Heinrich Böll

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Georg Büchner Prize

Heinrich Theodor Böll (December 21, 1917 – July 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 before studying 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 Nelly Sachs in 1966. 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, apart from many short stories.

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.

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