Heinrich Böll

Novelist / Poet / Playwright

Heinrich Boll
Cologne Cathedral plus Museum, Germany.
Achill Head.
Keel Bay Achill Island
Plaque to H. Boll in Germany
H.Boll Plaza.
H. Boll Bust

Novelist / Poet / Playwright

This man has been called the ‘Conscience of the German Nation’ as he advocated the individual’s rights also a return to Christian values.  He has been classed as a Literary Spokesman for the disadvantaged.  As an active supporter of Writers of repressed regimes: Heinrich Böll was the first to host Alexander Solzhenitsyn following his expulsion from Germany during 1974.  His iconic novels captured the changing psychology of the German Nation. [i]

Heinrich Theodor Böll was the sixth son of  Master Wood Carver Victor Böll & mother Maria.  He was born in Cologne Germany on 21st December 1917 to a Catholic family who opposed the rise of Nazism.  In his youth he refused to join the Hitler Youth.[ii]

‘I was born December 21, 1917 in Cologne, on the Rhine, the son of the sculptor and cabinet-maker, Viktor Böll, and his wife, Maria, née Hermanns.[iii]


He attended the Elementary School in Koln – Raderthal from 1924 to 1928,.  He studied at Wilhelm Classical Secondary School in Cologne from 1928 to 1937.  During the Summer Term of 1939 Heinrich Böll commenced studies in Germanics & Classical Philogy. [iv]

‘Between 1924 and 1928 I attended elementary school in Köln Raderthal, and from 1928 to 1937, the state-run Kaiser-Wilhelm classical secondary school in Cologne.’ [v]

He was admitted to the University of Cologne in 1939: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Heinrich-Boll

‘Between 1924 and 1928 I attended elementary school in Köln Raderthal, and from 1928 to 1937, the state-run Kaiser-Wilhelm classical secondary school in Cologne.’ [vi]

Following his Secondary education during 1937 he was apprenticed to a bookseller in Bonn: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Heinrich-Boll

‘In spring 1937 I began as an apprentice bookseller (publishers, retail trade, antiquarian) for the Matth. Lempertz company in Bonn.’ [vii]


‘I left this apprenticeship in spring 1938, started my first attempts to write, gave private lessons, read a great deal.’  [viii]


Heinrich Böll married Annemarie Cech a Teacher during 1942. Their sons were; Christoph 1947 (who died at four months old)  Raimund 1947, Rene 1948 also Vincent 1950.  They lived in the Eifil Region in Germany.  His wife Collaborated on a numerous Translations of his English & American Literature into German. [ix]

Army Career

Heinrich Böll was conscripted into the German Army.  He served six years as a Private & Corporal.  He served in Osnabruc August 1939 – May 1940, Poland from March to June 1940, France June to September 1940, then Germany during September 1940 to May 1942.  He moved to France again May of that same year to October 1943.  From 1993 to February 1944 he spent time in Russia, Crimea, Odessa.  He was wounded four times also he contacted typhoid.[x]

P. O. W.

Heinrich Böll served at various locations until his arrest as a P. O. W. during April 1945. He was released the following September. [xi]

Family Business

Upon his release Heinrich Böll returned to Cologne to his wife & family.  He worked in the Family Business followed by a year at a Municipal Statistical Bureau. [xii]


He began a writing career at the age of thirty. He based his novels on his experience as a soldier. . Heinrich Böll used austere prose or frequently short satire to present his antiwar, nonconformist point of view.  He wrote on a numerous various topics.  He continued to write several works on Political Conflict, the background to war, terrorism, profound Economic also Social Transition. During 1947 he produced an article; ‘Traveller, if you come to Spa.’ Heinrich Böll’s first novel was published in 1949 titled ‘The train was on Time.’  In his 1941 ‘Adam, Where are Thou?’ he describes the grimness & despair of soldiers’ lives.  His 1955 publication ‘The Bread of our Early Years’ exposed the uneasiness of reality.  Numerous other works included; ‘The Clown,’ the ‘End of a Mission,’ ‘Group Portrait with Lady’ also during  1974 ‘The Last Honour of Katherine Blum.’ ‘The Mad Dog’ 1955 with previously unpublished short stories & ‘Cross without Love’ were published in 2003.   ‘The Silent Angel’ was written during 1950 but actually published posthumously during 1922. [xiii]


During 1966 he Translated ‘Das harte Leben,’ ’The Hard Life’ by Brian O ‘Nolan with Illustrations by Patrick Swift. He also Translated works from J. M. Synge, Brendan Behan, G.B. Shaw & Tomas O’ Criomthain into German. [xiv]

