The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum

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The lost honor of Katharina Blum or: How violence develops and where it can lead is a story by Heinrich Böll , published in 1974, that critically examines the practices of the tabloid press . A preprint with illustrations by the Berlin graphic artist Klaus Vogelgesang appeared in the weekly magazine Der Spiegel on July 29, 1974 . Springer-Verlag took legal action against the publication of the illustrations .

In the story, Böll describes how a previously innocent woman, Katharina Blum, becomes a victim of the tabloids' greed for sensation because of her friendship with a criminal. In particular, it is about the inhuman reporting of a paper that is only called the ZEITUNG . In a preliminary remark, Böll explains:

“The characters and plot of this story are fictitious. If the description of certain journalistic practices shows similarities with the practices of the Bild-Zeitung , then these similarities are neither intended nor accidental, but inevitable. "

The ZEITUNG denigrates the protagonist several times over a long period of time and in different variations as an ice-cold, calculating “terrorist bride” and exposes her in front of her entire environment. As a result, Katharina Blum also received a large number of obscene, hateful and insulting anonymous calls and letters. When her seriously ill mother dies as a result of the events, she finally kills the reporter responsible out of anger and desperation.

In an afterword, written later, Heinrich Böll himself described his story as a pamphlet which, in his opinion , was intended to point out the negative, conflict-intensifying role of sensational journalism in connection with the terrorism of the Red Army Faction . Because of earlier, misunderstood or deliberately misinterpreted publications, Böll saw himself as the victim of a media campaign that portrayed him as a “ sympathizer ” of the terrorists.

With 2.7 million copies sold worldwide by 2017, the short story is Böll's best-selling prose work.


In 1974 the 27 year old housekeeper Katharina Blum met Ludwig Götten at a carnival party and fell in love with him. They spend the night together in Katharina's apartment. Götten is suspected of having committed a bank robbery and murder and of being a terrorist. He is therefore being followed by the police who want to identify his contacts. In the morning, the police storm Katharina Blum's apartment. Since she is said to have helped Götten escape that night, Katharina Blum is temporarily arrested and interrogated.

The ZEITUNG presents the suspicion against Götten as a fact. In fact, the suspicion is wrong: Götten plundered a Bundeswehr safe, falsified balance sheets and stole weapons, but did not commit any murder or bank robbery. The ZEITUNG portrays Katharina as God’s accomplice and “slut”. She claims that Katharina had known Götten for years, since other residents told the police that she had received "visits from men". In fact, this “gentlemen's visit” is a well-known industrialist whom Katharina had met at her employer; although she always refused him, he never stopped harassing her.

The ZEITUNG falsifies statements by people who know Katharina. For example, the sentence “Katharina is a very clever and cool person” in the ZEITUNG becomes “ice cold and calculating”. The characterization “If Katharina is radical, then she is radically helpful, systematic and intelligent” is twisted by the ZEITUNG into “A radical person in every respect who deceived us skillfully”. The NEWSPAPER sreporter Werner Totges claims to have visited Catherine's dying mother in the hospital where he was confronted with the allegations against her daughter. The next day the mother dies. As a result of the newspaper's reporting , Katharina is bombarded with insulting, hateful and obscene calls and letters. The young woman who was fully integrated into society at the beginning becomes a despised outsider . To the comforting hint that there are also other newspapers that report correctly, she replies: "All the people I know read the NEWSPAPER !"

After Götten was arrested, Katharina made an appointment with Tötges on the pretext of wanting to give him an interview , and shot him when he - like many other men before - went to her "Kledage" (clothes): "What are you looking at me Because so stunned, my little darling - I suggest we fuck now. ”After that, Katharina roams the city,“ to find remorse , but I haven't found any remorse ”, and finally turns herself in to the police.

In a draft copy of the story, Böll had conceived an ending with Katharina's attempted suicide .


Heinrich Böll saw himself since his critical statement “ Will Ulrike grace or safe conduct? “, Which appeared in the magazine Der Spiegel in 1972 , even as the victim of a character assassination and smear campaign , which wanted to recognize in him a so-called sympathizer of the terrorism of the Red Army Faction (RAF). With "The lost honor of Katharina Blum" he responded to the reporting in the BILD newspaper and the violence debate of the 1970s, denouncing sensational journalism with his story and illustrating the possible consequences.

"The violence of words can sometimes be worse than that of slaps and pistols."

