Trümmerliteratur is a literary movement that originated in Germany shortly after the Second World War. What are typical charactaristics of Trümmerliteratur? How can a work that is Trümmerliteratur be recognized as such?
After World War II, literary renewal didn't come from those who had lived in exile (Exilliteratur, e.g. the Manns, Canetti, Döblin, Remarque, etc.) nor from those who had lived or claimed to have lived in “inner emigration” in the Third Reich (Hans Carossa, Werner Bergengruen, Ernst Jünger, Ina Seidel, Oskar Loerke and others listed by Glaser (page 169)). Renewal came from a new generation of authors that included Wolfdietrich Schnurre, Heinrich Böll, Günter Eich, Wolfgang Weyrauch and Wolfgang Borchert.
One of the most important aspects was an attempt to get rid of the bombast of Nazi language. This resulted in a simple and sparse style, which can be seen, for example, in Günther Eich's poem Inventur and Wolfgang Borchert's play Draußen vor der Tür. Authors felt that Nazi propaganda had degenerated the German language. This concern with language was not unique to the Trümmerliteratur; it was also important to the Gruppe 47 (Jeßing & Köhnen: 63).
Truth trumps form or aesthetics. As Wolfgang Weyrauch wrote in this anthology Tausend Gramm (1949),
Die Schönheit ist ein gutes Ding. Aber Schönheit ohne Wahrheit ist böse. Wahrheit ohne Schönheit ist besser. Sie bereitet die legitime Schönheit vor, die Schönheit hinter der Selbstdreingabe, hinter dem Schmerz. (Quoted in Knapp: 14.)
Beauty is a good thing. But beauty without truth is evil. Truth without beauty is better. It prepares the legitimate beauty, the beauty behind the self-surrender, behind the pain.
Authors broke with traditional forms, unlike authors from the older generation who favoured a return to traditions from the 1920s and 1930s, and who managed to influence German literature to an important extent. (The influence of the older generation—Carossa, Britting, Bergengruen, Wiechert, etc—was visible in anthologies and primers; Allkemper & Eke: 275.)
Subjects are typically related to World War II, especially soldiers during or after the war, and ordinary people trying to pick up their lives after the war. For example, the central character in Wolfgang Borchert's play Draußen vor der Tür (1946) is a soldier who has returned from Russia. Günther Eich's poetry collection Abgelege Gehöfte (1946) is inspired by the author's experience as a soldier and a prisoner of war (Martini: 638). The main character of Heinrich Böll's Der Zug war pünktlich* is a soldier on his way to the front; the main character of "Wanderer, kommst du nach Spa…" is a wounded soldier. Böll's first novel Wo warst du, Adam? (1951) is set at the Eastern Front.
The Holocaust, by contrast, was not an acceptable literary subject in the first two decades after World War II. For example, when the poet Paul Celan, whose work was strongly marked by the Holocaust, read poems about it to the Gruppe 47 in 1952, he was rejected (something the English Wikipedia article appears to downplay).
Trümmerliteratur was published during the first years after World War II. One model of periodisation for the years 1945–1959 uses three phases. The first phase is represented by the Trümmerliteratur or Kahlschlagliteratur, with works such as Borchert's Draußen vor der Tür, Weyrauch's Tausend Gramm and Böll's Wo warst du, Adam. The second phase begins in 1952 with works by authors such as Paul Celan, Ingeborg Bachmann and Ilse Aichinger, who represent a departure from the Neorealism from the first phase. The third phase starts in 1959. Ursula Knapp admits that this periodisation is not based on the analysis of texts but on how authors, especially the Gruppe 47, conceived or perceived their own aesthetics (Knapp: 14–15).
- Allkemper, Alo; Eke, Norbert O.: Literaturwissenschaft. UTB, 2021. (Especially page 275.)
- Martini, Fritz: Deutsche Literaturgeschichte von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart. 16th edition. Stuttgart: Kröner, 1972. (This is a standard work on the history of German literature. Martini barely mentions National Socialism in his book; he had become a member of the NSDAP and the SA in 1933.)
- Glaser, Hermann: Deutsche Kultur 1945–2000. Second editon. München: Ullstein, 1999.
- Jeßing, Benedikt; Köhnen, Ralph: Einführung in die Neuere deutsche Literaturwissenschaft. Metzler, 2016. (Especially page 63.)
- Knapp, Ursula: Der Roman der fünfziger Jahre. Zur Entwicklung der Romanästhetik in Westdeutschland. Königshausen & Neumann, 2002.
Typical charactaristics of Trümmerliteratur are:
- The works are written within a few years after the end of the Second World War.
- The work concernes the question of guilt of the war and the Holocaust.
- One of the goals of the work is to warn for repeation.
- The literary style is radically different from some styles form a while before the Second World War. However, some elements of older literary movements still come back, such as the Romanticism (Romantik) and Expressionism (Expressionismus).
- The work is realistic, unpsychological and truthful. There are no ideologies.
- The work describes the ruins (Trümmer) of Germany after the war ended.