiative and supports Brandt's election campaign. In December, Böll is awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
1973 Böll publishes of a collection of essays entitled "Neue politische und literarische Schriften" (New political and literary writings).
1974 "Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum, oder Wie Gewalt entstehen und wohin sie führen kann" (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum or: How violence can arise and where it can lead) appears.
1975 Böll publishes "Berichte zur Gesinnungslage der Nation" (Reports on the state of mind of the nation), a satire on the German security services. An interview entitled "Drei Tage im März" (Three Days in March), conducted by Christian Linder, appears. "Ansichten eines Clowns" (The Clown) is made into a film by Vojtech Jasny, in which Helmut Griem strars. "Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum, (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum) is adapted by Volker Schlöndorff and Margarette von Trotta, with Angela Winkler in the title role. Böll is invloved in writing and approving dialogue.
1976 Böll does little literary work, concentrating on journalistic activity. With Günter Grass and Carola Stern, he publishes the magazine "L'76," in which the authors seek to present their conception of a democratic and libertarian form of socialism. In January, Heinrich Böll and his wife formally leave the Catholic Church.
1977 Publication of a collection of essays entitled "Einmischung erwünscht. Schriften und Reden zur Zeit" ('A Plea for Meddling. Writings and talks on contemporary issues'. In May, the film adaptation of "Gruppenbils mit Dame" (Group Portrait with Lady) is released. Romy Schneider stars in the role of Leni Gruyten, but the adaptation by Aleksandar Petrović is generally reviewed very negatively. On the 5th of September, the President of the "Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände" (Federal Association of Employers' Associations) and the "Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie" (Federal Association of German Industry) Hanns-Martin Schleyer is kidnapped. His driver and three bodyguards are murdered. At the request of the government of Baden-Württemberg, Heinrich Albertz, Heinrich Böll, Helmut Gollwitzer and Kurt Scharf issue an appeal to the kidnappers, circulated by the press agencies on the 11th of September. On September 13th, a meeting takes place between the leader of the SPD, Willy Brandt, and Heinrich Böll, which is meant to be a demonstration of Brandt's solidarity with Böll. On the 27th of September 1977, the apartment of Böll's son René is searched. A few days later, the former residence of the Bölls, from which they moved in 1969, is also searched. On the 16th of December, the city council of Cologne gives a reception to celebrate Böll's sixtieth birthday.
1978 For the film "Deutschland im Herbst" (Germany in Autumn), Böll writes a scene called "Die verschobene Antigone" (The Delayed Antigone). Directed by Volker Schlöndorff, it satirizes the behavior of the media.
1979 The novel "Fürsorgliche Belagerung" (The Safety Net) is published. At the opening of the Cologne Central Library on the 21st of September, Böll presents the City with his archive as a permanent loan. The publishing house Lamuv - managed by René Böll - brings out "Du fährst zu oft nach Heidelberg und andere Erählungen" (Too Many Trips to Heidelberg and Other Stories). Böll declines to receive the order of the Federal Republic of Germany from President Scheel. During a December trip to Ecuador, Böll sufferes a vascular condition in the right leg necessitating an operation in that country.
1980 Upon delayed return to Germany, Böll undergoes a further operation. Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt visits him afterward in the hospital.
1981 Böll publishes by Lamuv his only lengthy autobiographical work: "Was soll aus dem Jungen bloß werden? Oder: Irgendwas mit Büchern" (What's to Become of the Boy? Or: Something to do with Books) On the 10th of October, Böll addresses the first great peace demonstration in Bonn, at which about 300,000 people take part.
1982 "Vermintes Gelände - essayistische Reden und Schriften 1977-1981" (Minefield - essays and speeches 1977-1981) is published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Lamuv brings out the hitherto unpublished early post-war story "Das Vermächtnis" (A Soldier's Legacy). The Bölls leave Hülchrather Street and move to Merten. Böll's son Raimund dies.
1983 Lamuv brings out a volume of hitherto unpublished short stories written between 1946 and 1951 under the title "Die Verwundung" (The Wound). In poor health, Böll takes part in the blockade of an American barracks as a protest of the stationing of Pershing rockets.
1984 A collection of speeches and essays from 1981-1983 entitled "Ein- und Zusprüche" (Protest and Encouragement) is published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch. Böll publishes by Lamuv a book about the language of Helmut Kohl government's official spokesman Peter Boenisch, entitled "Bild, Bonn, Boenisch". Cologne purchases Böll's literary estate.
1985 In early July, Böll enters the hospital for an operation. On the 15 of July, he is discharged in preparation for a further operation. On the morning of the 16th of July, however, he dies peacefully in his house in Langenbroich, with his wife at his side. On the 19th of July, he is buried in the cemetary in Bornheim-Merten. Colleagues such as Günter Grass and politicians, including the President of the Federal Republic, Richard von Weizsäcker, attend the funeral. The novel "Frauen vor Flusslandschaft" (Women in a River Landscape) appears posthumously. On the 27th of September, the City of Cologne organizes a ceremony to honor Heinrich Böll, at which the square in front of the Museum Ludwig near the Cathedral is named after him.