Co – Editor

He Co –  Edited a magazine during 1960 called ‘Labyrinth.’  [xv]


He was invited to the 1949 Meeting of the Group 47 circle of German Writers with his work Acknowledged as the best Presented during 1951. [xvi]


He delivered several Lectures on Literature that developed the idea of what he termed ‘Aesthetic of the Human’ at the University of Frankfurt. [xvii]


For the film:‘ Deutschland im Herbst’ also ‘Germany in Autumn’ Henrich Böll composed a scene called ‘The Safety Net.’  [xviii]


Heinrich Böll’s Autobiography of 1981 ‘Whats to become of the Boy? or, Something to do with Books’ is a Memoir of the period between 1933 to 1937. [xix]


Heinrich Böll travelled for his first visit to Achill during the 1950’s.  He had travelled by train from Dublin: he was impressed that it had arrived punctually but from then on in Achill he was quickly introduced to the Irish saying ‘When God made time, he made plenty of it’!  Achill Island at that time had a classless Society with a casual attitude to time that appealed immensely to Böll.  He was attracted to the poetry & humour of the Irish people.  He referred to the continuing displacement from the area of its sons also daughters worldwide.  He penned a moving account of the deserted village at Slievemore. He continued to visit up to the 1970’s when he resided in a Cottage with his family at Dugort on Achill Island.  In a 1967 postscript he lamented the changes that had taken place in Ireland since the early 1950’s in his ‘Irish Journal.’  [xx]


Heinrich Böll’s Travelogue, ‘Irish Journal’ recounts his Irish Experiences.  [xxi]


During 1951 Böll won the prize of the Grupp’47 in 1953.  He was awarded the Culline Prize of the German Industry, the Southern Radio Prize also the German’s Critic’s Prize.  In 1954 he was the Recipient of the Tribune de Paris Prize.  During 1955 he was awarded the French Prize for the best Foreign Novel.  Again in 1958 Heinrich Böll Received the Eduard Von der Heydt Prize for the City of Wuppertal also the Prize of the Bavarian Academy of Arts.  During 1959 he was the Recipient of the Great Art Prize for Westphalia also the Literature Prize of the City of Cologne.  He gained the Charles Villion Prize during 1967 also was awarded the George Buchner Prize. [xxii]

Nobel Prize

During 1972 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature ‘for his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective of his time and a sensitive skill in character evangelization has contributed to a renewal of German Literature.’  During 1974 Böll was awarded the Ossietzky Medal ‘for his defence of and contribution to global human rights.’ [xxiii]

Prize motivation: for his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterization has contributed to a renewal of German literatur’: https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1972/boll/facts/


During 1960 Heinrich Böll became a Member of the Bavarian Academy of Arts. He was Elected to the Academy of Science & Arts of Maine. During 1972 an Honorary Membership of the American Academy of Arts & Letters was conferred on him. [xxiv]


Heinrich Böll acted as President of the P. E. N. Centre of the West German P. E. N. subsequently was elected President the of International P. E. N. Organization. [xxv]


On 16th December 1977 Cologne gave a Reception to celebrate Heinrich Böll’s sixtieth birthday.[xxvi]


Heinrich Boll suffered ill health from early 1950’s.  He had an operation in 1979 while in Ecuador followed by another one during 1980.  He was hospitalized again during early July1985 but discharged on the 15th to await another operation.[xxvii]


Heinrich Böll’s demise occurred when he was aged sixty – seven on 16th July at his home in Langenbruich, he is buried at the Cemetery in Bornheim – Meelen near Cologne.  [xxviii]


A Foundation was formed in Berlin on 1st July 1997 with the Amalgamation of three Associations; it was named in Honour of Heinrich Böll.  This foundation hosts a Research Archive with a focus on new Science Movements also Green politics. Awards are offered of between thirty to sixty Scholarships to International Students who gained University Entrance Qualification from a school outside Germany who wished to study for a Master’s or Ph D. [xxix]

His Personal Papers were donated by his family; these were later purchased by the City of Cologne Library in 1984 where there is a special Archival Resource. [xxx]

The City of Cologne named a Square in front of Museum Ludwig in his honour on 27th September 1985. [xxxi]

During 2011 the Brooklyn Publishers Melville House reintroduced Heinrich Böll to American audiences with its English interpretations of eight new Translations of the series ‘The Essential Heinrich Böll.’  [xxxii]


