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The term Bohème or Boheme describes a subculture of intellectual fringe groups with predominantly literary , visual artistic and musical activity or ambition , which distinguishes itself from bourgeois attitudes and behavior. Bohème is less of an aesthetic-critical than a socio-historical category. A female member of the Bohème is the Bohémienne , a male member is the Bohémien .

This way of life is mostly in artist circles, such as with painters , poets and writers , but also spread among students. Bourgeois daughters and sons often refused to adhere to the norms and customs of their parents and their class and lived the life of a bohemian, which was often experienced as more authentic, more independent, more original and less alienated.

The motives and backgrounds for such a lifestyle are diverse. To overcome the desire to civic values and norms, which are experienced as restrictive, or the desire for identity -making, self-expression and creative freedom can also play a role as an eccentric character, youthful rebellion against the parents' generation, Alienation experiences and social or cultural criticism - and of course the passionate devotion to art, even if it is not enough to earn a living .

Representation of the bohemian: Pierre-Auguste Renoir , The Bohemian (or Lise the Bohemian ), 1868, oil painting, Alte Nationalgalerie (Berlin)

“Bohème” as a self-definition

All bohemian movements show a high degree of self-reference. Your most popular motif is yourself. Your own identity is developed in contrast to citizen prejudice. Noticeably many of the literary works of the Bohème also have "Bohème" in their title, for example:

For other subcultural groups, such as the beatniks and hippies , who at times also had bohemian tendencies, the designation as bohemian has not caught on.

Differentiation from "avant-garde"

“Bohème” and “ avant-garde ” are often incorrectly used synonymously: Bohème provokes by violating norms in their way of life, while an avant-garde provokes by violating norms in their art. If an artist violates the established norms in his lifestyle as well as in his art, the terms can overlap, but this is not necessarily the case.

Origin of the term

The term bohème comes from the French name bohémien (from the 15th century) for the Roma coming from Bohemia . The character of the designation of origin was lost in French as well as in German, so that bohemians and gypsies became expressions of disorderly, dissolute customs and no longer ethnic affiliation. In the 19th century, German and Austrian prostitutes were traded in Italy, the Levant and the Orient under the common title of “Bohemian nines”. Karl Marx summed la bohème as the French term for the lumpenproletariat on. The term retained its meaning as a derogatory term for “ traveling people ” until the middle of the 20th century.

In the second half of the 18th century, the term experienced a revaluation under the influence of Rousseauism and the de-bourgeoisisation of artists. Helmut Kreuzer notes: "Since the Romantic era , there has been evidence of the figurative use of le bohémien to designate themselves by artists (not least writers) with a non-bourgeois self-image." Since the 1830s, German has known analogous formations such as "Dichter vagabund ", "Literature and art gypsy". In England, bohemians is first used in Thackeray in 1848 .

As a term for non-bourgeois groups of artists and authors, the loan word Bohème (also Boheme or Bohême ) has been used in German since the 1860s, gained more and more acceptance in the following decades and was finally applied retrospectively to authors before this time ( Heinrich Heine , ETA Hoffmann , Max Stirner , Christian Dietrich Grabbe ).

The German translation of Henri Murger's Scènes de la Vie de Bohème , which appeared in the first edition in 1851 under the title Pariser Gypsy Life, is evidence of the gradual establishment of the term . In 1864/65 the first translation with Bohème in the title was published. Even if individual editions used the first title well into the 20th century, the fact that these have only been available in antiquarian versions for a long time speaks for the success of the use of the foreign word. Murger's novel contributed significantly to the spread of the word, as did the adaptations of the Scènes by Puccini (1896) and Leoncavallo (1897).

Aki Kaurismäki's film La vie de Bohème (1992) and (very freely) also the first season of the television series Berlin Bohème (1999) and the musical Rent (1996) are based on Henri Murger's novel .

Bohemian characteristics

Citizen stereotype

To legitimize their turning away from bourgeois society and their permanent attack against it , the bohemian creates a stereotype of the citizen that consists of an accumulation of despicable to hateful qualities. This negative citizen stereotype is contrasted with the positive car stereotype of the bohemians. The most widespread civic stereotypes are art hostility, stupidity, profit addiction, narrow-mindedness, sanctimonious morality, and the spirit of submission.


All bohemian attitudes are based on a programmatic individualism that emancipates itself from the conventions of lifestyle and aesthetic, moral or political judgment with the will to deviate as such and without fear of provocative effects (often with pleasure in it).

Symbolic aggression

The stereotyped citizen becomes the target of various symbolic aggressions. Outward appearance, flat and stylization in appearance are the most obvious, if not the only symbolic weapons. The bohemians also try to provoke with open libertinage , which is understood as an attack on civil marriage and the associated values ​​of love, sexuality and loyalty.

