German people

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Original edition from 1936; Cover design: Max von Moos

German people. A series of letters is a collection of letters published in 1936 , compiled and commented on by Walter Benjamin .

History of origin

Walter Benjamin emigrated from Germany in 1933 . With the book Deutsche Menschen , printed in Switzerland under the pseudonym “Detlef Holz” in 1936 , he intended, among other things, to present Germany, which was ruled by National Socialism , with a better example of an enlightened and humanistic bourgeoisie. The letters and comments had already appeared in the Frankfurter Zeitung in 1930/31 . The "camouflage title" (according to Benjamin) "German people" was also calculated to smuggle the book past the National Socialist censorship onto the German market. Deutsche Menschen is the last of the few book publications that appeared during his lifetime. The book was published by the Lucerne publishing house “Vita Nova” by the German émigré Rudolf Rößler .


The book brings together twenty-seven letters from the years between 1783 and 1883, that is, from a span of 100 years. The order is chronological.

The authors of the letters

The letter writers are self-confident, eloquent citizens who rely entirely on communication and the exchange of messages, whose branching correspondence sometimes includes several thousand written and received letters. Benjamin chose letters from world-famous intellectuals like Kant and Goethe , from relevant writers like Annette von Droste-Hülshoff and Georg Büchner, and from unknown or forgotten contemporaries like Samuel Collenbusch and Franz von Baader .

Benjamin's comments

In his comments, Benjamin briefly explains the historical context; he adds biographical data to the lesser known authors. Apart from a negative assessment of Metternich , he demonstratively renounces political assessments. He sees the hundred years from 1783 to 1883 as a closed epoch of the bourgeoisie , a bourgeoisie that "had to put its coined and important word into the scales of history". Benjamin is interested in this word of the bourgeoisie, the spirit and even more in the style of the letters. He put the collection under the motto Of honor without fame / Of size without glamor / Of dignity without pay , which goes back in part to a suggestion by the publisher.


In the preface Benjamin quotes programmatically from a letter from Goethe to Zelter (June 6, 1825): “Wealth and speed are what the world admires and what everyone strives for. Railways, express posts, steamships and all possible facilities of communication are what the educated world expects to over-educate itself and thereby persist in mediocrity ... Actually, it is the century for capable minds, for easy-going, practical people who, with endowed with a certain dexterity, to feel their superiority over the crowd, even if they themselves are not gifted to the highest. Let us hold as much as possible to the attitude in which we came up; we will, with perhaps a few more, be the last of an era that will not return anytime soon. "

List of letters


  • German people. A series of letters . Selection and introductions by Detlef Holz [pseudonym Benjamin]. Vita Nova, Lucerne 1936, 116 p.
  • Walter Benjamin: German people. A series of letters. With an afterword by Theodor W. Adorno . Insel, Frankfurt am Main 1965 (Suhrkamp Taschenbuch, Frankfurt am Main 1992, ISBN 3-518-37470-2 ).