Annually on Achill Island a Memorial Weekend during the May Bank Holiday is Administered by the Heinrich Böll Association to honour Böll.  The Foundation in Ireland together with the Böll Stifung also Mayo County Council have ensured that his cottage at Dugort in Achill provides a short – term Retreat for Irish Writers, Poets also Artists.  His son René who works occasionally in Achill: stated that for Heinrich Boll ‘German Language was his home’ though he was thankful for the peace he received in Ireland also the escape from his memories of Germany at war. [xxxiii]


Sotcheck Ralf ‘s ‘Traces along the Wild Atlantic Way’Heinrich Böll & His Irish Journal’ 2007 (includes an image of the Poet with family outside Achill cottage) may be viewed at this link: https://www.goethe.de/ins/ie/en/kul/sup/dsi/20734425.html

René Böll once reported that: ‘We were really away from the world. There was no telephone; it took two weeks for a letter and its reply. People aren’t familiar with that anymore.’  ‘The Irish celebrate a Böll weekend every year. It’s always a great program, with lots of writers from Dublin and from abroad, readings, concerts, guided archaeological tours.’ (Christoph Driessen) [xxxiv]

An article in ‘The Irish Times’ titled ‘Böll’s Notion’ stated that the Writer is remembered by the Locals as fitting in well with the Community.  Photos of him in front of the Cottage show a man with a weather-beaten, west of Ireland look about him. (18th July 1997) [xxxv]

There is a Facebook page dedicated to his memory: https://www.facebook.com/AchillHeinrichBollAssociation/

Hamilton Hugo  (author of ‘Speckled People’) stated that Heinrich Böll developed a language that would ‘reshape the moral consciousness of Germany.’  [xxxvi]

Sacks Sam lauded him for‘the stylistic ingenuity and brilliance also a deep concern for humanity and a constant sense to regain innocence.’ [xxxvii]

Deane John F. reviewed Holftier Giseal 1957’s ‘Heinrich Boll and Ireland’ Cambridge Scholars Publishing in ‘The Irish Times’ of January 2012. [xxxviii]

An ‘Irish Times’ 14th Oct 2006 article ‘The tale and the Telling’ by Molly McCloskey mentioned that Sheila Sullivan referenced Heinric Böll’s time on Achill Island in her ‘Follow the Moon’ 2006 Currach Press.[xxxix]

Conney Aoife references Heinrich Böll in an article at this link: https://books.google.ie/books/about/Follow_the_Moon.html?id=n6u7AAAACAAJ&redir_esc=y

The Mayo News’ Edition of 16th June 2020 had an article with an image in ‘Blast From The Past’ on of Heinrich Böll’s tales of his Achill life penned by him. (page 22)  It was made into a film ‘Children of Eire’ & was discussed by Castlebar Urban Councillors who decided to lodge a complaint to Bord Failte about the showing of the film.

The Mayo News’  13th October 2020 Edition by Anton Mc Nally on reported on the Grant provided by the German Government for Restoration of the Heinrich Böll Cottage in Dugort on Achill Island. (page 16)  John Mc Hugh of the Achill Heinrich Böll Association welcomed the 98.000 Euro Grant.

Heinrich Böll is referenced by Ciara Moynihan in the ‘Living’ section of ‘The Mayo News’ 27th April 2021 titled ‘Achill’s Heinrich Böll celebration goes virtual’ (pages 35 & 38) 


[i] www.achill247.comk

[ii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_B%C3%B6ll

[iii] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1972/boll/biographical/

[iv] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1972/summary/

[v] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1972/boll/biographical/

[vi]  Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Heinrich-Boll

[x] www.achill247.comk

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Heinrich-Boll

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ibid

[xv] Ibid

[xvi] Ibid

[xvii] Ibid

[xviii] Ibid

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] www.achill247.comk

[xxi] Ibid

[xxii] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_B%C3%B6ll

[xxiii] Ibid

[xxiv] Ibid

[xxv] Ibid

[xxvi] https://www.britannica.com/biography/Heinrich-Boll

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Ibid.

[xxix]  Ibid

[xxx] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_B%C3%B6ll

[xxxi] Ibid

[xxxii] Ibid

[xxxiii] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1972/boll/biographical/

[xxxiv] https://www.dw.com/en/heinrich-b%C3%B6ll-and-his-ireland/a-40450522

[xxxv] https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/boll-s-notion-1.89723

[xxxvi] https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703581204576033672501155918

[xxxvii] Ibid

[xxxviii] https://www.cambridgescholars.com/product/978-1-4438-3195-6

[xxxix] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/the-tale-and-the-telling-1.1015840



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