Wolfgang Koeppen (the english article is a stub) was an outsider of the writer’s “guild” in Germany after the war. He wrote a trilogy (Trilogie des Scheiterns: Tauben im Gras; Das Treibhaus; Tod in Rom, 1951-1954) about the newly installed gouvernment, the “new” society, about the old elites, the democratic-painted fascism – and he was shunned. He recieved prizes, yes, but he found it all the more difficult to write, so he went on travels and made travel-books. As I see it he wrote no autobiography. Dagmar von Biel edited autobiographical texts by Koeppen (“Ich ging Eulenspiegels Wege. Ein Lesebuch”, 1. Aufl. Frankfurt/Main 1996) and there is a short piece titled “Mein Freund August Scholtis” (My friend August Scholtis). Now I reached the subject of this post.
Koeppen describes very short how he met the man in the pre-fascist Berlin, a little about Scholtis origin and a scene from the war-time that stuck in his memory:
“I once met Scholtis on the Kurfürstendamm. He wore an incredibly shabby uniform. I did not recognize him until he stood in front of me, raised the right arm and with a croaky, irate, put down (“unterdrückten”) voice in his native silesian dialect pressed out “Heil Hietler”. It was the scream of a tormented cat that was on the verge of running amok. After the war, alone and nearly forgotten, he wrote his memoirs “Ein Herr aus Bolatitz” [A Sir from Bolatitz, it’s bitter irony]. A very German book from a very German time.”
Of course I have to read. It is sometimes nearly unbearable. Scholtis was born 1901 in Bolatitz in the “Hultschiner Ländchen” – can you find that on a map without help? It is in Oberschlesien, today it belongs to Tschechien. In the 50s and 60s Scholtis engaged himself in the first tries of reconciliation – what isolated him even more in Germany, because nobody wanted to talk to “the goddam communists that stole our “Heimat”” and a writer and journalist telling people that the eviction of the Germans after 1945 is a result of the elections of 1933 had to fear for his health in the new democratic Germany, especially when he expressed sympathy for the communist ideas – Scholtis grew up in feudal structures, behind the Schnaps-factory of his lordship and that is no joke.
Blessed or cursed with a cast-iron memory he describes his childhood and youth – I am reading still about the years before WWI – and some sentences just hit me, when he describes the innocent happiness of the child, the joys on the fields, gardens – und dann schwankte mein betrunkener Vater zwischen den Kühen, and my drunk father staggered between the cows. Violence, alcoholism, nationalism, the authorities (Fürst, Richter, Amtmann, Pfarrer), teachers mostly uncapable … this man will later in Berlin play Chopin for friends – as Koeppen remembers, where did he learn that? -, will write novels and for newspapers for money, will somehow survive all the nonsense called German history (his descriptions of the “comrades” in his American captivity, oh Herr), will recognize the lie of the “Stunde Null” (Start from Zero) the democratic catholic Bonn democracy is based upon, and will finally put an end to his life 1969.
I do not have a very German family-name. My father was born in Breslau, the silesian capital, only recently I found by chance my grandfather in an old address-book: “Wilhelm G., Maßschneider, Breslau I, Marthastr. 4”. My father knew about the Hultschiner Land, he was there before the war. I would very much like to visit this area and see the village August Scholtis describes, where he was born 107 years ago, right into the middle ages.

11 thoughts on “Reading

  1. I have difficulty understanding exactly what you are saying but I suspect that maybe you are making a metaphor or comparison of the middle ages which we call the dark ages with pre-WWI era when you say:“Violence, alcoholism, nationalism, the authorities, teachers mostly uncapable …”Excuse my ignorance. Many things I don’t grasp very well. It was interesting how you say such amazing talents emerged from seemingly nowhere in that man, but it shows that there are so many talented people who never realize or use their natural talents. Under pressure, he reached deep inside himself. At least that is the impression I am getting from your writing.

