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Page history last edited by Lawrence Glatz 8 years, 3 months ago



Böll was born on December 21st, 1917, in Cologne, Germany to

a middle-class, Catholic family. His father was a carpenter specializing

in benches and cabinets for churches, whose first wife had died. Böll's

father had remarried. Attending a Catholic high school (Gymnasium), Böll

successfully resisted joining the Hitler Youth during the 1930s. He

started and broke off an apprenticeship to learn the trade of

bookseller, then matriculated into the University of Cologne. His first

literary attempts date to 1936. Drafted into compulsary work service and

then the army (Wehrmacht), he served in France, Romania, Hungary and the

Soviet Union, and was wounded four times before being captured by

Americans in April 1945.


He was in Prisoner of War camps until September.

During his six years in uniform, he wrote letters almost

daily to his wife and family, which were published after his death. His

war injuries, which he attempted to prevent healing in order to stay

longer as unfit, were a factor in his often poor health. Böll attempted

to live solely as a writer after the war, but was also supported by the

income of his wife Annemarie, who worked for several years as a middle

school teacher. Together with his wife, who had the primary involvement,

the Bölls collaborated on numerous translations of Irish, English and

American literature.


Böll's first novel was "Der Zug war pünktlich" (The

Train Was on Time), published in 1949. He won the Prize of the Gruppe

'47 (Group 47) at Bad Durkheim in 1951. In the immediate post-war

period, he adapted memories of the War and wrote of its effects on the

lives of ordinary people in his works. The novel "Billard um halbzehn"

(Billiards at Half-past Nine) portrayed three generations of a family

and showed the rise and continuity of the Nazi past in Germany. His

novel "Ansichten eines Clowns" (Opinions of a Clown) caused much debate

for its depiction of the Catholic church in Germany. In 1976, Böll and

his wife left the Catholic church in protest over church taxation.




depicts Böll on the 2nd of December 1953 at a "Wednesday Discussion" of Cologne writers.


I. 1917-1936


1917 Heinrich Böll is born the sixth child of Viktor Böll, master

carpenter and woodcarver, and his wife Maria, in Cologne on the 21st of

December. Wartime conditions including hunger are at their worst.


1921 The family moves from the southern part of Cologne to the outlying

district of Raderberg.


1924 Böll begins elementary school in Köln-Raderthal.


1928 Böll enters the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gymnasium, a well-regarded school in

Cologne based on the classics.


1929  The Great Depression brings the collapse of a small bank for

craftsmen in which Böll's father had invested.  The Bölls have to sell

their house in Raderberg and move back to the south-city district

Cologne.  In the subsequent years, the family knows visits to

pawnbrokers, bailiffs knocking on the door, and the seizure of household

goods as part of everyday life.


1933  After Hitler becomes Chancellor, the Nazis spread terror in

Cologne.  The Böll family discusses political events frequently and

openly. Böll participates in clandestine meetings of Catholic youth

groups held in their apartment.


1936 Dated manuscripts in Böll's papers, including novel fragments,

short stories, and poems - show that he starts writing at this time.


II. 1937-1945



1937 Böll finishes the Gymnasium and passes his Abitur examinations

(school-leaving certificate). He begins an apprenticeship with the

bookseller Math. Lemperz in Bonn, but leaves without finishing it.


Between 1939 and 1945 Böll is stationed:


- at a training camp in Osnabrück (August 39 - May 1940)


-in Poland (May and June 1940); in France (June - September 1940)


- in Germany (September 1940 - May 1942)


- in France (May 1942 - October 1943)


- in Russia, the Crimea, Odessa (October 1943 - February 1944)


- at various places on German territory from March 1944 until April

1945, when he is taken prisoner.


Böll temporarily deserts and goes into hiding with his wife in Much, not

far from Cologne, but on the other side of the Rhine.  Fearing he could

be executed as a deserter, he rejoins the army at the end of February



Almost every day, he writes a letter to his family and to his fiancée

Annemarie Cech, whom he marries in 1942.


During the war at least 20,000 people die in a total of 262 air-raids on

Cologne.  Almost half of its nearly 70,000 pre-war buildings are between

60% to 100% destroyed.  Of its pre-war population of 770,000, only about

20,000 are still living in the city at the beginning of April 1945.  On

the 8th of April 1945, Cologne is liberated by the American army.


1945 Böll is released from captivity as a POW in September. He joins his

pregnant wife in Much. His son Christoph, who was born in July, dies in

October due to the harsh conditions.


