Alfred Kerr

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Alfred Kerr (1932)

Alfred Kerr (born December 25, 1867 in Breslau , † October 12, 1948 in Hamburg ) was a German writer , theater critic and journalist . His birth name was Alfred Kempner . From 1887 he used the name Kerr in his publications , in 1909 his name was officially changed to Alfred Kerr in accordance with a decree of the district president of Potsdam .

Kerr was one of the most influential German critics in the period from Naturalism to 1933. He published in newspapers and magazines such as the Breslauer Zeitung , Der Tag , Neue Rundschau , Pan and Berliner Tageblatt . Kerr saw the criticism as an art form of its own and created an apt, witty, ironic and often casual style for it.



Alfred Kempner's parents were the Jewish wine merchant and factory owner Meyer Emanuel Kempner from Vielin (1826–1900, son of the wine merchant Joachim Kempner and Dorothea, née Sternberg) and Helene, née. Calé (1835-1911). His father's sister was the poet Friederike Kempner . Alfred Kempner himself had a sister, Anna Kempner. He spent his childhood in Breslau.


Alfred Kempner began studying history , philosophy and German in Breslau , which he continued in Berlin in 1887. In 1894 he completed his studies with a doctorate to become Dr. phil. in hall . In 1898 his dissertation on the youth poetry of Clemens Brentano under the title Godwi. A chapter of German Romanticism published.

Activities in Germany

Alfred Kerr, portrayed by Lovis Corinth (1907)

From 1891, already during his studies, he wrote articles under the name Alfred Kerr, mostly theater reviews, for the magazine for literature , the Vossische Zeitung , the Neue Rundschau , from 1895 for the Breslauer Zeitung ("Berliner Briefe") and from 1897 for the Königsberger Allgemeine Zeitung .

From 1900 to 1919 he worked as a theater critic for the Berlin newspaper Der Tag . From 1911 Kerr was initially co-editor, from 1912 to 1915 sole editor, of the art and literary magazine Pan, which was re-founded in 1910 by publisher Paul Cassirer . Here he also published two "lewd" poems by Klabund . In 1911, after the confiscation of a booklet, Kerr published a private letter in Pan from Berlin Police President Traugott von Jagow to Cassirer's wife Tilla Durieux , turning a civil matter into a political matter, and for the first time clashed with Karl Kraus .

Alfred Kerr, portrayed by Moritz Coschell , 1907

Kerr promoted Henrik Ibsen and Gerhart Hauptmann . For decades he was friends with Walther Rathenau . At the beginning of the First World War he wrote some militaristic poems against the warring powers of the Entente for the collective pseudonym "Gottlieb" , which were published in August Scherl's newspaper Der Tag . In the war year 1917 the volume of poetry Die Harfe was published , under the title Die Welt im Drama ( The World in Drama) his collected reviews were edited in five volumes in 1917.

In 1917 Alfred Kerr married Ingeborg Thormählen, who died of the Spanish flu that same year . In 1920 he married Julia Weißmann (1898–1965). The marriage resulted in two children, Michael Kerr (1921–2002), who became the first high court judge in England not born in England, and the writer and artist Judith Kerr (1923–2019).

From 1919 to 1933 Kerr wrote for the Berliner Tageblatt and the Frankfurter Zeitung . 1920 published two volumes of his works, entitled The world in the light , more volumes followed in the years 1923-1925 (New York and London , O Spain! , Yankee land) . In 1926 the volume of poetry Caprichos was published. In 1928, Kerr reported in the volume For Alfred Kerr edited by Joseph Chapiro . A book of friendship from his childhood and youth.

In 1925, Kerr and Bertolt Brecht , Max Brod , Kurt Pinthus and Alfred Wolfenstein showed their solidarity with Johannes R. Becher , whose volume of poems Red March - The corpse on the throne - The bomb pilots had been confiscated and temporarily imprisoned for the Becher.