  2. tom & icySorry for being unclear: The middle ages, dark ages, are normally seen as ending much earlier – most historians say that around 1500 in Europe so much changed in different areas like political, religious, economical and social life, that it is allright to say that something new started. But on the other hand structures did not change: For example in rural areas throughout Europe nearly nothing changed – in France until the revolution from 1789, in parts of Germany until 1803/06, when the old Reich ended.What Scholtis describes is absolutly outdated, like the (catholic) priest opposing the choice of the name for the child – “Gustav” is too protestant (because of Gustav Adolf, the protestant swedish king); authority is sacrosanct, a mixture of feudal prussian “Lord” and Judge and priest – thinking for one own, enlightenment you could say, is considered dangerous; they live in a world of drink and violence, violende against children, women, animals and each other – and it is the “Ordnung”; drunk teachers filling their student’s heads with nationalistic nonsense about the prussian glory, inoculating the children with hatred and contemt for people that happen to belong to another nation be it polish or austrian – okay, nationalism is not a thing of the middle ages, it develops it’s full glory in the 18th century and it will grow to it’s full extend in Germany in the 20th – but all together Scholtis describes a pre-modern world, conditions of a pre-enlightment- world. That is what I mean with “the middle ages, 107 years ago”.Scholtis was a talented young man – I am simply not far enough into the book to have learned, where he learned to play the piano or to speak German – the local dialect he grew up in is not understood by fellow-prussians, most men learned German when doing service in the army.Thank you for asking about what I wrote Tom – I want to be understood and not write “dark prose”!Now I leave for my seminar, last session. Wish me luck. I was told that I could have two hours in the next semester on monday afternoon – so I keep one foot in the door, halleluhjah!

  3. Speaking of screaming, when seeing videos of Hitler making speeches, I notice that he is ALWAYS SCREAMING!!!!!! It makes him obnoxious on top of being a crazed, sadistic a-hole. I would have been shot early on because I probably couldn’t have stopped myself from yelling “oh, shut the hell up!” at him.

  4. austereI am sorry, I can not pre-suppose that you all are deep into german history, of far away and forgotten lands in the east – it is a much too german post, maybe it’s my age showing up that I look for my father’s side of the family … I will write about history next.lgsWhat Scholtis describes are medieval conditions, it is full of unequity, a rigid social system, that only the first war and its results shattered but not fully blew away, Gleichzeitigkeit des Ungleichzeitigen, I will talk about that next. I call it medieval, because in my thinking and view of history the enlightenment of the 17th and 18th century put the end to the medieval thinking.cheesemeisterBetter not tell the Fuehrer to shut up … He yells a lot, but not always: See that his speeches on the party-rallies in Nuernberg f.e. took two hours – nobody can yell for two hours at thousands of people. It was from the 20s on, after the stint in the can of Landsberg, that his speeches became a dramatic production, that he posed and his personal photographer documented it, they searched for the best and most impressive view – there were quiet parts, he built tension, he ACTED – the yelling and screaming is just a part, you could say the highest point when the tension gets solved: By cutting and editing the film-material you can paint a very different picture of such a speech, and after the war the approach to the Fuehrer changed – it is easy to make him look stupid and degrade him to a comic figure – that man is not funny, it is dead serious and planned like a film or stage production – what it WAS in the end! If you are interested in this, try to see the whole speeches if possible, than you see the tension building. The most impressive thing I saw was Goebbels in the Sportpalast 1943 (or ’44?), the speech that had “Wollt ihr den totalen Krieg?” – “Do you want total war?” – It ended with the words: “Volk erhebe Dich – Sturm brich’ los!” It is difficult to translate it and to bring into the words the magic and passion – “people get up, storm start” has not this quality! Both implemented into their performances elements of the catholic mass and Adolf was propagated the new messiah, it had signs of a cult. The Goebbels-speech was a masterpiece of manipulation, you can learn a lot from that – and any other speech you hear after this is, well, nice?

  5. Mago,I have quarterly printed magazines called World Progress from 1931 to39. That time was really hectic in Germany. There were so many political groups before Hitler but after he was finally electedand got the power Nazi was the head group. I started to read the reports about Germany today. This tells what happened at the time it was writen. History is not always the same after years.

  6. Joyce“World Progress” – I will have a look in the library.amandaMe too!Thank you.austereThat is a very interesting question, whether history repeats itself.

  7. Sadly “World progress; the standard quarterly review, an alphabetically arranged digest covering all lines of human endeavor”, published in Chicago by The Standard education society, from 1928 onwards (until today?)is not in any european library. Editors were Calvin Rogers Fisk (born 1896), and Harold Melvin (1875). I would have liked to have a look, but it’s seemingly not on this continent.

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