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

This man has been called the “Conscience of the German Nation” as he advocated the individual’s rights plus 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, Böll was the first to host Alexander Solzhenitsyn following his expulsion from Germany during 1974. Böll’s iconic novels capture the changing psychology of the German Nation. [i]  His works have been translated into thirty languages.   He was an extraordinary man: a novelist, short-story writer, playwright, essayist, translator plus an editor.

Heinrich Theodor Böll was the sixth son of a Master Wood Carver Victor Böll plus 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]  He attended the Elementary School in Koln – Raderthal from 1924 to 1928, studied at Wilhelm Classical Secondary School in Cologne fro 1928 to 1937.  During the Summer Term of 1939 commenced studies in Germanics and Classical Philogy. (From his Bibliography) [iii]  Following his secondary education in 1937 he was apprenticed to a bookseller in Bonn prior to his admittance to the University of Cologne in 1939.  Böll married Annemarie Cech a teacher during 1942, their sons were; Christoph 1947 who died at four months old, Raimund 1947, Rene 1948, Vincent 1950. They lived in the Eifil region in Germany. His wife collaborated on a number of different translations of his English and American literature into German. [iv]

Army Career

Heinrich Böll was conscripted into the German Army; he served six years as a Private and Corporal.  He served in Osnabruc August 1939 – May 1940, Poland I from March to June 1940, France June to September 1940, then Germany September 1940 to May 1942 moved to France again May that same year to October 1943.  From 1993 to February 1944 he spent time in Russia, Crimea, Odessa. Böll served at various locations until his arrest as a P. O. W. during April 1945 he was released the following September.  He was wounded four times also he contacted typhoid.  [v]


Upon his release Böll returned to Cologne to his wife and family.  He worked in the family business followed by a year at a municipal statistical bureau prior to beginning a writing career at the age of thirty. He based his novels on his experience as a soldier. [vi]  He used austere prose and frequently short satire to present his antiwar, nonconformist point of view. Böll wrote on a number of different topics, he continued again and again with works on political conflict, the background to war, terrorism and profound economic and social transition.  During 1947 he produced an article; “Traveller, if you come to Spa.”  The first novel was published in 1949 titled “The train was on Time.”  In his 1941 “Adam, Where are Thou?” he describes the grimness and despair of soldiers lives.  The 1955 “The Bread of our Early Years” exposed the uneasiness of reality.  Many other works included; “The Clown” the “End of a Mission”, “Group Portrait with Lady”, plus in 1974 “The Last Honour of Katherine Blum.”   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. “The Silent Angel” was written during 1950 but actually published posthumously during 1922. “The Mad Dog” (1955) with previously unpublished short stories plus “Cross without Love” were published in 2003.   He co edited a magazine during 1960 called “Labyrinth”.  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 plus Tomas O’ Criomthain into German.  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.  He delivered several Lectures  on literature that developed the idea of what he termed “Aesthetic of the Human” at the University of Frankfurt.  For the film, “Deutschland im Herbst”, “Germany in Autumn” Böll wrote a scene called “The Safety Net.” [vii]


Heinrich Böll made 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 plus a casual attitude to time that appealed immensely to Böll.  He was attracted to the poetry and humour of the Irish people he referred to the continuing displacement from the area of its sons and daughters worldwide also he wrote a moving account of the deserted village at Slievmore.  He continued to visit up to the 1970’s when he resided in a cottage with his family at Dugort on Achill Island. Böll’s travelogue, “Irish Journal” recounts his Irish experiences.  In a 1967 postscript he lamented the changes that had taken place in Ireland since the early 1950’s in his “Irish Journal.”   [viii]


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 plus the Literature Prize of the city of Cologne.  In 1960 Heinrich Böll became a member of the Bavarian Academy of Arts.  He gained the Charles Villion Prize during 1967 also was awarded the George Buchner Prize. He was elected to the Academy of Science and Arts of Maine.   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.”  Then in 1974 Böll was awarded the Ossietzky Medal “for his defence of and contribution to global human rights.”   That same year an Honorary Membership of the American Academy of Arts and Letters was conferred on him. [ix]

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.   Boll suffered ill health from early 1950’s, in 1979 had an operation while in Ecuador followed by another during 1980.  On 16th December 1977 Cologne gave a Reception to celebrate Heinrich Böll’s sixtieth birthday.  He was hospitalized again in early July 1985 but discharged on the 15th to await another operation. He died on July 16th aged sixty – seven at his home in Langenbruich, he is buried at the Cemetery in Bornheim – Meelen near Cologne. [x]


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 plus 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.  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.  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 plus Mayo County Council has 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 Boll “German Language was his home,” thought he was thankful for the peace he received in Ireland plus the escape from his memories of Germany at war.  The City of Cologne named a Square in front of Museum Ludwig in his honour on 27th September 1985.   During 2011 the Brooklyn publishers Melville House reintroduced Böll to American audiences with its English interpretations of eight new translations of the series “The Essential Heinrich Böll.” [xi]

Hugo Hamilton (author of Speckled People) stated that Böll developed a language that would “reshape the moral consciousness of Germany.”  Sam Sacks lauded Böll for “the stylistic ingenuity and brilliance also a deep concern for humanity and a constant sense to regain innocence.” [xii] John F. Deane reviewed “Heinrich Boll and Ireland” by Gisela Holfter (1957 Cambridge Scholars Publishing) in the Irish Times, Jan 2012) [xiii]  Sheila Sullivan mentions Böll’s time on Achill Island in her “Follow the Moon” 2006 Currach Press.   Aoife Conney mentions Heinrich Böll in an article. [xiv]


The ‘Mayo News’ edition of 16th June 2020 has an article plus an image on page 22 ‘Blast From The Past’ Böll’s tales of his Achill life written by him; that 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 on page 16 by Anton Mc Nally reported on the grant provided by the German Government for restoration of the Heinrich Böll Cottage in Dugort on Achill Island.  John Mc Hugh of the Achill Heinrich Böll Association welcomed the 98.000 Euro Grant.

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


[i] www.achill247.com

[ii] www.wikipedia.org

[iii] www.nobelprize.org

[iv] www.britannica.com

[v] www.achill247.com

[vi] www.brittanica.com

[vii] www.brittanica.com

[viii] www.achill247.com

[ix] www.wikipedia.org

[x] www.brittanica.com

[xi] www.wikipedia.org

[xii] www.wsj.com

[xiii] www.cambridgescholars.com

[xiv] www.googlebooks.ie

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