Heinrich B ll
Böll was born in Cologne, Germany to a liberal, Catholic, pacifistic family. He successfully resisted joining the Hitler Youth during the 1930s. He was apprenticed in a bookseller, then studied German at the University of Cologne. Drafted 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 POW camp. His wounds (a.o. he had lost all toes to frost bite) made him a regular in hospitals until the end of his life.
At the age of 30, he became a full-time writer.
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 to receive this award since Hermann Hesse in 1946. 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 and The Safety Net.
Böll was deeply rooted in his home town of Cologne, with its almost compulsory and oppressive 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 favourite 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'd 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.
His works have been dubbed "Trümmerliteratur"the literature of the rubble. He and his wife lived in Cologne and the Eifel mountains.
He was at one time president of International P.E.N. Travelled frequently as a representative of the new, non-Nazi Germany. His appearance and attitude were in complete contrast to the boastful, aggressive type of German which had became infamous all over the world during Hitler's reign. Böll was particularly successful in Eastern Europe, as he seemed to portray the dark side of capitalism in his books. He sold millions of copies in the Soviet Union alone. When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Soviet Union, he first took refuge in Heinrich Böll's house.
Heinrich Böll died in 1985. His memory lives on at, among other places, the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation and a special Heinrich Böll Archive in the Cologne Library.
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