Alfred Kerr 1905, etching by Hermann Struck

In 1928 there was another conflict with Karl Kraus , who presented his war poems to Kerr, who was now democratically and pacifist, including the Romanian song published in 1916 under the collective pseudonym "Gottlieb" . Although both compared in court, Kraus published the "Kerr file" because of its allegedly unacceptable behavior in the process in his magazine Die Fackel . A reply from Kerr was announced but never written.

Until the Nazi functionary Erich Scholz was appointed political broadcasting commissioner for the Reich Interior Minister and the director of the Berlin Radio Lesson Hans Flesch was dismissed in the summer of 1932, Kerr took a stand against the NSDAP in his glosses for the Berlin radio station . On May 10, 1933, his works fell victim to the book burning by the National Socialists . On May 13, 1933, he was put on the list of authors by the board of directors of the German Booksellers Association , whose works are "to be regarded as damaging to the German reputation". All of Kerr's writings were named in the Börsenblatt's first list of literature to be removed from public libraries. With the law on the revocation of naturalizations and the withdrawal of German citizenship of July 14, 1933, he was expatriated in August 1933 and was listed on the first expatriation list of the German Reich from 1933 .

Exile in London

Kerr fled to Prague on February 15, 1933, then to Lugano, where his family arrived on March 4. Then the family went to Zurich and Paris and finally to London in 1935. The daughter Judith Kerr later described in her books When Hitler Stole the Pink Rabbit , Waiting for Peace and A Kind of Family Reunion, the escape from Germany and life in exile from the perspective of a young girl.

In exile, Alfred Kerr wrote for the newspapers Pariser Tageblatt and Pariser Tageszeitung, newly founded by the exiles, as well as for Le Figaro , Le Temps and Les Nouvelles Littéraires , and from 1939 also for the Jewish weekly newspaper Aufbau in New York.

Considered a dangerous public enemy by the police surveillance and repression organs in Berlin, Kerr was placed on the special wanted list by the Reich Security Main Office in the spring of 1940 , a list of people who had been found to be particularly dangerous after a successful invasion and occupation of the British island by the German armed forces or hatefulness in the eyes of the SS and Gestapo leadership should automatically and primarily be identified and arrested by special commandos.

In 1938, Kerr became a co-founder of the Free German Cultural Association . From 1941 to 1946 he was President of the German PEN Club in exile in London, and from 1946 until his death he was Honorary President. From 1945 on, Kerr worked for the German daily newspapers Die Welt and Die Neue Zeitung . In 1947 he became a British citizen.


Grave of Alfred Kerr

In 1948 Kerr went on a lecture tour through Germany. He flirted with his advanced age: “You die a death and you don't know which one, maybe a pretty stroke.” In fact, he suffered a stroke during a theater performance. He then committed suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills . Alfred Kerr died in Hamburg on October 12, 1948. He was buried in the Ohlsdorf cemetery . The grave can be found in the location "Z21-217". His wife Julia died on October 3, 1965 in Berlin and is also lying in this grave.

Kerr's style

Alfred Kerr wrote his reviews in his own style and in a very idiosyncratic way of writing. His trademark is the "block style", that is, the Roman numbering of his texts in individual paragraphs or blocks, whereby the individual chapters rarely contain more than 4 to 5 lines. He is the inventor of journalistic conciseness. In Die Welt im Drama it says: “The playmaker turns a thought into a play. The writer wrote an essay. I have a sentence. "

In contrast to Maximilian Harden and Karl Kraus , who categorically refused to use the phrase , in the Kerrschen essays - as later with Kurt Tucholsky - a nominal style dominates, the most important characteristics of which are the concise, meaningful motto or the Use of memorable aperçus belongs. He used dialectal or colloquial formulations such as Berlinisms or foreign language such as Low German expressions, coined suggestive formulas and brought his written speech closer to the spoken one. Dialectisms, foreign language expressions, nouns, comparisons, paratactic sentence structure , ellipses , film-like “montage technique”, fictional dialogues, the address of the reader, and sometimes even the address of the author in a review dominate. The result of the compressed use of all these stylistic devices is a kind of telegram style, which is why Bernhard Diebold also referred to Kerr's texts as “literary shorthands”.

