Saturday, March 07, 2009

Literary loss

I was sad when I read this report about the collapse of an archive building in the German city of Cologne and with it, the expected loss of the archives of the writer Heinrich Boll (apologies for lack of the Umlaut but writing his name as Boell just doesn't look right!)

Now this probably won't mean anything to most of my readers. But for me it holds all sorts of memories. Cologne is a city on the Rhine, famous for its cathedral and of course, Eau de Cologne. It is also the city where, when I lived in Germany, I had to change trains on every journey to and from the UK.

Heinrich Boll was a notable post-war German writer. Many of his works chronicled how ordinary Germans coped in the aftermath of the war, in the painful period of rebuilding and trying to come to terms with the past. One of his books was a slim volume called (in English), The Bread of Those Early Years. A simple and moving love story, set in one day, it uses the leitmotif of colour symbolism to great effect. It was part of my German A Level syllabus and made a huge impact on me. I still have a copy, in German, on my book shelf.

Perhaps his most famous book, The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, chronicled how the tabloid press can destroy lives, by stirring false suspicions in a time of paranoia about terrorism. Writtten in 1974, its subject matter could equally be relevant today. I studied that book, and the film adaptation, on my degree course.

Although Boll was perhaps never significantly well known in the UK, he was hugely influential in his own country and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972. The probable loss of all his private papers and unpublished work is a tragedy.

I feel a need to revisit his books soon. I wonder if my German is up to it?


Anonymous said...

German A-level, I'm impressed. I just about scraped through my O-level (yes they were still called O-levels then, not GCSE). I can, however, spell Böll with an umlaut  ;oP

(Use ö in the HTML editor.)

Cathy said...

Captain B you're a show off ;-)

(and yes it was O levels in my day too...)

Anonymous said...

How very sad. We often forget how difficult life must have been for the Germans after the war.

CJ xx

Anonymous said...

Thank you for drawing attention to (I'll go for your spelling) Boll, and giving the titles to two interesting reads. Do you think the books would be out of print? Very sad when precious records become victims. I too have visited Cologne on a couple of occasions, the first when hubby & I were double income no kids, then in January this year with now nearly 16 yr old daughter. They have done so much to recover from the War, & seeing various photos of the damage, its been a huge recovery.

Cathy said...

Welcome livingnow92, I think only a few books by Boll are still in print in English, but it's worth a look on Amazon and eBay for secondhand copies too.

Crystal, you are so right. We also forget that many Germans weren't Nazi suppporters. I know a now elderly woman who was in the resistance movement. Her late husband had to fight, but was no Nazi either.