- Heinrich Böll : Interview in October 1974

Part of the background to the story, as Böll himself emphasizes several times in letters, is the journalistic hunt against psychology professor Peter Brückner , who taught in Hanover and who once housed RAF member Ulrike Meinhof overnight.


The story was filmed in 1975 by Volker Schlöndorff and Margarethe von Trotta under the same title ( The lost honor of Katharina Blum ) . The film premiered in nine German cinemas on October 10, 1975. In May 1976 Margarethe von Trotta performed a play "based on the story by Heinrich Böll" at the workshop stage of the Bonn City Theater. Unlike Schlöndorff's film adaptation, the stage version received significantly more negative reviews.

In The Lost Honor of Kathryn Beck , the story was filmed for American television and broadcast on January 24, 1984 by CBS. Actors are u. a. Country singer and film actor Kris Kristofferson (in the role of fugitive terrorist Ben Cole) and Marlo Thomas (in the role of Kathryn Beck).

On April 20, 1991, Tilo Medeks was Katharina Blum at the Bielefeld City Theater . Opera premiered in five days and an episode . The libretto is by Dorothea Medek, the composer's wife. The response from the criticism was mostly negative.

In 1997 the SWF produced a radio play version by Hermann Naber (radio play adaptation and direction) under the same title with the speakers: Katharina Zapatka , Krista Posch , Hannelore Hoger , Friedhelm Ptok , Walter Renneisen , Uwe Friedrichsen and others. The music comes from Mauricio Kagel .

The Hungarian translation by Ambrus Bor was revised as a play by Géza Bereményi and has been performed in several Hungarian cities since the 1990s.


Heinrich Böll was heavily attacked by journalists as well as politicians after the publication of his story and after it was made into a film by Volker Schlöndorff. On the occasion of the broadcast of the film on ARD television, Enno von Loewenstern wrote in Die Welt on May 29, 1978 , which, like the Bild-Zeitung criticized in the book, is published by Springer-Verlag : “Böll undoubtedly meant to make the gang empowered the RAF ] contributed more than anyone. And to encourage them. His book describes in the most recommendable way how a 'Bild' reporter is murdered. "

The later Federal President Karl Carstens ( CDU ) was also very critical. Obviously ignorant of the essential facts and the content of the book, he appealed to the Germans: "I call on the whole population to distance themselves from the terrorist activity, especially the poet Heinrich Böll, who a few months ago under the pseudonym Katharina Blüm { sic } wrote a book that justifies violence. ”This exposed Carsten to numerous mocking attacks, and Der Spiegel later even quoted the sentence in its obituary. At Böll's request, the graphic artist and political activist Klaus Staeck designed a poster on which Carstens was riding on a cow, with the heading “Professor Carstens rides for Germany” and the full quote. The sentence was seen in part as symptomatic of the quality of the criticism of Böll. Staeck later wrote about Carstens' statement that this was “one of those unforgettable sentences from the time of the German Autumn, bursting with ignorance and even stupidity .” On the other hand, Böll exchanged letters with the Christian social intellectual and then Bavarian Minister of Education, Hans Maier more conciliatory tone about his story.

The literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki wrote: “Even if Böll's books were highly ambiguous and questionable products […], they nevertheless demonstrated a unique view, an absolutely phenomenal feeling for those motives, situations and moods in which 'the current' like comes to the fore by itself and becomes clear. What Böll says may be better or worse. But it hit and hits the German present right to the heart. This also applies to the story of the 'Lost Honor of Katharina Blum'. "( Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. August 24, 1974) The publicist Klaus Rainer Röhl made a similar judgment :" This book will have stronger effects than the entire campaign 'Expropriated Springer' . "( That there. August 1974)

Shortly after it was published, "The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum" was read in schools in many federal states.



  • The text of the story is available as a dtv paperback, ISBN 3-423-01150-5 . This edition, published for the first time in 1976, has Böll compared to the first print in the news magazine Der Spiegel and compared to the first book edition by Kiepenheuer & Witsch (Cologne 1974, ISBN 3-462-01033-6 , 10 weeks in 1974 in first place on the Spiegel bestseller list ) corrected in some places.
  • Publication within the Heinrich Böll work edition: Werke (Cologne edition), Volume 18. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne 2002, ISBN 3-462-03260-7 Cf. the critical contribution by Werner Bellmann in the journal Wirkendes Wort (2004).
  • The epilogue that he wrote in 1984 for a KiWi paperback edition (“Ten Years Later”) contains important statements by Böll about this story.

