Günter Wilhelm Grass: Nobel Laureate in Literature

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Günter Wilhelm Grass (born 16 October 1927) is a German novelist, poet, playwright, illustrator, graphic artist, sculptor and recipient of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is widely regarded to be Germany’s most famous living writer.[1][2][3][4]

Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig (now Gdańsk, Poland). In 1945, he came to West Germany as a homeless refugee, though in his fiction he frequently returns to the Danzig of his childhood.

Grass is best known for his first novel, The Tin Drum (1959), a key text in European magic realism, and the first part of his Danzig Trilogy, which is also included Cat and Mouse and Dog Years. His works are frequently considered to have a left-wing political dimension and Grass has been an active supporter of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The Tin Drum was adapted into a film, which won both the 1979 Palme d’Or and the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. The Swedish Academy, upon awarding him the Nobel Prize in Literature, noted him as a writer “whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history”.[5]



Early life

Grass was born in the Free City of Danzig on 16 October 1927, to Wilhelm Grass (1899–1979), a Protestant ethnic German, and Helene (Knoff) Grass (1898–1954), a Roman Catholic of KashubianPolish origin.[6][7] Grass was raised a Catholic. His parents had a grocery store with an attached apartment in Danzig-Langfuhr (now Gdańsk Wrzeszcz). He has one sister, who was born in 1930.

Grass attended the Danzig Gymnasium Conradinum. In 1943 he became a Luftwaffenhelfer, then he was conscripted into the Reichsarbeitsdienst. In November 1944, shortly after his seventeenth birthday, he volunteered for submarine service with the Kriegsmarine, “to get out of the confinement he felt as a teenager in his parents’ house” which he considered stuffy Catholic lower middle class.[8][9] However, he was not accepted by the Navy and instead was drafted into the 10th SS Panzer Division Frundsberg.[10][11] He saw combat with the Panzer Division from February 1945 until he was wounded on 20 April 1945. He was captured in Marienbad and sent to an American prisoner-of-war camp. Danzig had been captured by the Soviet Army and was then annexed by Poland, which expelled its German population. Grass could not return home and found refuge in western Germany.

His military service became the subject of debate in 2006, after he disclosed in an interview and a book that he had been conscripted into the Waffen SS while a teenager in late 1944.[12] At that point of the war, youths could be conscripted into the Waffen-SS instead of the regular Armed Forces (Wehrmacht), although Grass’ division functioned like a regular Panzer division.

In 1946 and 1947 he worked in a mine and received training in stonemasonry. For many years he studied sculpture and graphics, first at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, then at the Berlin University of the Arts. Grass worked as an author, graphic designer, and sculptor, traveling frequently. He married in 1954 and since 1960 has lived in Berlin as well as part-time in Schleswig-Holstein. Divorced in 1978, he remarried in 1979. From 1983 to 1986 he held the presidency of the Berlin Academy of the Arts.

Major works

Danzig Trilogy

Main article: Danzig Trilogy

English-language readers probably know Grass best as the author of Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum), published in 1959 (and subsequently filmed by director Volker Schlöndorff in 1979). It was followed in 1961 by Katz und Maus (Cat and Mouse), a novella, and in 1963 by the novel Hundejahre (Dog Years). Together these three works form what is known as the Danzig Trilogy. All three works deal with the rise of Nazism and with the war experience in the unique cultural setting of Danzig and the delta of the Vistula River. Dog Years, in many respects a sequel to The Tin Drum, portrays the area’s mixed ethnicities and complex historical background in lyrical prose that is highly evocative.[who?]

In 2002, Grass returned to the forefront of world literature with Im Krebsgang (Crabwalk). This novella, one of whose main characters first appeared in Cat and Mouse, was Grass’s most successful work in decades.

Social and political activism

Grass has for several decades been a supporter of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and its policies. He has taken part in German and international political debate on several occasions.

During Willy Brandt‘s chancellorship, Grass was an active supporter. Grass criticised left-wing radicals and instead argued in favour of the “snail’s pace”, as he put it, of democratic reform (Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke). Books containing his speeches and essays have been released throughout his literary career.

In the 1980s, he became active in the peace movement and visited Calcutta for six months. A diary with drawings was published as Zunge zeigen, an allusion to Kali‘s tongue.

During the events leading up to the reunification of Germany in 1989–90, Grass argued for the continued separation of the two German states, asserting that a unified Germany would necessarily resume its role as belligerent nation-state.

In 2001, Grass proposed the creation of a German-Polish museum for art lost during the War. The Hague Convention of 1907 requires the return of art that had been evacuated, stolen or seized. Unlike many countries[citation needed] that have cooperated with Germany, some countries refuse to repatriate some of the looted art.[13][14]

“What Must Be Said”

Main article: What Must Be Said

On 4 April 2012, Grass published the poem “What Must Be Said” (“Was gesagt werden muss”) in several European newspapers. In this poem Grass expressed concern that an Israeli military strike against Iran “could wipe out the Iranian people” (das…iranische Volk auslöschen könnte). And he hoped that many will demand “that the governments of both Iran and Israel allow an international authority free and open inspection of the nuclear potential and capability of both.” In response, Israel declared him persona non grata.[15][16][17]

Awards and honours

1999 Nobel Prize in Literature

Grass has received dozens of international awards and in 1999 achieved the highest literary honour: the Nobel Prize in Literature. The Swedish Academy noted him as a writer “whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history”.[5] His literature is commonly categorised as part of the artistic movement of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, roughly translated as “coming to terms with the past.”

He received the Georg Büchner Prize in 1965 and was elected in 1993 an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature [18]

Representatives of the City of Bremen joined together to establish the Günter Grass Foundation, with the aim of establishing a centralized collection of his numerous works, especially his many personal readings, videos and films. The Günter Grass House in Lübeck houses exhibitions of his drawings and sculptures, an archive and a library.