In addition, Kerr is a master of sarcasm , although he sometimes even imitates speech errors in his reviews in order to underline the "childish clumsiness" of a work. Regarding Franz Werfel's adaptation of Euripides ' work Die Troerinnen, for example, he wrote quite maliciously: “Here one can only exclaim: O happy to still be a child. Does the poet fail? Atta, atta! ”Kerr's polemic, Mr. Sudermann, published in 1902 , the Di… Di… poet is based on this principle. Kerr's brief and sarcastic joke is also attested by his review of the very young Robert A. Stemmle's first work , consisting of just one sentence: "Wacker, brave, little crap!"


Publications during his lifetime

  • Godwi. A chapter of German romanticism. Bondi, Berlin 1898.
  • Mr. Sudermann, the D… Di… poet - A critical vademecum , Berlin 1903, Helianthus, 94s.
  • Acting. Bard-Marquardt, Berlin 1904.
  • The new drama. S. Fischer, Berlin 1905.
  • The Harp. 24 poems. S. Fischer, Berlin 1917.
  • The world in drama. 5 volumes. S. Fischer, Berlin 1917 (= collected writings, first row)
  • The world in light. 2 volumes. S. Fischer, Berlin 1920 (= collected writings, second row)
  • Shopkeeper. 12 poems with music by Richard Strauss . Cassirer, Berlin 1921
  • New York and London. Places of Fortune. S. Fischer, Berlin 1923.
  • O Spain! A travel. S. Fischer, Berlin 1924.
  • Yankee country. A travel. Mosse, Berlin 1925; Yankee Land - a journey through America 1924, person and place registers: Charlotte Miggel, Berlin: Aufbau, 2019, ISBN 978-3-351-03719-2
  • Caprichos. Stanzas of the tributary. Spaeth, Berlin 1926.
  • Be it as it may, it was so beautiful! S. Fischer, Berlin 1928.
  • The Allgier drove to Algiers ... excursion to Africa. S. Fischer, Berlin 1929.
  • An island is called Corsica ... S. Fischer, Berlin 1933 [1932]
  • The house servant's dictatorship. Les Associés, Bruxelles 1934. (Mixed text from features articles and poetry). First edition in Germany together with the collection of poems Melodies from 1938 as Die Dictatur des Hausknechts und Melodies . Afterword Walter Huder , Konkret Literatur Verlag, Hamburg 1981, ISBN 3-922144-03-9 . Other editions: Fischer Taschenbuch, Frankfurt / Main 1983, ISBN 3-596-25184-2 .
  • Walther Rathenau. Memories of a friend. Querido, Amsterdam 1935.
  • Melodies. Poems. Editions nouvelles internationales (Internat. Verl. Anst.), Paris 1938.

