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 .
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
- Karl Friedrich Zelter to Friedrich von Müller
- Georg Christoph Lichtenberg to his school friend Gotthilf Hieronymus Amelung (1741–1800)
- Johann Heinrich Kant (1735–1800) to his brother Immanuel Kant
- Georg Forster to his wife Therese Forster
- Samuel Collenbusch to Immanuel Kant
- Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi to Anna Schulthess , his future wife
- Johann Gottfried Seume to the husband of his former fiancée
- Friedrich Hölderlin to Casimir Böhlendorf
- Friedrich Schlegel to Friedrich Schleiermacher
- Clemens Brentano to the bookseller and publisher Georg Andreas Reimer
- Johann Wilhelm Ritter to Franz von Baader
- Bertram Boisserée to Sulpiz Boisserée
- Ch. AH Clodius to Elisa von der Recke
- (Johann) Heinrich Voss to Jean Paul
- Annette von Droste-Hülshoff to Anton Matthias Sprickmann
- Joseph Görres to Aloys Vock
- Justus Liebig to August Graf von Platen
- Wilhelm Grimm to Jenny von Droste-Hülshoff
- Karl Friedrich Zelter to Johann Wolfgang Goethe
- David Friedrich Strauss to Christian Märklin
- Johann Wolfgang Goethe to Moritz Seebeck
- Georg Büchner to Karl Gutzkow
- Johann Friedrich Dieffenbach to a stranger
- Jakob Grimm to Friedrich Christoph Dahlmann
- Klemens Wenzel Lothar von Metternich to Anton von Prokesch-Osten
- Gottfried Keller to Theodor Storm
- Franz Overbeck to Friedrich Nietzsche
- German people. A series of letters . Selection and introductions by Detlef Holz [pseudonym Benjamin]. Vita Nova, Lucerne 1936, 116 p. Archive.org
- 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 ).