50 classic German authors

50 Klassiker: Deutsche Schriftsteller von Grimmelshausen bis Grass
by Joachim Scholl

Rating: 3 out of 5.

I was at an open-air theater performance in Tübingen recently. The piece was from Hölderlin and I realized that I know virtually nothing about one of Germany‘s most important poets. So I got this reference book and a short biography about Hölderlin at the library. The biography I put down again pretty quickly. This collection of essays about important German authors was quite entertaining. Each author is covered in a biography of three to five pages, mixed up with portraits of the author, photos of his home or family, a few quotes and summary of the most important work. Each entry was finished with a one-pager for the hurried reader, boiling down the biography to the essentials, offering a short rating and further reading recommendations.

You know what is the most frustrating thing about this book referencing the 50 most important German authors? They are all men. In the introduction the author announces a separate edition for female authors. Why a separate edition? And where is it, 13 years after this one here was published?

Let me give you some examples of female German-language authors that did indeed have an impact on literature:

– Bettina von Arnim (*1785-1859)
– Annette von Droste-Hülshoff (*1797–1848)
– Ricarda Huch (*1864-1947 ), nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature seven times
– Else Lasker-Schüler (*1869–1945)
– Anna Seghers (*1900-1983)
– Ingeborg Bachmann (*1926 in Austria-1973) 
– Christa Wolf (*1929-2011)

Further reading in German:
– Auch ein Land der Dichterinnen und Denkerinnen, https://www.54books.de/auch-ein-land-…

You are welcome!

Back to this book… informative, well-written. The one-pager was printed with black type on a red background, which made for bad contrast and was not easy to read. I am knocking off a star for that and another one for the male bias.


One of Hölderlin‘s most famous poems:

Hälfte des Lebens

Mit gelben Birnen hänget
Und voll mit wilden Rosen
Das Land in den See,
Ihr holden Schwäne,
Und trunken von Küssen
Tunkt ihr das Haupt
Ins heilignüchterne Wasser.

Weh mir, wo nehm´ ich, wenn
Es Winter ist, die Blumen, und wo
Den Sonnenschein,
Und Schatten der Erde ?
Die Mauern stehn
Sprachlos und kalt, im Winde
Klirren die Fahnen.

Half of Life

With its yellow pears
And wild roses everywhere
The shore hangs into the lake,
O gracious swans,
And drunk with kisses
You dip your heads
In the sobering holy water.

Ah, where will I find
Flowers, come winter,
And where the sunshine
And shade of the earth ?
Walls stand cold
And speechless, in the wind
The wheathervanes creak.

Hölderlin’s poems in English translation