When the war was over (Böll)

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When the war was over is a story by Heinrich Böll that appeared in Hommerich in June 1962 under the title When the war was over . The NDR Hamburg produced an audio version on June 24, 1962.

After the Second World War, the first-person narrator , a soldier from a prison camp near Brussels, returns to the bombed-out hometown of Cologne and wants to see his wife.

Cologne 1945


The first-person narrator doesn't get along with his comrades. After the homecoming train has finally reached German soil, the comrades mock that the narrator, of all people, is given freshly baked bread from a woman on the platform. The bread is shared and the narrator does not want to eat it with his comrades. He "would rather be a dead Jew than a living German". A Jew who is on the train, who has not seen his Germany for twelve years, is then the one who presses the narrator the piece of bread and from which the narrator takes it. The comrades have only anti-Semitic malice for the gesture.

The narrator is allowed to get out of the prison train together with his comrades. Nevertheless he is still guarded. Belgian guards and guarded narrators cannot be belligerent. Because the Belgian lets the narrator hold his MPi while he does a swap deal with him. Soap is precious. A piece has a black market value of up to eighty marks. German women smell bad after the war and pounce on every bar of soap - especially if it is Palmolive .

In Cologne at Chlodwigplatz, the truck on which the narrator and his comrades were put in a traffic jam. And the narrator has to watch as looters attack the inventory of the parents' apartment in the ruined house. The British military police raided the Chlodwigplatz black market.

The narrator, now finally released, wants to visit his wife in Oberkerschenbach [southeast of Kronenburg ] in the Eifel. So he wanders around Bonn looking for a private telephone because he first wants to call his wife. During the encounter with the old theology professor and the girl Gretchen, it becomes clear that whoever was a person has remained one and takes neither money nor barter for a favor.


Though the tone of When the War Was Over is very different from the story that preceded the 1961 story When the War Broke Out , there are connections between the two stories. Outward appearances are striking. The narrator, not yet twenty years old in 1939, is now twenty-six. So maybe it could be the same man.

But there are also internal connections. For example, in When the war broke out , the narrator is looking for a suitable young woman almost every free minute in view of his imminent war mission. Back then, in August 1939, those efforts had failed because of a fact. The voices of the women who might have been considered had all sounded like marriage. Six years have now passed, and in this text the narrator is looking for his wife, "whose voice never sounded like marriage".


Heinrich Böll is famous for telling stories. Apart from that, his characters in the text - with the exception of the Belgian guard and the German Jew on the train - cannot hold back their tears. The narrator cries when the prison train arrives in the British-occupied hometown of Cologne. Gretchen cries when she is reminded of her brothers and the war. And the old theology professor in Bonn cries when the narrator gives him a few pinches of tobacco. Even the narrator's malevolent comrades are “close to sobbing” during the bread scene (see above). In this context, Böll's masterful power of representation can be admired. The well-being of the weeping Germans after the collapse of the Third Reich in 1945 is apparently easily dealt with narrative.


The narrator is an educated person. On his way home, he can think of something clever about almost every place that is passed - for example the Thebaic Legion in Neuss . Even before the war, the narrator had dealings with educated people, for example with that professor.

The soldier Heinrich Böll had also been released from an English prisoner of war camp near Waterloo near Brussels in September 1945 and then went to see his wife Annemarie Böll in the Bergisches Land . Heinrich Böll married Annemarie Čech on March 6, 1942 in Cologne.


The narrator's comrades on the homecoming train angrily seek the blame for the lost war among the anti-fascists and Jews. The narrator is delighted that he will soon no longer have to be with his war comrades day and night. He longs for his wife.


First edition
  • Heinrich Böll: When the war was over . In labyrinth issue 6 in June 1962, pp. 31–42. Hommerich
  • 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. 27-47. dtv Munich, November 1965 (23rd edition October 1990) 261 pages, ISBN 3-423-00339-1
Secondary literature

Individual evidence

  1. a b Bellmann, p. 254
  2. Source, p. 37, 5th line from
  3. Source, p. 33, 19th line from
  4. Schröter, pp. 53, 54
  5. Hoffmann, p. 66
  6. Gerber, pp. 51, 52