Research literature

  • Bernd Balzer: The literary work of Heinrich Böll. Introduction and comments. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Munich, 1997. [On Katharina Blum : pp. 342–355.]
  • Werner Bellmann: Heinrich Böll. The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. In: Stories of the 20th Century. Interpretations. Volume 2, Reclam, Stuttgart 1996, ISBN 3-15-009463-1 , pp. 183-204.
  • Werner Bellmann , Christine Hummel: Heinrich Böll, "The lost honor of Katharina Blum". Explanations and documents. Reclam, Stuttgart 1999, ISBN 3-15-016011-1 . [The volume also contains information and documents on Schlöndorff's film and Medek's opera, as well as detailed references.]
  • Werner Bellmann: Notes on Heinrich Böll's story "The lost honor of Katharina Blum". In: active word. 54 (2004) issue 2. WVT Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, ISBN 3-88476-696-1 , pp. 165–170.
  • Hanno Beth: Character assassination and murder: the journalistic dimension of violence. On Heinrich Böll's story "The lost honor of Katharina Blum". In: Hanno Beth (Ed.): Heinrich Böll. An introduction to the complete works in individual interpretations . 2., revised. Edition. Cornelsen Verlag Scriptor, Königstein (Ts.) 1980, ISBN 3-589-20740-X , pp. 69-95.
  • Klaus Jeziorkowski: "The lost honor of Katharina Blum". In: Werner Bellmann (Ed.): Heinrich Böll. Novels and short stories. Interpretations. Reclam, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-15-017514-3 , pp. 249-267.
  • Juliane Köster: Katharina Blum - the stranger's friend. About identification as a means of knowledge. In: Discussion German. 19, 1988, No. 103, pp. 606-621.
  • Johanna Knoll: Fiction of a report: narrative reflexes of socio-historical constellations in Heinrich Böll's "The lost honor of Katharina Blum". In: Yearbook for International German Studies. Issue 35/2, Bern 2004, pp. 101–117.
  • Sonja Krebs: Rule of Law and Freedom of the Press in Heinrich Böll's “The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum”. A contribution to constitutional theory and constitutional reality as reflected in literature. Dissertation . Mainz 1990.
  • Nigel Harris: "The lost honor of Katharina Blum": the problem of violence. In: Michael Butler (Ed.): The Narrative Fiction of Heinrich Böll. Social conscience and literary achievement. Cambridge University Press, 1994, ISBN 0-521-46538-9 , pp. 198-218.
  • Eberhard Scheiffele: Critical language analysis in Heinrich Böll's “The lost honor of Katharina Blum”. In: Basis. Yearbook for contemporary German literature. 9, 1979, Suhrkamp Verlag, 1992, ISBN 3-518-37053-7 , pp. 169-187 and 268f.
  • Annette Gruhn-Hülsmann: Text analysis and interpretation of Heinrich Böll's "The lost honor of Katharina Blum". King's Explanations . Bange Verlag, 2011, ISBN 978-3-8044-1925-4 .


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. See Werner Bellmann, Christine Hummel: Heinrich Böll. The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. Explanations and documents. Stuttgart 1999, pp. 52-55.
  2. Ralf Schnell : Heinrich Böll und die Deutschen , Cologne 2017, p. 213. A previously mentioned number of almost 6 million copies sold (Christiane Grefe: Where is Böll?, Die Zeit, No. 32/2007) is incorrect.
  3. a b p. 42.
  4. p. 135.
  5. p. 9.
  6. Essay by Werner Bellmann, In: Wirkendes Wort . 2004, pp. 165-170.
  7. See e.g. B. the reviews of Frieder Reininghaus: Whisked Quark. In: the daily newspaper. April 23, 1991, p. 16 and Eckhard Roelcke: Mief and Moral . In: The time . No. 18/1991, p. 16.
  8. Died: Karl Carstens . In: Der Spiegel . No. 24 , 1992 ( online ).
  9. Klaus Staeck : He's missing! In: Berliner Zeitung . July 22, 2010.
  10. Hans Maier, Bad Years, Good Years. A life 1931ff . Beck Verlag, Munich 2013, pp. 376–377.
  11. [1] SWR 2: "Classics of School Reading - Heinrich Böll - The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum"
  12. Bellmann published a partial bibliography of the research literature as of 2004 ( Memento from July 26, 2011 in the Internet Archive )