III. 1946-1953



1946 On returning to Cologne, the family moves into a half destroyed

house in the Schiller Street, located in the Bayenthal section.  Böll

enrolls again at the Cologne University in order to obtain a ration

card. He works as an assistant in his father's carpentry workshop, which

is run primarily by his brother Alois.  Böll's wife Annemarie works as a

school-teacher at the secondary school in Severinswall and is able to

provide for the family, soon to number five. In November, Böll begins to

write regularly, working on the posthumously published novels "Kreuz

ohne Liebe" (Cross without Love) and "Der Engel schwieg" (The Silent

Angel), as well as numerous short stories, fragments, essays, and poems.

Many of these works draw upon experiences of the Nazi period, the war,

and the immediate post-war period.


1947 In March, Böll submits his first short stories to various magazines

and newspapers.  On the 3rd of May, one of them entitled "Vor der

Eskaladierwand" (Before the escalading wall) is published in an abridged

form in the "Rheinischer Merkur" under the title "Aus der Vorzeit" (From

prehistoric times). Böll's son Raimund is born.


1948 Böll's son René is born. Böll begins contact with the publisher

Friedrich Middelhauve.


1949 Böll signs his first publishing contract and has his first large

publication: "Der Zug war pünktlich" (The train was on time). The family

faces financial straits, because royalties from his publications are

insufficient.  Böll seeks a staff position in radio or publishing and

often thinks of giving up writing.


1950 His son Vincent is born.  Böll takes a temporary job with the city

of Cologne during the census of 1950 and is employed from June 1950 to

April 1951, counting buildings and apartments. Middelhauve publishes a

volume of his short stories: "Wanderer, kommst du nach Spa..."

(Stranger, Bear Word to the Spartans We...).


1951 Böll is invited for the first time to a meeting of Hans Werner

Richter's "Group 47," held that year at Bad Dürkheim, where he is

awarded their prize for the short satire "Die schwarzen Schafe" (Black

Sheep). The novel "Wo warst Du, Adam?" (Adam, where art thou?) is

published, the last of his works by Middelhauve.


1952 Böll leaves Middelhauve for the publishing house of Kiepenheuer &

Witsch. Böll increasingly depicts social problems in the German Federal

Republic.  He writes essays expressing his views that the moral

expectations at the end of the war, which were hopefully to take hold in

the new state, are increasingly being sacrificed to economic and

political concerns.


IV. 1953-1959


1953 Böll's new publishing house Kiepenheuer & Witsch brings out the

novel "Und sagte kein einziges Wort" (Acquainted with the night).  It is

Böll's first financial and literary success. Böll becomes a member of

the prestigious German Academy of Language and Literature (Mitglied der

Deutschen Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung), which had been founded in



1954 Böll publishes the novel "Haus ohne Hüter" (The unguarded house). 

The Bölls move into a house of in Köln-Müngersdorf. They travel for the

first time to Irland.


1955 Publication of "Das Brot der frühen Jahre" (The bread of our early



1955 Böll receives for the French language version of "Haus ohne Hüter"

the Prize of French Publishers for the best foreign novel. Böll joins

the PEN Club dof West Germany.


1956 Böll is one of 105 intellectuals and artists - including Albert

Camus, Pablo Picasso, Arthur Köstler, Jean Paul Sartre - to sign a

protest against the actions of the Soviet Union in Hungary and the

intervention of Great Britian and France in Egypt to open the Suez



1957 "Irisches Tagebuch" (Irish Journal) appears in book form, parts of

it having been printed separately in newspapers beginning in 1954.


1958  Böll's name is first mentioned as a possible candidate for the

Nobel Prize for Literature. Böll recieves several prizes.


1959 Böll publishes the novel "Billard um halbzehn" (Billiards at half

past nine), in which he depicts characters belonging to a family of

architects named Fähmel, whose history is traced through three

generations. Böll emphasizes that the present state of the Federal

Republic is the continuation and outcome of the last fifty years of

German history.  Symbolically, the ruthless and powerful "Büffel"

(buffaloes) are contrasted with the gentle and passive "Lämmer" (lambs).

Böll helps to establish the "Germania Judaica" (German Jewry) section of

the Cologne City Library dedicated to the history of the Jews in



V. 1960-1969



Böll's concerns about the role of the Catholic Church in Germany grow in

this decade and he criticizes its close links with the ruling CDU

(Christian Democratic Union) political party, whose central figure is

the German Chancellor - a former mayor of Cologne in the pre-Nazi period

- Konrad Adenauer.


1960 Böll delivers a speech in Düsseldorf on the occasion of the 10th

anniversary of the founding of the Association of Victims of Nazi

Persecution.  His father dies at the age of 90. Böll is a Coeditor of

the magazine "Labyrinth", which has as its goal the formulation of a

christian vision of society.