  • Die Vorzüge der Windhühner (poems, 1956)
  • Die bösen Köche. Ein Drama (play, 1956) translated as The Wicked Cooks in Four Plays (1967)
  • Hochwasser. Ein Stück in zwei Akten (play, 1957) The Flood
  • Onkel, Onkel. Ein Spiel in vier Akten (play, 1958) Mister, Mister
  • Danziger Trilogie
  • Gleisdreieck (poems, 1960)
  • Die Plebejer proben den Aufstand (play, 1966) trans. The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising (1966)
  • Ausgefragt (poems, 1967)
  • Über das Selbstverständliche. Reden – Aufsätze – Offene Briefe – Kommentare (speeches, essays, 1968) trans. Speak out! Speeches, Open Letters, Commentaries (1969) with 3 additional pieces
  • Örtlich betäubt (1969) trans. Local Anaesthetic (1970)
  • Davor (play, 1970) trans. Max (1972) on a plot from Local Anaesthetic
  • Aus dem Tagebuch einer Schnecke (1972) trans. From the Diary of a Snail (1973)
  • Der Bürger und seine Stimme. Reden Aufsätze Kommentare (speeches, essays, 1974)
  • Denkzettel. Politische Reden und Aufsätze 1965–1976 (political essays and speeches, 1978)
  • Der Butt (1977) trans. The Flounder (1978)
  • Das Treffen in Telgte (1979) trans. The Meeting at Telgte (1981)
  • Kopfgeburten oder Die Deutschen sterben aus (1980) trans. Headbirths, or, the Germans are Dying Out (1982)
  • Widerstand lernen. Politische Gegenreden 1980–1983 (political speeches, 1984)
  • Die Rättin (1986) trans. The Rat (1987)
  • Zunge zeigen. Ein Tagebuch in Zeichnungen (“A Diary in Drawings”, 1988) trans. Show Your Tongue (1989)
  • Unkenrufe (1992) trans. The Call of the Toad (1992)
  • Ein weites Feld (1995) trans. Too Far Afield (2000)
  • Mein Jahrhundert (1999) trans. My Century (1999)
  • Im Krebsgang (2002) trans. Crabwalk (2002)
  • Letzte Tänze (poems, 2003)
  • Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (2006) trans. Peeling the Onion (2007) First volume of memoir.
  • Dummer August (poems, 2007)
  • Die Box (2008) trans. The Box (2010) Second volume of memoir.
  • Grimms Wörter (2010) Third volume of memoir.

Collections in English translation

  • Four Plays (1967) including Ten Minutes to Buffalo
  • In the Egg and Other Poems (1977)
  • Two States One Nation? (1990)

See also


  1. ^ Kulish, Nicholas; Bronner, Ethan (8 April 2012). “Gunter Grass tries to hose down row over Israel”. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 April 2012. “GUNTER Grass, Germany’s most famous living writer, has tried to quell the growing controversy…”
  2. ^ “Outrage in Germany”. Der Spiegel. 4 April 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2012. “Günter Grass, Germany’s most famous living author and the 1999 recipient of the Nobel Prize in literature…”
  3. ^ “Yishai: Günter Grass not welcome in Israel”. The Jerusalem Post. 4 April 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2012. “Germany’s most famous living writer, the Nobel literature laureate Günter Grass…”
  4. ^ “Outcry as Gunter Grass poem strongly criticises Israel”. The Hindu. 8 April 2012. Retrieved 8 April 2012. “During his long literary career, Gunter Grass has been many things. Author, playwright, sculptor and, unquestionably, Germany’s most famous living writer. There is the 1999 Nobel Prize and Mr. Grass’s broader post-war role as the country’s moral conscience…”
  5. ^ a b “The Nobel Prize in Literature 1999”. Nobelprize.org. Retrieved 2009-10-08.
  6. ^ Garland, The Oxford Companion to German Literature, p. 302.
  7. ^ “The Literary Encyclopedia”, Günter Grass (b. 1927). Retrieved on 16 August 2006.
  8. ^ “Katholischen Mief”.“Und Grass wundert sich: Die öffentliche Selbstrechtfertigung des großen Schriftstellers ist so unnötig wie ärgerlich”. Die Zeit. 2006.
  9. ^ “Nobel prize winner Grass admits serving in SS”. Reuters. 11 August 2006. Retrieved 11 August 2006.
  10. ^ “Autor Günter Grass: “Ich war Mitglied der Waffen-SS””. Der Spiegel. 11 August 2006. Retrieved 11 August 2006.
  11. ^ “Günter Grass was in the Waffen SS” – Survey of reactions to disclosure of time in the Waffen-SS from the German and international press
  12. ^ “Günter Grass im Interview: „Warum ich nach sechzig Jahren mein Schweigen breche”. Feuilleton. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
  13. ^ “Rückgabe von Beutekunst: Die letzten deutschen Kriegsgefangenen”. Feuilleton. 26 October 2010. Retrieved 31 October 2010.
  14. ^ Spiegel.
  15. ^ Bar-Zohar, Barak; Ravid (8 April 2012). “Interior Minister declares Gunter Grass persona non grata in Israel”. Haaretz. Retrieved 8 April 2012.
  16. ^ Günter Grass: ‘What Must Be Said’
  17. ^ BENJAMIN WEINTHAL: Berlin politicians split over Grass travel ban, The Jerusalem Post 9. 4. 2012, online
  18. ^ “Royal Society of Literature All Fellows”. Royal Society of Literature. Retrieved 8 August 2010.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Günter Grass

Categories: Germany

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