Coffee shop

In the café, on the one hand, the bohemian finds the public they need in order to be able to let their symbolic aggressions take effect - citizens also frequent the bohemian pubs, mostly out of curiosity - and on the other hand, the opportunity to meet like-minded people on the basis of philistine hatred and bohemian enjoyment of life. Other motives also play a role: for example, dreary, unheated living conditions, the need to make contact with friends, patrons, admirers, and imitators for the sake of external survival and inner self-affirmation, the search for fame or a springboard to success. The most important bohemian cafés in Germany were Café Stefanie , Café Leopold and Café Luitpold in Munich , meeting places for the Schwabing bohemians, and in Berlin the Café des Westens (also known as “Café megalomania”), which u. a. frequented by Ernst von Wolhaben , Erich Mühsam and John Henry Mackay , and the Romanisches Café .


On the one hand, cabaret is a meeting place and thus fulfills the same function as the bohème café; on the other, it is a field of activity that can be a stepping stone to success, and, third, a source of income that does not have the smell of bourgeois work and thus also of a die-hard Bohemian can be perceived.

Bohemian circle

The majority of the Bohémiens belong to a bohemian group whose members know each other personally, in which they meet (sometimes regularly) and to which they feel they belong. The purpose of the gatherings ranges from intellectual discussions to drinking bouts to readings, etc. Often the focus of a bohemian group is a guide or master. His power over followers and friends can de facto be very great, but due to the programmatic individualism and nonconformism of the bohemians, it is never documented as an open command. If obedience is required, bohèmetum is abolished.

Big city

The relationship between the bohemians and the big city is both fascination and repulsion. On the one hand, the bohemian needs the diverse opportunities (contact with like-minded people, rich artistic and intellectual life, opportunities to earn money) that the big city offers, on the other hand, he is confronted with all the harshness of the economic struggle for existence. Cities and districts are preferred that are economically favorable, offer suitable infrastructure (studios, academies, bars etc.) and have a suitable population structure (other artists, students). The most common cities and districts that appear in connection with the bohemian are: Paris / Quartier Latin , Berlin, Munich / Schwabing , Vienna , Ascona and New York / Greenwich Village . Nevertheless, the Bohème also has rural centers (for example Ascona / Monte Verità ). Many bohemians switch between big cities and retreat to the countryside.

Art and literature market

Characteristic of the bohemian in this regard is the dichotomy between the programmatic contempt for success - every kind of success in bourgeois society is denounced as a sign of worthlessness - and the artist's desire for effectiveness and assertion. The idealized appreciation of art as something “divine” is opposed to the compulsion to have to give up this “divine” to the mechanism of the market. Many Bohémiens try to escape this dilemma by pursuing a “bread-making profession” in addition to their artistic activity or by leading a “double literary life”.

Civil work

If the bohemian is forced to pursue a civil profession in order to earn a living, he usually perceives this as unbearable slavery. The denial of alienated work goes hand in hand with the affirmation of art . The idea of ​​acquisition is assigned to the citizen stereotype.


The desired autonomy and thus the rejection of civil work presupposes economic capital (for example inherited) or a willingness to do without. If both are only sufficient up to a certain limit, the bohemians are threatened with poverty. Hence, poverty became a characteristic feature of the bohemians and was idealized and romanticized in many of their works. Parts of the Bohème are therefore close to the ideal of the simple life .

Financial coup

Despite the rejection of civil work, the dream of big money is also, and especially often, dreamed in the bohemians. Since regular work is out of the question for the reasons mentioned above, the financial coup should put an end to all monetary problems in one fell swoop.


If the bohemians turned to politics, they preferred radical revolutionary movements, although they mostly represented individualistic deviations from organized parties and mass movements. The strongest affinity is to anarchism , partly to a regressive expression that gets intoxicated by the idea of ​​destruction, raises Caesarist supermen , criminals, terrorists or barbarians to literary idols, partly to a spiritualistic-utopian anarcho-communism with humanistic-pacifist, Rousseauistic , liberal, anti-industrialist tendencies. However, as soon as bohemians become politically active , they leave the bohemians. A German online publication for background reporting and opinions is called le Bohémien .


Digital bohemian

The term “digital bohemian” was first used in 1995 and was coined by Elisa Rose and Gary Danner, who founded a public multimedia laboratory as the artist duo “Station Rose” and made a name for themselves as pioneers of “net art” and “digital art” .

