Heinrich Böll


Heinrich Theodor Böll (December 21, 1917July 16, 1985) was one of Germany's foremost post-World War II writers. Böll was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize in 1967 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972.


Böll was born in Cologne, Germany, to a Catholic, pacifist family that, later, opposed the rise of Nazism. He successfully resisted joining the Hitler Youth during the 1930s. He was apprenticed to a bookseller, then studied German at the University of Cologne. Conscripted into the Wehrmacht, he served in France, Romania, Hungary and the Soviet Union, and was wounded four times before he was captured by Americans in April 1945 and sent to a prisoner-of-war camp.

Böll became a full-time writer at the age of 30. His first novel, Der Zug war pünktlich (The Train Was on Time), was published in 1949. Many other novels, short stories, radio plays and essay collections followed, and in 1972 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was the first German-born author to receive this award since Hermann Hesse in 1946. His work has been translated into more than 30 languages, and he is one of Germany's most widely read authors. His best-known works are Billiards at Half-past Nine, The Clown, Group Portrait with Lady, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, and The Safety Net.

Böll was deeply rooted in his hometown of Cologne, with its strong Roman Catholicism and its rather rough and drastic sense of humour. In the immediate post-war period, he was preoccupied with memories of the War and the effect it had—materially and psychologically—on the lives of ordinary people. He has made them the heroes in his writing.

His villains are the authority figures in government, business, and in the Church, whom he castigates, sometimes humorously, sometimes acidly, for what he perceived as their conformism, lack of courage, self-satisfied attitude and abuse of power. His simple style made him a favorite for German-language textbooks.

He was deeply affected by the Nazi takeover of Cologne, as they essentially exiled him in his own town. Furthermore, the destruction of Cologne by Allied bombing raids scarred him irrevocably. Architecturally, the newly-rebuilt Cologne, prosperous once more, left him indifferent. (Böll seemed to be a pupil of William Morris: He made known that he would have preferred Cologne cathedral unfinished, with the 14th-century wooden crane on top of it, as it stood in 1848). Throughout his life he maintained numerous relations to Cologne citizens, rich and poor. When he was in hospital, the nurses often complained about the "low-life" people who came to see their friend Heinrich Böll.

His works have been dubbed "Trümmerliteratur"—the literature of the rubble. This is fitting in that typical postwar German usage of "rubble" implicitly refers to the rubble of World War II air-raid damage which gradually diminished over two decades as West Germany emerged from said "rubble". He was a leader of the German writers who tried to come to grips with the memory of the War, the Nazis, and the Holocaust—and the guilt that came with them. He and his wife lived in Cologne and the Eifel mountains. However, he also spent time on Achill Island off the west coast of Ireland. His cottage there is now used as a guesthouse for international and Irish artists. He recorded some of his experiences in Ireland in his book 'Irish Journal'.

He was a president of the then West German P.E.N. and subsequently the International P.E.N. organizations. He travelled frequently as a representative of the new, democratic Germany. His appearance and attitude were in complete contrast to the boastful, aggressive type of German which had became infamous all over the world during Hitler's reign. Böll was particularly successful in Eastern Europe, as he seemed to portray the dark side of capitalism in his books. He sold millions of copies in the Soviet Union alone. When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union, he first took refuge in Heinrich Böll's Eifel cottage. In 1976, Böll demonstratively left the Catholic church, "without falling away from the faith.

Heinrich Böll died in 1985 at the age of 67. His memory lives on at, among other places, the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation and a special Heinrich Böll Archive in the Cologne Library.


The train was on time

"The train was on time" is the first published novel by Heinrich Boll. It dates from 1949 and it talks about a Nazi soldier taking a train from Paris to Przemyśl (Poland). On his way to the war front, he meets two other Nazis with whom he starts a dialogue and a short-term friendship. During their trip we learn much about horrors which soldiers go through during the war, and the effect they leave on a person. Heinrich Boll attempted to follow the development of battle-induced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in this short novel.

