Frankfurt reads a book: A matter of survival
Frankfurt reads a book / Irmgard Keun “She lit one or the other smoke candle”
It was a torn life that Irmgard Keun inevitably led. Born in Berlin-Charlottenburg, grew up in Cologne, she first tried her hand as a shorthand typist, then as an actress. But writing seems to suit her better. In 1931 she returned to Berlin for two years and became the new star in Berlin’s literary sky with her two novels Gilgi, Eine von uns (1931) and Das Kunstseidene Mädchen (1932). In the early summer of 1933, the newly married Keun met and fell in love with the Jewish doctor Arnold Strauss. When he lost his job at the Charité a little later and emigrated to the USA, Keun felt the negative force of National Socialism for the first time. The young writer also left Berlin shortly afterwards.
It is these intensive two years in Berlin that the author and city guide Michael Bienert has dealt with in particular. Before that he had already written books about the literary locations in Berlin by writers such as Alfred Döblin, Erich Kästner and Joseph Roth. Now it should be a woman’s turn. During his research, he was given Keun’s “After Midnight” in 2019, which he didn’t even know. “It’s a terrific book, I think it’s your best,” said Bienert and Krieg so impressed by Irmgard Keun that he not only wrote a book about Keun’s literary settings in Berlin, but also her letters from the years 1935 to 1948 views and publishes, thereby becoming a Keun expert.
However, you don’t have to be an expert to understand why Keun’s life got out of joint with a delay from 1935 onwards. Since her novels were not wanted by the Nazis, she was denied admission to the Reich Chamber of Writings, which was tantamount to a professional ban. Looking for work, she ended up in Frankfurt in November 1935, where the well-known “Frankfurter Zeitung” tried to get her to print her 15-part series of children’s stories in the Frankfurter Illustrierte. Her husband, Johannes Tralow, who was 23 years her senior, was also working as a director at the New Theater in Frankfurt at the time. Keun met her husband at drama school and married him in 1932. It’s not really love. The marriage is dissolved in 1937 by the district court in Frankfurt. After the publication of “After Midnight” by Querido Verlag in Amsterdam, Tralow has little choice but to break up with his wife if he doesn’t want to endanger himself.
The Literature Festival
It has never been as important as it is today, the “Frankfurt reads a book” website. Because in times like these, there have been changes to places and times for the literature festival from May 2nd to 15th. “Some events are already sold out.” Co-organizer Lothar Ruske therefore recommends taking a look at the website.
Surprisingly, there are still some tickets for some events, for example for a musical-literary soirée in the opera on May 5 (7 p.m.). “Paths of life that lead to exile” is the motto of the event, at which the actor Peter Schröder will read and be accompanied by members of the Frankfurt Opera and Museum Orchestra.
Tickets are also still available for the simultaneous Frankfurter Rundschau event on May 5 (7 p.m.). The actor Wolfgang Vogler has dealt intensively with Irmgard Keun’s “After Midnight” on several levels. On the one hand, because he plays three roles in the performances of the play at the Frankfurter Schauspiel (Algin, Gerti, partly Sanna). But also because he was genuinely enthusiastic about the book. “I was amazed, I didn’t expect someone to assemble a novel like that and write it at such a pace.”
At the Frankfurter Rundschau event in the Haus am Dom, Vogler will read his three favorite passages from the book and provide information on how he was able to understand the characters and why he became a fan of Irmgard Keun.
Desirée Nosbusch dealt with Irmgard Keun much earlier. As a 16-year-old she played “Sanna” in “After Midnight” in 1981. 41 years later, she will read from Keun’s work at the closing event of the literature festival on May 15 (1 p.m.) in the Alte Oper. Nosbusch was originally supposed to be abroad for filming on May 15 and has accepted at short notice for Frankfurt. Also dies a change. It’s also worth checking out the website. frankfurt-liest-ein-buch.de/programm
When Keun, despite all the efforts of the “Frankfurter Zeitung”, did not receive a blessing from the Nazi dictatorship, she emigrated to Ostend, accompanied by her mother. At first, some exile literati have a good time in the city by the sea. There, Keun met Joseph Roth, among others, who became her drinking companion and lover for a while. But with the invasion of the German Wehrmacht in Belgium and the Netherlands, things became too dangerous for them. In exile it is more conspicuous than in Germany. The return to her home country is by no means due to her love of the language, Bienert has researched: “The return was purely a matter of survival.” With false papers she travels back to Germany as Charlotte Tralow, lives sometimes in Cologne, sometimes on the Moselle.
After the war, Keun initially worked for radio and, according to Bienert, had a productive time until the early 1950s. Then she becomes more and more addicted to alcohol. “When her parents die, her life completely slips away,” says Bienert. From 1966 to 1972 she spent six years in the Rheinisches Landeskrankenhaus in Bonn. It’s the low point of her life.
It was not easy for Irmgard Keun; but she didn’t make it easy for her fellow human beings either. Her friendship with Annemarie Schäfer breaks up due to alcoholism, as does her acquaintance with the Böll couple. With Heinrich Böll she railed against materialism in post-war Germany. A publication fails, the works can only be found in the published estate of Böll. Her many letters also show that she is not always so particular about the truth. “She ignited one or the other smoke screen,” says Bienert. She makes herself five years younger early on. Little can be read from the letters about their true emotional state. She sends declarations of love with identical texts in quick succession to her ex-husband Tralow and to Strauss in the USA. She later dates back her arrival in Ostend by a year, probably to make her time in Frankfurt forgotten. After being released from the hospital, she is having another good period when her work is rediscovered. “After Midnight” is filmed in 1981 with Desirée Nosbusch, who also comes to “Frankfurt reads a book”. The new edition for the Frankfurt Literature Festival is the post-war period and the late 70s, the third rediscovery of a writer by a great woman who followed a torn life.
Keun’s letters 1935 – 1948 “One lives from one day to the next” were published by Michael Bienert.