The term was taken up by Sascha Lobo and Holm Friebe in the title and content of their 2006 book We Call It Work: The Digital Boheme or: Intelligent Life Beyond Permanent Employment . The term “digital bohème” describes a Berlin group of freelance media professionals with Holm Friebe, Sascha Lobo, Kathrin Passig and others with artistic and creative ambitions who use new communication channels to expand their individual scope for action. The manifesto We call it work is directed primarily against the practice of permanent employment itself, on the grounds that it curtails personal freedom. Several aspects of the citizen stereotype are applied here to the employee.

The predominant artistic-creative activities of the Digital Bohème are: the writing of texts, the creation of concepts, graphic design, design and programming. The classic artistic spectrum of the bohemians was expanded to include secondary cultural professions.

Criticism of the digital bohemian

However, this “new form of free enterprise” has been criticized in the media from various quarters.

  • Specifically, the magazine : “The authors (...) involuntarily work into the hands of the neoliberal social plans of those from whom they originally wanted to free themselves. Because the clients from publishing houses and companies are most happy about employees who are available around the clock for self-exploitation . (...) Lobo and Friebe fail to prove that it is not just an elite, but a large number of people across all industries that can make a living in the digital bohemia. "
  • Art magazine : “Your thesis that the 'digital bohemian' with its new forms of work organization offers an alternative to the crisis in employee culture has yet to stand the test of time. Even if Friebe and Lobo do not want to have written 'a Berlin book': it is doubtful whether they would have succeeded elsewhere. "

Occurrence in music

Occurrence in literature

See also


  • Walburga Hülk , Nicole Pöppel, Georg Stanitzek (eds.): Bohème after '68. Vorwerk 8, Berlin 2015, ISBN 978-3-940384-52-2 .
  • Elisabeth Kleemann: Between symbolic rebellion and political revolution. Studies on German Bohème between the German Empire and the Weimar Republic (Würzburg university papers on recent German literary history). Peter Lang Verlag, Frankfurt / M. 1985, ISBN 3-8204-8049-8 (also dissertation, University of Würzburg 1984).
  • Helmut Kreuzer : The bohemian. Analysis and documentation of the intellectual subculture from the 19th century to the present . New edition Metzler, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-476-01781-8 (plus habilitation thesis, Stuttgart 1968).
  • Jürgen Maehder : Paris pictures. On the transformation of Henry Murger's novel into the “Bohème” operas by Puccini and Leoncavallo . In: M. Arndt, M. Walter (Eds.): Yearbook for Opera Research , Vol. 2 (1986), ISSN  0724-8156 , pp. 109-176.
  • Christine Magerski : Ambivalence in practice. Boheme as a prototype of modernity . VS, Wiesbaden 2015.
  • Christine Magerski: Life artist. A short cultural history of Berlin bohemian. Past Publishing, Berlin 2014.
  • Anne-Rose Meyer: Beyond the norm. Aspects of the representation of bohemian in French and German literature. 1830-1910 . Edition Aisthesis, Bielefeld 2000, ISBN 3-89528-303-7 (plus dissertation, University of Bonn 2000).
  • Erich Mühsam : Bohême . In: Jürgen Schiewe, Hanne Maußner (Ed.): Erich Mühsam. To be human despite everything. Poems and essays . Reclam, Stuttgart 2009, pp. 99-105. ISBN 978-3-15-008238-6 .
  • Christian Saehrendt : The end of bohemia. Modern artist proletariat in Berlin. In: Neue Zürcher Zeitung from 3./4. February 2007, ISSN  0376-6829 .
  • Hermann Wilhelm: The Munich bohemian. From the turn of the century to the First World War . München Verlag, Munich 2008. ISBN 978-3-927984-15-8 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Bohème  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Boheme  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikisource: Bohême  - Sources and full texts


  • Helmut Kreuzer : The bohemian. Contribution to their description . Metzler, Stuttgart 1968. (New edition 2000)
  • Elisabeth Kleemann: Between symbolic rebellion and political revolution . Frankfurt, Lang 1985.
  • Eva Bacon: The Digital Bohème: An Interpretation . Munich, Grin 2009.
  1. Helmut Kreuzer: Die Boheme : V
  2. August Bebel : Die Frau und der Sozialismus , Stuttgart 1895, S. 191. Quotation from Joest, Wilhelm: From Japan to Germany through Siberia .
  4. Wolf-Dieter Krämer: Ernst Toller and the Bohème .
  5. a b Tina Klopp: Free and willing . In: Concrete . - Issue 12, December 2006, p. 59.
  6. Kito Nedo: Everything in Berlin! ( Memento of the original from August 3, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. In: art . No. 12, December 2006, p. 139.