The black obelisk

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Illustration of a typical black obelisk from Black-Swedish

The Black Obelisk is a interwar - novel by Erich Maria Remarque . It is about the survivors of the First World War who, in the spirit of the subtitle Story of a Belated Youth, are unable to build a "normal" life after their war experience. The background to the action is the global economic crisis and galloping inflation in Germany.

The black obelisk is thematically a loose continuation of Nothing New in the West and The Way Back . The novel was first published in 1956, but Remarque did preparatory work for the novel as early as the 1920s and 1930s, parallel to his work on Three Comrades .


The novel with the first-person narrator Ludwig Bodmer is set in the city of Werdenbrück in 1923 at the time of inflation in Germany . Ludwig is a tombstone seller and occasionally plays the organ in the town's madhouse, where he often meets the personality-divided Geneviève Terhoven, who mostly thinks she is Isabelle, a lovable, dreamy, mystical woman. Although she rarely calls Ludwig Rolf, Rudolf, Raoul, he loves her in a subdued, platonic way.

He pursues his job as a gravestone seller with a good dose of sarcasm that he acquired during the war. The First World War is deeply rooted in the people who often talk about their experiences. Ludwig runs the business with his boss Georg Kroll, which is becoming increasingly difficult due to the galloping inflation.

The black obelisk also reflects the tricks people use to ensure survival. Some women choose rich and successful men to marry. This leads to confusion and jealousy for Ludwig when he "loses" "his" Gerda to the restaurant owner Knobloch. Ludwig and Georg Kroll exclude this with food stamps that they have bought in advance. Since the food stamps have hardly any more value over time, they drive him to white heat every time.

An important aspect of the novel is the emergence of National Socialism , which is preached in particular by a war club that was pacifist shortly after the war , but has become strongly nationalist over time.

Towards the end of the book, Ludwig took up a job at a newspaper and was paid with 200 rye marks (a grain-covered currency, discussed in 1923 as a possible alternative to the Rentenmark , but discarded) per month, after the value of the paper marks of 30,000 in the course of the book per dollar has dropped to 1 trillion .

The last chapter is a look back from 1955 on the further fates of the characters in the novel. Ludwig Bodmer does not see any of his comrades from Werdenbrück again, as most of them either perished in the Second World War or in concentration camps .


The symbol of the novel is a tombstone made of a black, shiny polished microgabbro , tellingly called "SS" (this natural stone was incorrectly called granite because of its hardness and was known in Germany as Black-Swedish and was abbreviated as "SS"). On the one hand, the obelisk is interpreted in reviews as a warning finger that raises to the sky against the threatened armament of the Federal Republic in the late 1950s. On the other hand, the black obelisks have been erected as high-gloss mass-produced goods on the graves of the rich bourgeoisie since the founding period and were seen as a symbol of reaction. How critically this Remarque illuminates is shown by the fact that the right-wing sergeant a. D. Knopf chops off his water on the black obelisk, and he vividly illustrates how depraved society is when this stone is sold to a brothel owner.

Autobiographical traits

The fictional character Ludwig Bodmer shows many elements from the life of Erich Maria Remarque. After the First World War, both were elementary school teachers for a short time, sold tombstones and were organists in a madhouse. The fictional city of Werdenbrück corresponds in most details to the city of Osnabrück , where Remarque was born and spent his youth. Ludwig also tried his hand at being a poet, but not very successfully.

In his epilogue Our Golgotha to a paperback edition of the Black Obelisk , Tilman Westphalen lists further parallels between Ludwig Bodmer and Remarque and points out that the writer himself would have liked to see these autobiographical references mentioned in the blurb of the book. He expected it to get more publicity .

Key novel

The black obelisk is still read as an Osnabrück key novel. The poet's landlord Eduard Knobloch was actually called Eduard Petersilie and was not in charge of the still existing Hotel Walhalla in Osnabrück, but of the Hotel Germania, which was destroyed in the Second World War. Parsley published e.g. In 1931, for example, there was a despicable poem about Charlie Chaplin in a steel helmet , in which he was referred to as a "Kleener Flimmerjüd" and greeted Adolf Hitler on July 24, 1932 when he arrived in Osnabrück. Westphalen comments: "The reference to the historical figure of Eduard Petersilie clarifies Remarque's intention to expose the roots of National Socialism in the petty bourgeoisie and bourgeoisie of his own hometown, typical for countless medium-sized towns of this kind." the ambience in which the Werdenbrücker Dichterclub usually comes together. As is well known, the Valhalla goes under at the end of the world (the twilight of the gods) and Remarque is alluding to the downfall of the German Empire or the whole world. The Werdenbrück blood and soil poet Hungermann is actually called Hungerland, behind Pastor Bodendiek the real name is Bodensiek or Biedendiek and others


  • Erich Maria Remarque: The black obelisk. Story of a belated youth (= KiWi 488). With an afterword by Tilman Westphalen. Kiepenheuer and Witsch, Cologne 2005, ISBN 3-462-02725-5 .
  • Bernhard Nienaber: The black obelisk. Story of a belated youth. In: Bernhard Nienaber: From the anachronistic hero to the noisy subject. An investigation into the development of the conception of humanism in Erich Maria Remarque's novels of the Adenauer Restoration (= Epistemata. Series Literaturwissenschaft 206). Königshausen and Neumann, Würzburg 1997, ISBN 3-8260-1269-0 , pp. 165-200 (also: Osnabrück, Univ., Diss., 1995).
  • Heinrich Placke: The novel "The Black Obelisk" (1956). In: Heinrich Placke: The ciphers of the utopian. On the literary content of Remarque's political novels from the 1950s (= writings in the Erich Maria Remarque Archive 18). V and R Unipress, Göttingen 2004, ISBN 3-89971-166-1 , pp. 19-252 (also: Osnabrück, Univ., Diss., 2003).
  • Heinrich Placke: Problems and opportunities in the reception of the novel "The Black Obelisk" (1956) at the end of this century (= writings of the Erich-Maria-Remarque-Archivs 8, 1998). In: Thomas F. Schneider: Erich Maria Remarque, life, work and worldwide impact. Rasch, Osnabrück 1998, ISBN 3-932147-50-2 , pp. 331-341.
  • Wolfgang Weig: Erich Maria Remarque's novel “The Black Obelisk” from a psychiatric point of view. In: Erich-Maria-Remarque-Jahrbuch. 2, 1992, ISSN  0940-9181 , pp. 55-65.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Tilman Westphalen, Unser Golgatha , in: Erich Maria Remarque, The Black Obelisk , KiWi 1998, ISBN 9783462027259 , p. 395 ff., Here p. 403.
  2. Tilman Westphalen, Unser Golgatha , in: Erich Maria Remarque, The Black Obelisk , KiWi 1998, ISBN 9783462027259 , p. 395 ff., Here p. 403. Westphalen here quotes Remarque from a letter to his publisher Joseph Caspar Witsch dated 6. August 1956.
  3. Quoted from: Tilman Westphalen, Unser Golgatha , in: Erich Maria Remarque, Der Schwarze Obelisk , KiWi 1998, ISBN 9783462027259 , p. 395 ff., Here p. 404.
  4. ^ Tilman Westphalen, Unser Golgatha , in: Erich Maria Remarque, The Black Obelisk , KiWi 1998, ISBN 9783462027259 , p. 395 ff., Here p. 405.
  5. ^ Tilman Westphalen, Unser Golgatha , in: Erich Maria Remarque, The Black Obelisk , KiWi 1998, ISBN 9783462027259 , p. 395 ff., Here p. 404-406.