1961 Böll's "Irishes Tagebuch" (Irish Journal) appears in paperback as

the first volume of the new "dtv" Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag (German

Paperback Publishing House). Böll is awarded a scholarship as "Ehrengast

der Deutschen Akademie" (Honored Guest of the German Academy) to live

with his family at the Villa Massimo in Rome. The start of the building

of the Berlin Wall on August 13th begins a heated controversy over the

role of writers as the "Gewissen der Nation" (the conscience of the

nation). "Spiegel" publishes a long article in its issue of December 6th

on Böll with him on the cover. Böll's play "Ein Schluck Erde" (A

mouthful of earth) premieres in Düsseldorf to a largely negative

response from critics.


1963 Böll's novel "Ansichten eines Clowns" (The Clown) is published.


1964 At the University of Frankfurt, Böll delivers several lectures on

literature in which develops ideas on what he terms an "Ästhetik des

Humanen" (Aesthetic of the Human).


1965 Böll decries the attacks against the poet and singer Wolf Biermann

which had appeared in East German newspapers.


1966 Böll publishes "Ende einer Dienstfahrt" (The End of a Mission). At

the dedication of a new theater in Wuppertal, Böll delivers a speech

entitled "Die Freiheit der Kunst" (The Freedom of Art), discussing the

relation between art and the state.


1967 Böll receives the highest literary award of the West German

republic, the Georg Büchner Prize of the German Academy for Language and

Literature (Georg-Büchner-Preis der Deutschen Akademie für Sprache und

Dichtung). The collection "Aufsätze, Kritiken, Reden" (Essays, Reviews,

Speeches) is published. Böll is seriously ill, diagnosed with hepatitis

and diabetes.


1968  In May, Böll addresses some 70,000 demonstrators in Bonn; they

have gar-thered to oppose the passing of the "Notstandsgesetze"

(Emergency Laws).  At the invitation of the Czech Authors' Association,

Böll visits Czechoslovakia in August and witnesses the invasion of the

country to end to the 'Prague Spring'. He publishes an account of these

events appears in "Spiegel". The Bölls purchase a farmhouse in

Langenbroich in the Eifel.


1969  At the founding meeting of "Verband Deutscher Schriftsteller" (The

Association of German Writers) held in Cologne, Böll delivers a speech

on "Das Ende der Bescheidenheit" (The end of modesty). The Bölls move

into an apartment in the Hülchrather Street.


 VI. 1970-1976



1970  Böll speaks at the founding meeting of the German Writers'

Association in Stuttgart on the "Einigkeit der Einzelgänger" (Unity of

the loners). Böll is elected President of the PEN Club of the Federal

Republic of Germany for the period 1970-1972.


1971 Publication of "Gruppenbild mit Dame" (Group Portrait with Lady).

At the 38th meeting of the International PEN Club in Dublin, Böll is

elected to be the next President.


1972  On January 10th, 1972, the 'Spiegel' publishes an article by Böll

with a title he had not approved: "Will Ulrike Gnade oder freites

Geleit? (Does Ulrike Meinhof want mercy or a safe conduct?)  He

vehemently attacks the way in which the newspaper "Bild" had reported a

bank robbery that took place at Kaiserslautern on December 23rd, 1971.

"Bild" blamed the crime on the Baader-Meinhof Group with the headline

"Baader-Meinhof mordet weiter" (Baader-Meinhof gang goes on murdering),

when in the text the police are quoted as having no evidence as to whom

was responsible. This article unleashes a harsh campaign in right-wing

publications against Böll lasting for months. At the beginning of June,

while in various police raids leading terrorists are arrested, the

police also search Böll's country house in Langenbroich. Böll learns in

October that he will receve the Nobel Prize for Literature. Böll is

active in a Social Democratic Voters' initiative and supports Brandt's

election campaign. In December, Böll is awarded the Nobel Prize for



1973 Böll publishes of a collection of essays entitled "Neue politische

und literarische Schriften" (New political and literary writings).


1974 "Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum, oder Wie Gewalt entstehen

und wohin sie führen kann" (The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum or: How

violence can arise and where it can lead) appears.


1975 Böll publishes "Berichte zur Gesinnungslage der Nation" (Reports on

the state of mind of the nation), a satire on the German security

services. An interview entitled "Drei Tage im März" (Three Days in

March), conducted by Christian Linder, appears. "Ansichten eines Clowns"

(The Clown) is made into a film by Vojtech Jasny, in which Helmut Griem

strars.  "Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum, (The Lost Honor of

Katharina Blum) is adapted by Volker Schlöndorff and Margarette von

Trotta, with Angela Winkler in the title role. Böll is invloved in

writing and approving dialogue.


