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This report is taken from PN Review 32, Volume 9 Number 6, July - August 1983.

Letter from Germany Michael Hulse
January 1983

Last December 21st Heinrich Böll turned 65, his birthday marked publicly by a spate of newspaper articles, TV interviews and repeat broadcasts of Nicht nur zur Weihnachtszeit, Ansichten eines Clowns and so forth.

Living in Germany in these years of the great turning-point is an almost amusing lesson in mathematical coincidence, for it so happens that Goethe in 1982 and Wagner and Luther later this year have anniversaries, not to mention the fifty years that this month sees gone by since Hitler came to power, or - less noticed by the media outside Germany, though to many Germans of greater moment - the forty years since the German collapse at Stalingrad. They are mathematical coincidences, but coincidences that might almost give the outsider the impression that those heroic Germans who for foreigners are the cliché figures of the nation really are the true and lasting emblems of the German spirit, still. Böll, with his reprints (Ansichten eines Clowns, for example, has now sold over a million in Germany) and his window displays and his media exposure, was fitted so snugly into his slot in the pre-Christmas rush that one thought was finally unavoidable: he has been adapted readily, I might say alarmingly readily, to a more or less official role in a national pantheon. Luther, Goethe, Wagner, Hitler: for good or bad (and there is none among them whose good was not adulterated) they are the four figures in the Central European waxworks across whom ...


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