When the war broke out

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When the war broke out is a story by Heinrich Böll that was published in the FAZ on December 23, 1961 .

In a German garrison town shortly before the Second World War: the first-person narrator, a soldier, commemorates his regimental comrade Leo Siemers, who died at the end of August 1939.


General mobilization: Leo, promoted to sergeant in the military telephone system and room mate of the narrator, is assigned to the division headquarters. The move out goes on in the next days of August. The first battalion, led by a band, leaves the barracks. Nobody shows enthusiasm, nobody gets a flower attached to the gun. The narrator, a soldier trained as a telephone operator, has to do mind-numbing work for days. It's not difficult for him. He is called by the supervisor for the stupiditypraised. The narrator does not suffer from “sexual distress”, but before he has to move out too, he wants a girl. His attempts at contact in this regard have not been crowned with success. But he is also partly to blame for that. Because from the voice of every chosen lady he hears the intention to marry and prefers to keep his hands off it. Out of sheer desperation, he ends up in the cinema. In the newsreel, "ignoble-looking Poles ... very noble-looking Germans" abuse.

The narrator has yet to be trained as a soldier. So he is yelled at by a private when he lounges on the bed in disordered clothes and smokes. And even a military chaplain loses his composure on the street because of the narrator's sloppy "dress code".

The feared occurs. The narrator has to leave at the end of August. Leo fell.


The narrator, “not yet twenty years old” in 1939, cannot be Heinrich Böll (* 1917).


The style is excitingly factual. Monotonous sequences of facts from everyday soldiers' life dominate. The reader is all the more aroused by the well-dosed bangs in the text. This refers to the sparingly interspersed Böllian humor and the news of death at the end of the little story.

Böllscher humor always flares up when military stupidity is emphasized - e.g. B. in the story of the retired general who is called up to a Hallig or when the difference between rank and position is represented by conceivable excesses.


  • “Casual and sloppy demeanor” of the narrator is his form of protest against the military. Böll sketches the “little man”, that is, “no exceptional fate”.


  • Heinrich Böll: When the war broke out. When the war was over. Two stories . Insel Verlag , Frankfurt a. M. 1962. 56 pages, ISBN 978-3-458-08768-7
  • Heinrich Böll: When the war broke out. Stories. Pp. 7-26. dtv Munich, November 1965 (23rd edition October 1990) 261 pages, ISBN 3-423-00339-1
Secondary literature

Individual evidence

  1. Bellmann, p. 152
  2. Source, p. 29
  3. Gerber, pp. 45, 47