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.