The bread of the early years

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The bread of the early years is a story by Heinrich Böll , written in the summer of 1955 . The story was first published in 1955 in Cologne and Berlin by Kiepenheuer & Witsch . The book, with its original linen binding, had 140 pages.


Böll himself summarized the story in the following words: It is the story of a young man who is now 24, was 13 or 14 at the end of the war , who comes to the city, initially starves, but then 'joins in', sets a career, even this one makes - and then drawn in a different direction by the love for a young girl.

In the retrospective, the protagonist Walter Fendrich reports on his life so far and the day on which it took a decisive turn. It was the day on which he met Hedwig Muller from his home country, who moved to the city to study. Walter, who experienced the hunger and exploitation of the post-war years and now only classifies people according to their generosity, finds in Hedwig for the first time someone he can love unconditionally.

In this story Böll paints the picture of a man who has become numb through the hardships of the war and the poverty of the post-war years, who recognizes the animalistic in his fellow sufferers without condemning it; he himself felt this animal element in himself during the war. Hunger has made him a wolf, a being whose only urge to live was to overcome the dull emptiness of his growling stomach. The bread of Germany's early years after the war becomes the unit of measurement in the life of a young man who, in the midst of a hostile and emotionally cold atmosphere, struggles with all sorts of activities that are always hated after a short time, until he finally becomes a sought-after person with the repair of washing machines . Nothing is more important than having enough bread, preferably more than he can eat himself. Even later, when the protagonist has achieved some prosperity and he has long been able to afford more expensive food, he insists on ordering simple rolls in the café and breaking them open.

The only socializing component in his life was the obvious suffering of his mother, who, although terminally ill and starved, would like to give him the last bite of bread. It is she who remains objective in all the madness of everyday life in the early years.

At least that's how Walter remembers his mother; and it seems to be the basis, the social component that enables love to be resurrected in him. The young girl, the daughter of a former teacher, asks him to rent a room for her.

Little happens in this narrative, but it does give an impression of the mood in post-war Germany. Rather, the appearance of the young woman offers the occasion to recognize all the things that he has been lonely about for years, that have made him lonely despite financial security. He would like to change this now ... (this is where the story ends)


“I had to find out the price for all things - because I could never pay it - when I came to town alone as a sixteen-year-old apprentice: hunger taught me the prices; the thought of freshly baked bread made my head stupid, and I often wandered the city for hours in the evenings thinking nothing but bread. My eyes burned, my knees were weak, and I sensed that there was something wolfish about me. Loaf. I was addicted to bread like one is addicted to morphine. "

“The unit of account is the bread, the bread of those early years, which in my memory lie as if under a deep fog: the soup that we were given rolled slack in our stomach, hot and sour when we went in in the evening the tram rocked home: it was the belch of impotence, and the only fun we had was the hatred. "


  • Bulgarian under Chljabat na predisnite godini
  • Turkish İlk yılların ekmeği
  • English The Bread of Those Early Years (1957)
  • spanish El pan de los años mozos
  • Dutch Het brood van mijn jeugd
  • Portuguese O pão dos anos jovens
  • Croatian Kruh ranih godina
  • Catalan El Pa dels Anys Joves (1965)
  • Danish Brødet i de unge år (1967)
  • French Le Pain des jeunes années (1962)
  • Italian Il pane dei verdi anni e altri racconti (1961)
  • Czech Chléb mladých let (1959)
  • Russian Chleb Rannich Let (1958)
  • Swedish Ungdomens Bröd (1957)
  • Polish Chleb najwcześniejszych lat (1957)
  • Persian Naneh an salha
  • Arabic خبز السنوات الأولى 2016


The story was directed by 1961 Herbert Vesely from a screenplay by Boell and Leo Ti filmed , with Christian Doermer , Karen Blanguernon and Vera Tschechowa in the lead roles. The film, which received the rating of particularly valuable and was awarded a film volume in five categories (gold for the best young director, best camera, best film music, best actress; silver for a full-length feature film), was the German competition entry at the 1962 International Film Festival from Cannes .


  1. ^ Witsch, JC: Briefe 1948–1967 , ed. v. Kristian Witsch, with a foreword by Manès Sperber, Cologne 1977, p. 68.
  2. Heinrich Böll: The bread of the early years. Narrative. Afterword by Gerhard Joop, Frankfurt am Main 1976, p. 19f.
  3. Heinrich Böll: The bread of the early years. Narrative. Afterword by Gerhard Joop, Frankfurt am Main 1976, p. 128f.



  • First edition: Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1955
  • available today: dtv paperback edition

Interpretations, research literature

  • Manfred Durzak: Symbolic narration: "The bread of the early years". In: MD: The German novel of the present. 3rd, extended and chang. Aufl., Kohlhammer, Stuttgart 1979. pp. 85-97.
  • Christine Hummel: "The bread of the early years". In: Heinrich Böll. Novels and short stories. Interpretations. Edited by Werner Bellmann . Reclam, Stuttgart 2000. pp. 137-148.
  • Margret Stone: Heinrich Böll. The bread of the early years. 2nd edition, Munich 1986.