Posthumous editions

  • Despite all that, it was worth it: Verses u. Lieder , Henschelverlag, Berlin 1967 [1]
  • I came to England. A diary from the estate. Edited by Walther Huder u. Thomas Koebner . Bouvier, Bonn 1979, ISBN 3-416-01423-5 .
  • Works in individual volumes. 8 volumes. Edited by Hermann Haarmann u. Günther Rühle . Argon, Berlin 1989-1991; S. Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 1998 ff.
    • Vol. I.1: Experiences. German landscapes, people and cities. Edited by Günther Rühle. Argon, Berlin 1989, ISBN 3-10-049504-7 .
    • Vol. I.2: Experiences. Travel to the world. Edited by Hermann Haarmann. Argon, Berlin 1989, ISBN 3-10-049505-5 .
    • Vol. II: Dear Germany. Poems. Edited by Thomas Koebner. Argon, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-10-049506-3 .
    • Vol. III: Essays. Theater • film. Edited by Hermann Haarmann u. Klaus Siebenhaar. Argon, Berlin 1991, ISBN 3-10-049507-1 .
    • Vol. IV: Seekers and blessed, moralists and penitents. Literary investigation. Edited by Margret Rühle, Deborah Vietor-Engländer. S. Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 2009, ISBN 978-3-10-049508-2 .
    • Volume V / VI: That was my time. Fought and lived through. Edited by Deborah Vietor-Engländer. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 2013, ISBN 978-3-10-049509-9 .
    • Vol. VII.1: "I say what is to be said". Theater reviews 1893-1919. Ed. Günther Rühle. S. Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 1998, ISBN 3-10-049510-1 .
    • Vol. VII.2: “This is the case”. Theater reviews 1919-1933 and in exile. Edited by Günther Rühle. S. Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 2001, ISBN 3-10-049511-X .
  • Where is Berlin. Letters from the imperial capital 1895–1900. Edited by Günther Rühle. Structure, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-351-02830-X . (Article in the "Breslauer Zeitung")
  • Why doesn't the Rhine flow through Berlin? Letters from a European stroller 1895–1900. Edited by Günther Rühle. Structure, Berlin 1999, ISBN 3-351-02874-1 (article in the "Breslauer Zeitung")
  • The diver and the woes of the sea. Acquaintances with people and animals. Fischer-Taschenbuch-Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 2001, ISBN 3-596-15043-4 .
  • The poet and the guinea pigs. Clemens Teck's last experiment. Edited by Günther Rühle. S. Fischer, Frankfurt a. M. 2004, ISBN 3-10-049514-4 .

Foundation and Awards

In 1990, on the initiative of his children in Berlin, the Alfred Kerr Foundation was set up to promote young German-speaking actors.

The following prizes and awards are associated with the name Alfred Kerr :

See also


Web links

Wikisource: Alfred Kerr  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Alfred Kerr  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Landesarchiv Berlin, P Rep. No. 4567, marriage certificate No. 29
  2. Deborah Vietor-English: Alfred Kerr. The biography . Rowohlt, Reinbek 2016, pp. 192–211.
  3. Gerhard Henschel demanded in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (FAS) on May 4, 2014 that the Alfred Kerr Prize should be renamed because of this latently racist war poetry. Prize winner Paul Ingendaay contradicted him: We unread moral guards. Why we shouldn't do anything in the Kerr debate on
  4. Deborah Vietor-English: Alfred Kerr. The biography . Rowohlt, Reinbek 2016, p. 380 f.
  5. For the Kraus text cf.
  6. Deborah Vietor-English: Alfred Kerr. The biography . Rowohlt, Reinbek 2016, pp. 386–388.
  7. Deborah Vietor-English: Alfred Kerr. The biography . Rowohlt, Reinbek 2016, pp. 424-429, 442.
  8. Michael Hepp (Ed.): The expatriation of German citizens 1933-45 according to the lists published in the Reichsanzeiger . tape 1 : Lists in chronological order. De Gruyter Saur, Munich 1985, ISBN 978-3-11-095062-5 , pp. 3 (reprinted 2010).
  9. Entry about Kerr on the special wanted list GB on the website of the Imperial War Museum in London.
  10. Deborah Vietor-English: Alfred Kerr. The biography . Rowohlt, Reinbek 2016, p. 617.
  11. Alfred Kerr: The world in drama. S. XVIII.
  12. ^ Hermann Haarmann, Klaus Siebenhaar : Viewpoints, prospects, fantasies. Notes on Alfred Kerr's essay writing. In: Hermann Haarmann, Klaus Siebenhaar (Ed.): Alfred Kerr: Essays. Theater film. Berlin 1991, pp. 427-432, here p. 429.
  13. Traute Schöllmann: A way to literary self-realization: Alfred Kerr. On the character and effect of his critical writings. Munich 1977, pp. 115-134.
  14. Burkhard Meyer-Sickendiek : What is literary sarcasm? A contribution to German-Jewish modernity. Fink Verlag, Paderborn / Munich 2009, pp. 291-320.
  15. Géza von Cziffra: Buy yourself a colorful balloon. Herbig 1975, p. 25.
  16. Review of Seekers and Blessed, Moralists and Penitents on: