Martin Walser wrote for
and about ordinary people
July 2023: The German journalist Wolfgang A Peters described his friend Martin Walser not only as one of the greatest German writers of the 20th century but also one who wrote like no other about and for ordinary people in post-war Germany. Now Martin Walser is dead. He died on 28 July 2023, in Überlingen on Lake Constance, less than 100 kilometres from his birthplace of Wasserburg. Martin Walser was one of the greats who shaped German literature after World War II. Although he never received the same international recognition as Günter Grass (The Tin Drum) or Heinrich Böll (Group Portrait with Lady), many of his books were translated into English and other languages. Walser's best internationally known works are probably: Tod eines Kritikers (Death of a Critic), Ein fliehendes Pferd (A Runaway Horse) and Ehen in Philippsburg (Marriage in Philippsburg). Marriage in Philippsburg: This is really strong stuff, what Martin Walser slammed in the face of the bourgeois post-war society with his first novel in 1957. That the profiteers of the ‘economic miracle’ rejected the novel is not surprising. Those who are unsparingly held up to the mirror are offended when they learn the truth about themselves and their peers! Walser's episodic narrative style, with its uncanny linguistic force, is for me a document of the times that, in addition to the plot, fully convinced me literarily. (Review by Habicht) In total, Walser wrote more than 70 books and countless stories and essays. At times, readers could count on a new title from him every year. Along with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, the renowned Georg Büchner Prize (1981) and the international Friedrich Nietzsche Prize (2015), which he received for his life's work, were among Walser's most notable awards. Even though he perhaps hoped for more international recognition, Walser could always count on his numerous readers, who enjoyed his novels featuring broken heroes. Martin Walser’s acceptance speech for the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 1998 led to controversy. He had criticised the fact that Germans were confronted with "a never-ending shame," he said, referring to the atrocities committed by the Nazis. "But when every day in the media this past is presented to me, I notice that something inside me is opposing this permanent show of our shame," he added. The Peace Prize winner saw in the "celebration of shame" the risk of turning remembrance of the Holocaust into a "lip service" ritual. Walser disliked literary critics, especially those who did not appreciate his work. Among them was Marcel Reich-Ranicki, the literary editor at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) newspaper, who “recognised the author's diligence but criticised his lack of imagination.” Walser attempted to settle accounts with his 2002 novel, Tod eines Kritikers (Death of a Critic). However, that backfired, as the author was accused of anti-Semitism in his depiction of the critic. Germany's President Frank-Walter Steinmeier wrote to Walser's widow Käthe: "We will never forget him and will always read him." "If one were to name an example of historically conscious, committed poetry in post-war German literature, who else would come to mind first but Martin Walser?" the Federal President wrote. "With his books and essays, Walser opened many people's eyes, above all, about the country they live in and about the times they live in. We all mourn Martin Walser. We will not forget him and always read him." "Martin Walser was not only one of the most important German writers, he was also a first-rate contemporary witness to the development of the German Federal Republic in the post-war period and in the reunified Germany," said Petra Olschowski, Baden-Württemberg's Minister of the Arts. "With his literary work and his contributions to the overall social debate, she said, he himself had written contemporary history." Walser was born on 24 March 1927 in Wasserburg on Lake Constance and died on 28 July in Überlingen, also on Lake Constance. The last volume of his poems was published in spring 2023 under the title "Fisch und Vogel lassen grüßen".
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