Where Language is Home:
A Conversation on Heinrich Böll
at Goethe Institut New York
The author Heinrich Böll is among the contemporary literary greats of Germany, whose work earned him accolades throughout his career both at home and abroad- including the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972. The Brooklyn publisher Melville House has reintroduced Böll to his American audience with its release of eight new English translations in the series "The Essential Heinrich Böll" over the past year.
The series and the life of the author behind it formed the subject of "An Evening on The Essential Heinrich Böll," a panel discussion with artist René Böll, Wall Street Journal critic Sam Sacks, and German-Irish author Hugo Hamilton at Goethe-Institut New York on January 16. The discussion began with a personal narrative by René Böll, who described his father's relationship to Ireland with a slide presentation of family photos from their time on Achill Island, off the western coast ofIreland, in the 1950s. Though Heinrich Böll was deeply attached to his home city of Cologne, Ireland was "always on his mind," a place that served as an "escape" from the war-torn city.
He presented images of Böll family life in a cottage with no electricity or running water, where the children were home-schooled by their mother and lived in relative anonymity- and isolation- while their father wrote and their mother translated English books into German. As a hand-written list of points appeared on the screen, René Böll paused and expounded on a few anecdotes: the title read "irische Themen," and, as he explained, these were the recollections and remarks that would form Böll's Irish Journal, a book documenting his travels throughIreland in the 1950s.
This view of Heinrich Böll illuminated his relationship with a country that afforded him the space to work in ways a destroyed Cologne could not. It also highlighted the importance of Böll's observations ofGermany from this distance, in a place that was largely "still asleep" to the war and the Holocaust, as Hugo Hamilton, author of "The Speckled People," described the remoteness of Irish society in the 1950s.
öll grappled with the consciousness of a postwarGermany in his writing, meditating on themes that directly confronted the physical and psychological destruction in the aftermath of the Second World War. Sacks noted in the "stylistic ingenuity and brilliance" of works such as "Billiards at Half-Nine" and "The Clown," a deep concern for humanity and a "constant search to regain innocence" of Böll'sTrümmerliteratur, or "literature of the rubble," as German post-war literature is often characterized.
Himself a witness to combat as a private wounded four times throughout WWII, Böll engaged Germany's traumatic and immediate past and attempted to muster a language that could take on a period that seemed to defy description or reflection. His linguistic and stylistic efforts were Böll's tool to produce a literature free of a "German language corrupted by Nazi propaganda," said Sacks. Böll was influenced by writing outside of the German writing tradition, added Hamilton, as he developed a language that would "reshape of the moral consciousness of Germany."
Though he may have found temporary refuge in the quiet of an Irish island, "the German language was his home," said René Böll. Remaining true to his art with an acute social awareness of his time, Böll's legacy extends far beyond his literary stance into a compelling figure for present-day, English-language readers alike.
(1949) Der Zug war pünktlich (The Train Was on Time)
(1950) Wanderer, kommst du nach Spa…
(1951) Die schwarzen Schafe (Black Sheep)
(1951) Nicht nur zur Weihnachtszeit (Christmas Not Just Once a Year)
(1951) Wo warst du, Adam? (And where were you, Adam?)
(1952) Die Waage der Baleks (The Balek Scales)
(1953) Und sagte kein einziges Wort (And Never Said a Word)
(1954) Haus ohne Hüter (House without Guardians ; Tomorrow and Yesterday)
(1955) Das Brot der frühen Jahre (The Bread of Those Early Years)
(1957) Irisches Tagebuch (Irish Journal)
(1957) Die Spurlosen (Missing Persons)
(1958) Doktor Murkes gesammeltes Schweigen (Murke's Collected Silences, 1963)
(1959) Billard um halb zehn (Billiards at Half-past Nine)
(1962) Ein Schluck Erde
(1963) Ansichten eines Clowns (The Clown)
(1963) Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral (Anecdote Concerning the Lowering of Productivity)
(1964) Entfernung von der Truppe (Absent Without Leave)
(1966) Ende einer Dienstfahrt (End of a Mission)
(1971) Gruppenbild mit Dame (Group Portrait with Lady)
(1974) Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum)
(1979) Du fährst zu oft nach Heidelberg und andere Erzählungen (You Go to Heidelberg Too Often) - short stories
(1979) Fürsorgliche Belagerung (The Safety Net)
(1981) Was soll aus dem Jungen bloß werden? Oder: Irgendwas mit Büchern (What's to Become of the Boy?) - autobiography of Böll's school years 1933–1937
(1982) Vermintes Gelände
(1982, written 1948) Das Vermächtnis (A Soldier's Legacy)
(1983) Die Verwundung und andere frühe Erzählungen (The Casualty) - unpublished stories from 1947–1952
(1985) Frauen vor Flusslandschaft (Women in a River Landscape)
(1986) The Stories of Heinrich Böll - U.S. release
(1992, written 1949/50) Der Engel schwieg (The Silent Angel)
(1995) Der blasse Hund - unpublished stories from 1937 & 1946–1952
(2002, written 1946–1947) Kreuz ohne Liebe
(2004, written 1938) Am Rande der Kirche
(2011) The Collected Stories - reissues of translations, U.S. release