Wednesday, May 29, 2024

An author of the level: Erich Kästner during the National Socialist era

Tagesspiegel An author of the level: Erich Kästner during the National Socialist era Article by Gisela Trahms • 21 hrs. When the Nazis seized power, the successful author Kästner decided to stay in Germany. Tobias Lehmkuhl explores the reasons in his new book. In Dominik Graf's documentary about authors who stayed in Germany during the Nazi era, Florian Illies lists the most important: Benn, Kästner, Fallada, and continues: "The most interesting is Kästner." After reading Tobias Lehmkuhl's book, you will agree with Illies. Kästner escapes all labels and proves time and again to be not just a "double" but multiple Erich. In keeping with the title, Lehmkuhl begins by examining the doppelgänger motif in Kästner's texts. The very second chapter is called "Life, a masked ball." However, the romantic times in which the "true self" would emerge after the masks fell are already over. And this author understood immediately that the powerful of the "Third Reich" got by without a mask and acted with blatant brutality. Erich Kästner was a year older than the century. In the 1920s he had a rapid career, not only through his children's books, but also with catchy poetry (still popular today on all occasions), plays, screenplays, satires, reviews - a writer of astonishing productivity who held his own in almost all fields. Before the seizure of power he had mocked the Nazis in poems and cabaret texts, so that in 1933 he was immediately put on the list of "un-German" authors and witnessed with his own eyes how the SA threw his books into the fire - all of them, except "Emil and the Detectives", were published in 1929, made into a film in 1931 and so popular that the book protected the author for a few more years before it too was banned in 1936. Kästner mocked Nazis Why did Kästner stay in Berlin, why didn't he emigrate? And how did he manage to survive comfortably, despite the early ban on publishing? How did he emerge from the twelve years of dictatorship? As a role model or with dark spots, or both? In Lehmkuhl's elegant presentation, this reads as an exciting story without tragic high points; such a life was also possible. No development process, no ideological superstructure Thoroughly researched, the book describes the resourcefulness of the former star author in earning his living without becoming an open collaborator, but also without becoming a martyr. "He had no aesthetic-ideological superstructure," Lehmkuhl states. "Kästner was, if you will, a plain author." In this he was like his readers, who wanted to save their skin and, if possible, what they understood as decency. Kästner remained the disillusioned, sentimental sceptic that he was; no development process took place. He saw no reason to turn pale like Brecht's Mr. K. After the war, Kästner's wit was once again extremely successful. No drafts of the great novel about the years of dictatorship, which he had supposedly intended to write, can be found in his estate. The dark side that he also had is fed by private matters: Kästner and his "mother" - that is horror enough. Lehmkuhl does not dramatize, writes sensitively and tactfully, judges in a differentiated way and avoids blatant defense. Kästner was and is popular - not least because he got through.