Selected bibliography

  • Kreuz ohne Liebe, written 1946-1947; publ. 2002
  • Der Zug war pünktlich (The Train Was on Time), 1949
  • Das Vermächtnis (A Soldier's Legacy), written 1948-1949; publ. 1981
  • Wanderer, kommst du nach Sparta (Stranger, Bear Word to the Spartans), 1950
  • 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?), 1951
  • Der Engel schwieg (The Silent Angel), written 1949-1951; publ. 1992
  • Und sagte kein einziges Wort (And Never Said a Word), 1953
  • Haus ohne Hüter (House without Guardians), 1954
  • Das Brot der frühen Jahre (The Bread of Those Early Years), 1955
  • Irisches Tagebuch (Irish Journal), 1957
  • Die Spurlosen (Missing Persons), 1957
  • Doktor Murkes gesammeltes Schweigen (Dr. Murke's Collected Silence), 1958
  • Billard um halb zehn ( Billiards at Half-past Nine ), 1959
  • Ein Schluck Erde, 1962
  • Ansichten eines Clowns (The Clown), 1963
  • Entfernung von der Truppe (Absent Without Leave), 1964
  • Ende einer Dienstfahrt (End of a Mission), 1966
  • Gruppenbild mit Dame (Group Portrait with Lady), 1971
  • Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum), 1974
  • Fürsorgliche Belagerung (The Safety Net), 1979
  • Was soll aus dem Jungen bloss werden? (What's to Become of the Boy?), 1981
  • Vermintes Gelände, 1982
  • Die Verwundung (The Casualty), early tales, publ. 1983
  • Frauen vor Flusslandschaft (Women in a River Landscape), 1985 (publ. posthumously)


  • Heinz Ludwig Arnold (Ed.): Heinrich Böll. 3. Auflage, Neufassung. edition text + kritik, München 1982.
  • Bernd Balzer: Das literarische Werk Heinrich Bölls. Kommentare und Interpretationen. dtv, München 1997.
  • Werner Bellmann (Ed.): Das Werk Heinrich Bölls. Bibliographie mit Studien zum Frühwerk. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1995.
  • Werner Bellmann (Ed.): Heinrich Böll, Romane und Erzählungen. Interpretationen. Reclam, Stuttgart 2000.
  • Hanno Beth (Ed.): Heinrich Böll. Eine Einführung in das Gesamtwerk in Einzelinterpretationen. 2., überarbeitete und erweiterte Auflage. Königstein i.Ts. 1980.
  • Alfred Böll: Bilder einer deutschen Familie. Die Bölls. Gustav Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 1981.
  • Viktor Böll, Markus Schäfer and Jochen Schubert: Heinrich Böll. dtv, München, 2002 (dtv portrait).
  • Lucia Borghese: Invito alla lettura di Heinrich Böll. Mursia, Milano 1980.
  • Michael Butler (Ed.): The Narrative Fiction of Heinrich Böll. Social conscience and literary achievement. Cambridge 1994.
  • Robert C. Conard: Understanding Heinrich Böll. University of South Carolina Press, Columbia 1992.
  • Frank Finlay: On the Rationality of Poetry: Heinrich Böll‘s Aesthetic Thinking. Rodopi, Amsterdam/Atlanta 1996.
  • Erhard Friedrichsmeyer: Die satirische Kurzprosa Heinrich Bölls. Chapel Hill 1981.
  • Lawrence F. Glatz: Heinrich Böll als Moralist. Peter Lang, New York 1999.
  • Christine Hummel: Intertextualität im Werk Heinrich Bölls. Wissenschaftlicher Verlag, Trier 2002.
  • Manfred Jurgensen (Ed.): Böll. Untersuchungen zum Werk. Francke, Bern/München 1975.
  • Christian Linder: Heinrich Böll. Leben & Schreiben 1917-1985. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln 1986.
  • Marcel Reich-Ranicki: Mehr als ein Dichter: über Heinrich Böll. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln 1986.
  • James H. Reid: Heinrich Böll. A German for His Time. Berg Publishers, Oxford/New York/Hamburg 1988. - German: Heinrich Böll. Ein Zeuge seiner Zeit. dtv, München 1991.
  • Klaus Schröter: Heinrich Böll. Rowohlt, Reinbek 1987 (Rowohlts Monographien).
  • Jochen Vogt: Heinrich Böll. 2. Auflage. Beck, München 1987.
  • Heinrich Vormweg: Der andere Deutsche. Heinrich Böll. Eine Biographie. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln 2002.

See also

External links


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