A German literature of literature, which begins immediately after the end of the Second World War in 1945 and can be imitated until the beginning of the 1950s, will be described as rubble literature, also home literature and literature of the hour zero, and is subsequently replaced by more demanding forms. The representatives of the rubble literature had mostly returned home from the war and tried to draw a realistic and true picture of the world of the post-war period. At the same time, the language – which in the Nazi regime was regarded as an ideologue carrier – should not be lyrically transfigured, but clearly show the reality. Authors of the rubble literature portray the experiences of the war, but also show how the present in the post-war Germany presents itself to them. The language of prose was often denigrated by the Nazi period, which led to the creation of numerous lyrical works. Popular genres are the short story, the sonnet and the satire, while the drama contained only a few pieces, which found a large audience. The literary epoch of debris literature forms the prelude to what later is called “postwar literature.” Postwar literature can be documented in 1967.
The term describes what the generation that returned from the war found in the home: namely debris. The noun debris denotes the fragments of a larger, destroyed whole. After all, nearly all the German cities were destroyed and many ruins testified to the previous war. Many, who came home from the war, literally stood before the ruins of their existence, had lost home, family, and friends, and were inwardly destroyed. Metaphorically, this could be described as a debris of the soul. Heinrich Böll, an important representative of this epoch, described this form of literature in an essay as follows:
The first literary attempts of our generation after 1945 have been described as rubble litterature, one has tried to abort them. We did not object to this designation because it was right: indeed, the people we push from lived in ruins, they came out of the war, men and women were equally injured, even children. And they were sharp-eyed: they saw.
They were by no means in complete peace, their environment, their condition, nothing in them and around them was idyllic, and we as writers felt so close to us that we identified with them. With black merchants and the victims of the black merchants, with refugees and all those who had become otherwise homeless, above all of course to the generations to which we belong, and which was to a great extent in a memorable and memorable situation: she returned home. It was the return from a war, at the end of which hardly anyone could believe. (Source: H. Böll, Confession to the rubble literature, 1952)
In this short excerpt from Heinrich Böll’s confession to the rubble literature from 1952, Boll sketched quite aptly what the literary works of this period were about. It is about literature written by those who return from the war, which is why it is a whole generation that returns. Beyond this, Böll betrays yet another detail, which is regarded as an essential feature of the epoch: the writers are sharp-eyed. They thus looked closely, showed the real, unhappy reality, and wanted to grasp exactly what had happened and what was happening.
Overview: Characteristics of debris literature
The literature of the rubble, partly also of the homeland literature, is often used as a synonym for post-war literature. However, the important features of this epoch can only be proved in the years following the end of the war by many authors, while the post-war literature, that is, the processing of the war, can be arranged longer. The following overview summarizes the characteristics of both streams, but with a focus on the period between the end of the war and the beginning of the 1950s.
Overview: The essential features of debris literature
With the surrender of Germany on 8 May 1945 the Second World War ended in Europe. Four months later, on September 2, 1945, Japan surrendered to Japan, which ended the last hostilities of the Second World War. The Allies, that is, the countries that joined together in the war against Germany and its allies, were victorious. At the Potsdam Conference, which lasted from July 17 to August 2, 1945, the Victory Powers decided to divide Germany into four zones: the American, Soviet, English, and French occupation zones. In addition, disarmament, democratization, and denazification (the removal of all influences of national socialism) in Germany were resolved. The Federal Republic of Germany was then founded in the three Westzones in May 1949, with the founding of the GDR on October 7, 1949, in the Soviet occupation zone, which divided Germany from 1949 into two separate states: the FRG and the GDR.
People thus faced the ruins of war and had lost almost everything: home, families and friends. Many men were in prison, and many Germans were expelled from the territories that had occupied Germany before. Representatives of the rubble literature belonged to these people: they either had themselves returned from the war or were observers of these circumstances.
The group 47 is important for the literary work of this epoch. A group meeting is called a writer meeting, to which Hans Werner Richter from 1947 to 1967 was invited. Here, criticism of literary work was practiced, and the meetings also served the purpose of promoting unknown, young authors. From 1950 onwards the prize was awarded to group 47. For many of the prize-winners this was the beginning of a steep career, such as Heinrich Böll, Günter Grass, Ingeborg Bachmann or Ilse Aichinger. Although group 47 did not have a strict literary program, it offered a space to discuss the role of literature, and was considered to be the key to post-war literature, combining many authors and poets of the time.
The authors of the rubble literature attempted to depict the world as it presented itself to them. It was therefore not a question of poetically concealing or poeticizing the seen or the experience, as was the case, for example, in realism. It was important to show a realistic, real and life-like picture of the world.
Many authors were at the beginning of their artistic career and signaled a break. It was not a question of taking up the content and language of earlier periods, or of continuing to pursue styles of national socialists, internal emigration, or exile literature. This fracture is also stylistically realized in numerous works. Thus one turned away from known norms and tried to create their own language. For example, in lyric poetry, a rhyme scheme was usually dispensed with, or rejected methods of writing were used to mark the break with previous generations.
On the one hand, this demarcated itself from earlier epochs, and on the other demanded a very untroubled view of the present. In this way the representatives of this literature demanded a certain degree of truth, for they pretended to depict everything with an unclouded, clear view. This also meant that the authors had to actually experience the life around them and should not write in the ivory tower, that is, from isolation and seclusion.
