Heinrich Böll


German Author - Nobel Prize for Literature 1972


These pages are a starting point to explore the life and works of one of the most important modern German writers and Nobel Prize for Literature recipient, Heinrich Böll (1917-1985). 


Böll's first book was published in 1949 and his last one appeared after his death in 1985. He won the Prize of the Gruppe '47 (Group 47) in 1951, and was awarded the Büchner Prize - Germany's highest literary honor - in 1967. In his lifetime, he published eight novels, numerous short stories, brilliant satires, radio plays, and two theatrical plays.


Böll grew up Catholic in the town of Cologne. He began writing before the Second World War, in which he served as a private from the beginning to the end. Publishing at first in the short era of the "Trümmerliteratur" (the literature of the rubble) in the immediate post-war period, his subjects were both the war and the lives of people struggling after the war with its effects. Böll was at times controversial, the author of both bestselling works and a socially-engaged commentator on the state of the German people. 


Living mainly in Cologne, Böll and his family traveled widely for the times. They spent much time on Achill Island off the west coast of Ireland. His cottage there is now used as a guest house for international and Irish artists. He recorded some of his experiences in Ireland in his humorous book "Irisches Tagebuch" (Irish Journal). 


From the 1950s on, his essays and speeches appeared regularly and were also published as collections. Several documentaries were made of him, and he gave numerous interviews for radio and television, of which transcripts of many were also published. He was president of the then West German P.E.N. Center and subsequently president of the International P.E.N. organization. 


Before being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972 after the publication of his novel "Gruppenbild mit Dame" (Group Portrait with Lady), he had come under attack for his subtle essay that January questioning the journalist practices of the Springer Press in Germany. He was the main intellectual involved in the debates concerning terrorism and the state's battle against it. His voice was so established that by the late 1970s a poll found that 89% of those Germans questioned could identify him. 


Before his death, Böll's work had been translated already into more than 30 languages. He remains one of Germany's most widely known authors, with the publication of a 27 volume edition of his writings finished in 2010: