Distance from the troop

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Distance from the Troop is a story by Heinrich Böll , which was preprinted in the FAZ from July 27 to August 10, 1964 and was published in Cologne in September of the same year.

In 1963, the Cologne SA man Wilhelm Schmölder, severely damaged by the war, told his story about a number of historical events surrounding that fateful "afternoon of September 22, 1938, around a quarter past five".


The text begins quite unsavory with excursions "into the faecal realms". It's about "carrying shit". