Alma Karlin

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Alma Karlin
Alma Karlin (1920)

Alma Maximiliane Karlin (born October 12, 1889 in Cilli , Austria-Hungary , today Slovenia ; † January 14, 1950 in Pečovnik near Štore , Yugoslavia , today Slovenia) was a journalist and the most widely read German-speaking travel writer between the world wars . She was best known for her multi-year trip around the world shortly after the First World War and the books published about it.


Alma Karlin was born in Cilli (Celje). Before the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy , Cilli was predominantly German-speaking , with a high proportion of bilingualism ( German / Slovenian ). Her father Jakob Karlin (born 1829) was a major in the Austro-Hungarian Army and her mother Vilibalda Miheljak (born 1844), a teacher at a girls' school in Cilli. German was spoken in the family. It is unclear whether her family defined themselves as German or German-Austrian or as German-Slovenian.

She studied languages ​​in Graz, Paris and London. In London, she graduated from the Society of Arts in eight foreign languages. During this time she is said to have entered into an engagement with a Chinese officer, but broke it off at her mother's insistence.

Alma Karlin herself felt like a German-Austrian and especially missed contact with fellow countrymen on her trips abroad.

After returning to her parents' home, she went abroad again at the beginning of the First World War. She lived in Norway and Sweden for some time. After the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, she returned to Celje in 1919. Alma went on a world tour, which lasted from 1919 to 1928. She stayed in South America and especially in Asia for a long time.

In addition to her German mother tongue, Karlin spoke eleven other languages. During her travels she published numerous articles in magazines, especially in Germany, Japan (where she worked for some time in the German embassy in Tokyo) and China (where she worked as Erich von Salzmann's assistant in Beijing). She regularly sent impressions of her experiences to the newspaper Cillier Zeitung , which is published in her hometown of Celje . After returning to Yugoslavia, she published several poems and novels.

During the 1930s, Karlin's works were brought to the German-speaking market by various publishers. In 1937 the journalist Hans Joachim Bonsack found refuge with Alma Karlin in Celje.

The Swedish writer and Nobel Prize winner Selma Lagerlöf was so impressed by her book Lanterns of Death that she nominated Karlin for the Nobel Prize for Literature.

In 1941 her books were banned by the National Socialists . She had spoken out against National Socialism early on. After the invasion of the Wehrmacht in 1941, Alma Karlin was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned first in the Cillier prison Stari pisker , then in Marburg an der Drau . Her friend Thea Gamelin achieved through her relationships in Germany that Alma Karlin was not taken to a concentration camp in Germany. However, she was still under Gestapo surveillance, which she evaded in autumn 1944 by joining partisans in the Weißkrain . She tried to get to the English in Italy, but was only allowed to Dalmatia by the partisans. There she experienced the end of the war and returned to Celje, where she died in 1950.


Alma Karlin in the book Einsame Weltreise

Alma Karlin's estate was taken over by Thea Gamelin, who left part of it to the Celje Regional Museum. In the socialist Yugoslavia , the travel report Einsame Weltreise was published in 1969 as the only work and the first Slovenian Karlin translation ever .

Responsible for the fact that almost nothing was learned from Alma Karlin after the Second World War was mainly ideological prejudices against everything that had to do with German or German-Austrian culture in Slovenia . Since Alma Karlin wrote in German and her family spoke German, she automatically fell under this ideological spell.

Monument to Alma Karlin, Celje

After Slovenia's independence in 1990, interest in Alma Karlin arose. A new, young generation of Slovenian ethnologists was responsible for this. This is evidenced by numerous newspaper articles and exhibitions about them. In 1993, Slovenian television showed a documentary about her, and in 1995 a new edition of Lonely World Tour was released . In the same year, Uršula Cetinski wrote a play based on the world tour called Alma , which was shown in English at the 1996 International Theater Film Festival in Basel under the title The Lonesome Journey , with the Slovenian actress Polona Vetrih playing Alma Karlin. Since then, a number of her works have been published in Slovenia, some of them previously unpublished, so that today some of them are only available in Slovenian translation.

In the meantime, she is mainly seen as a Slovenian in Slovenia. A life-size monument of her in Celje, which was erected in her honor on April 10, 2010, on Krekplatz, testifies to this. The bronze sculpture, made by the sculptor Vassilij Ćetković, shows Alma Karlin on the way to the train station. She is carrying a suitcase with her beloved typewriter in her hand.

In 2015 the Slovenian poet, writer and translator Milan Dekleva published a biographical novel about the life of Alma Karlin, which was published in German by Klaus Detlef Olof in 2017 by Drava Verlag in Klagenfurt .

Another honor was also given in 2015: the sculptor Ciril Hocevar modeled a wax doll of the popular writer. Other artists from Celje are also to be created as wax figures as part of the Celje Story project and shown to the tourists of the place in the Quarter House , an information point.


  • My little Chinese , Dresden, Verlag Deutsche Buchwerkstätten, 1921
  • Lonely trip around the world , 1928; New edition: Berlin: AvivA, [2019], edited and with an afterword by Jerneja Jezernik; with an introduction by Britta Jürgs, ISBN 978-3-932338-75-5
  • Under the spell of the South Seas , 1930
  • Dragons and ghosts , Berlin, Frundsberg Verlag, 1930
  • The Idol , 1931
  • Mysticism of the South Seas , Berlin-Lichterfelde, Hugo Bermühler Verlag, 1931
  • The death thorn , 1933
  • Lanterns of death , Leipzig, Hesse and Becker Verlag, 1933
  • Into-Yo-Intec , 1934
  • Tears of the Moon , 1935
  • O ioni San , Breslau, Heydebrand Verlag, 1936
  • Four girls in the wind of fate , Leipzig, Grethlein & Co., 1936
  • Little Spring , Leipzig, Max Möhring Verlag, 1937
  • The blue moon , Leipzig, Max Möhring Verlag, 1938
  • The cup of forgetting , Leipzig, Max Möhring Verlag, 1938
  • Experienced world, the fate of a woman. Through Insulinde and the kingdom of the white elephant, through India's wonderland and through the gate of tears , Verlag Wilhelm Köhler Minden i. W./Berlin/Leipzig, approx. 1938
  • A person is: on the way to becoming a world traveler , published and with an afterword by Jerneja Jezernik, Berlin, AvivA, [2018], ISBN 978-3-932338-69-4

(New editions partly with different titles)


  • Karlin Alma Maximiliana. In: Austrian Biographical Lexicon 1815–1950 (ÖBL). Volume 3, Publishing House of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna 1965, p. 241 f. (Direct links on p. 241 , p. 242 ).
  • Hermann Mückler : Alma Karlin's stay in the South Seas - tragedy and triumph . In: Mückler (Ed.): Austrians in the Pacific. Volume 1 of the Novara - Communications of the OSPG. Vienna 1998, pp. 141–153.
  • Milan Dekleva: The Citizen of the World: A novel about Alma Karlin , from the Slovenian by Klaus Detlef Olof; with an afterword by Jerneja Jezernik, Klagenfurt am Wörthersee: Drava, 2017, ISBN 978-3-85435-836-7 .
  • Jerneja Jezernik: Alma M. Karlin: Around the world with bobbed heads and typewriter, Klagenfurt: Drava, 2020. ISBN 978-3-85435-926-5 .


Web links

Commons : Alma Karlin  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Alma M. Karlin (1889-1950) virtual house. Retrieved March 18, 2019 .
  2. The 1900 census showed 73.6% of the Cillier population to be German. KK Statistical Central Commission, special local repertories of the kingdoms and countries represented in the Austrian Imperial Council. Volume IV Styria (Vienna 1883) p. 2.
  3. a b Alma M. Karlin (1889-1950) virtualno domovanje . In: .
  4. Alma Karlin's curriculum vitae in German, English and Slovenian at
  5. ^ Exhibition in the Celje Regional Museum about Alma Karlin from October 2009 to January 16, 2011
  6. ^ Exhibition in Celje
  7. ^ Sculpture Alme M. Karlin v Celju . March 22, 2010, accessed January 11, 2020 . ; Slovenian article on
  8. Die Weltbürgerin , announcement by the publisher of the novel about Alma Karlin .
  9. Alma M. Karlin received her 'wax doll'. December 17, 2015, accessed January 12, 2020 .