1976  Böll does little literary work, concentrating on journalistic

activity.  With Günter Grass and Carola Stern, he publishes the magazine

"L'76," in which the authors seek to present their conception of a

democratic and libertarian form of socialism. In January, Heinrich Böll

and his wife formally leave the Catholic Church.



VII. 1977-1985


1977  Publication of a collection of essays entitled "Einmischung

erwünscht. Schriften und Reden zur Zeit" ('A Plea for Meddling. Writings

and talks on contemporary issues'. In May, the film adaptation of

"Gruppenbils mit Dame" (Group Portrait with Lady) is released. Romy

Schneider stars in the role of Leni Gruyten, but the adaptation by

Aleksandar Petrović is generally reviewed very negatively. On the 5th of

September, the President of the "Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen

Arbeitgeberverbände" (Federal Association of Employers' Associations)

and the "Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie" (Federal Association of

German Industry) Hanns-Martin Schleyer is kidnapped. His driver and

three bodyguards are murdered. At the request of the government of

Baden-Württemberg, Heinrich Albertz, Heinrich Böll, Helmut Gollwitzer

and Kurt Scharf issue an appeal to the kidnappers, circulated by the

press agencies on the 11th of September. On September 13th, a meeting

takes place between the leader of the SPD, Willy Brandt, and Heinrich

Böll, which is meant to be a demonstration of Brandt's solidarity with

Böll. On the 27th of September 1977, the apartment of Böll's son René is

searched.  A few days later, the former residence of the Bölls, from

which they moved in 1969, is also searched. On the 16th of December, the

city council of Cologne gives a reception to celebrate Böll's sixtieth



1978 For the film "Deutschland im Herbst" (Germany in Autumn), Böll

writes a scene called "Die verschobene Antigone" (The Delayed Antigone).

Directed by Volker Schlöndorff, it satirizes the behavior of the media.


1979  The novel "Fürsorgliche Belagerung" (The Safety Net) is published.

At the opening of the Cologne Central Library on the 21st of September,

Böll presents the City with his archive as a permanent loan. The

publishing house Lamuv - managed by René Böll - brings out "Du fährst zu

oft nach Heidelberg und andere Erählungen" (Too Many Trips to Heidelberg

and Other Stories). Böll declines to receive the order of the Federal

Republic of Germany from President Scheel. During a December trip to

Ecuador, Böll sufferes a vascular condition in the right leg

necessitating an operation in that country.


1980 Upon delayed return to Germany, Böll undergoes a further operation.

 Federal Chancellor Helmut Schmidt visits him afterward in the hospital.


1981 Böll publishes by Lamuv his only lengthy autobiographical work:

"Was soll aus dem Jungen bloß werden? Oder: Irgendwas mit Büchern"

(What's to Become of the Boy? Or: Something to do with Books) On the

10th of October, Böll addresses the first great peace demonstration in

Bonn, at which about 300,000 people take part.


1982 "Vermintes Gelände - essayistische Reden und Schriften 1977-1981"

(Minefield - essays and speeches 1977-1981) is published by Kiepenheuer

& Witsch.  Lamuv brings out the hitherto unpublished early post-war

story "Das Vermächtnis" (A Soldier's Legacy). The Bölls leave

Hülchrather Street and move to Merten. Böll's son Raimund dies.


1983  Lamuv brings out a volume of hitherto unpublished short stories

written between 1946 and 1951 under the title "Die Verwundung" (The

Wound). In poor health, Böll takes part in the blockade of an American

barracks as a protest of the stationing of Pershing rockets.


1984 A collection of speeches and essays from 1981-1983 entitled "Ein-

und Zusprüche" (Protest and Encouragement) is published by Kiepenheuer &

Witsch.  Böll publishes by Lamuv a book about the language of Helmut

Kohl government's official spokesman Peter Boenisch, entitled "Bild,

Bonn, Boenisch". Cologne purchases Böll's literary estate.


1985  In early July, Böll enters the hospital for an operation.  On the

15 of July, he is discharged in preparation for a further operation.  On

the morning of the 16th of July, however, he dies peacefully in his

house in Langenbroich, with his wife at his side.  On the 19th of July,

he is buried in the cemetary in Bornheim-Merten. Colleagues such as

Günter Grass and politicians, including the President of the Federal

Republic, Richard von Weizsäcker, attend the funeral. The novel "Frauen

vor Flusslandschaft" (Women in a River Landscape) appears posthumously.

On the 27th of September, the City of Cologne organizes a ceremony to

honor Heinrich Böll, at which the square in front of the Museum Ludwig

near the Cathedral is named after him.


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