Two of the literary genres, namely lyricism and the epic, were sufficient for these demands. The lyric offered itself, since the prose was consumed by the propaganda machine of the Nazi regime, worn out and abused, which made the writing ideal in free verse or the use of its own word creations. The epic includes works in prose, but also offers numerous small forms. The authors were particularly attentive to the style of the American short stories, which briefly, narrowly and unreflectively directed the view on the essentials: consequently, numerous short stories as well as all sorts of short stories and some satires.
In terms of content, the focus was on observations that were deliberately sparse and extremely direct, showing the dreary, needful and sadly filled life within the ruins, as well as refugee camps. In addition, people who had returned from the war and did not recognize the world they were now used to remember, and were not in the least concerned about it, were literally standing in front of the ruins of their existence and once-valued values.
The fundamental themes (rubble, homecoming, war, etc.) can also be stylistically imitated in numerous works. At the same time, the representations were limited to a few protagonists, that is to say, a clear figurative constellation, characterized by a brief, but striking, dry and unadorned expression, which, however, generally did not evaluate what was shown. The space was often very limited in the stories and focused on a single event, whereby the narrated time is also extremely short and usually only a few hours / days. The literati were more concerned with individual images and did not develop complex strands of action.
In turn, the retrospective of earlier eras, such as the Antiquity (cf. Renaissance), the description by means of purely rational means, propaganda and all the literature which served the purpose of agitation, as well as the literary calligraphy, and things that appeared backwards.
Literary program of rubble literature
As described above, the lyric poetry of the literary work of the epoch was particularly evident. Short epic tales could also have a special effect: the narrow, unreflective view of a situation. In the following, the individual manifestations in the different genres are examined in more detail and illustrated by prominent examples.
Poetry of the rubble literature
The poetry was almost the same for the representatives of the epoch. Unlike the prose, it was not characterized by the propaganda of the national socialists and made it possible to grant a narrow, unreflected insight. It was not attempted to obscure what was shown by a strongly lyrical language, but to name it directly. Consequently, the lyric was regarded as the ideal form. An example:
Over stinking moat,
Paper full of blood and urine,
surrounded by glittering flies,
I squat in my knees
The above example shows the first four verses of the poem Latrine (1946) by the German lyricist Günter Eich. The poem was written during or shortly after the Second World War. It becomes clear that the work does not follow a continuous rhyme scheme or metrum, which makes it formally opposed to the tradition of poem writing. The lyrical ego depicts the actions on a makeshift latrine, and shows what has been seen untinted and directly (blood, urine, flies).
In the following verses Hölderlin is also rhymed to the noun urine and thus directly linked. The lyric self thus contrasts the activities on the latrine, ie, the excretion of excrements, with the beautifully spiritual literature. Holderlin was venerated in the Nazi regime, which makes this connection almost shocking and a break from the past, which is typical of the works of the rubble literature and post-war literature in general.
Epics of the rubble literature
At this time, the epic offered itself mainly on the basis of a text, namely the short story. The rubble literates were inspired by American models and their short stories. However, by writing short stories, not only did they refer to role models, such as Ernest Hemingway or Ernest Faulkner, but were deliberately bound up with this short form, which was linguistically simple and factual, from the extensive, in an exaggerated, solemn and ideologically charged way Works of the national socialist literature.
The short story was used by many authors, with the most important representatives being Wolfdietrich Schnurre, Heinrich Böll and Wolfgang Borchert. Wolfgang Borchert, for example, tells the story of a young man who lost his parents and his home through a bomb attack. Only a kitchen clock, which he finds in the rubble, reminds him of the care of his own mother, whereby he understands the lost family life.
Drama of the rubble literature
The drama did not play a major role in the rubble literature, although there were, of course, dramatic subjects that were performed. However, there were hardly any pieces that could reach a broad audience. However, mention may be made of Wolfgang Borchert’s exterior at the door (1947) and Carl Zuckmayer’s Des Teufels General (1946). Here, too, the immediate experience of the war, the unprecedented showing of the post-war period, and the effects of the protagonists on the forefront of the war.
Representatives and works
Johannes R. Becher (1891-1958)
Carl Zuckmayer (1896-1977)
The Devil’s General (1946)
Erich Kästner (1899-1974)
Texts for the Munich cabaret The Schaubude
Wolfgang Weyrauch (1904-1980)
A thousand grams
Wolfgang Koeppen (1906-1996)
Pigeons in the grass
Heinz Rein (1906-1991)
In a winter night
Günter Eich (1907-1972)
Trains in the fog, inventory, latrine
Walter Kolbhoff (1908-1993)
Of our flesh and blood
Homecoming to a foreign country
Hans Werner Richter (1908-1993)
Your sons of Europe
Alfred Andersch (1914-1980)
The Cherries of Freedom (1952)
Arno Schmidt (1914-1979)
Heinrich Böll (1917-1985)
The angel was silent
Where were you, Adam?
The man with the knives
Wanderer, you come to Spa …
the train was on time
Confession to the rubble literature (1952)
Wolfgang Borchert (1921-1947)
Outside the door
The kitchen clock
But the rats sleep at night
The three dark kings
Wolfdietrich Schnurre (1920-1989)
On the run
Paul Celan (1920-1970)
The sand from the urns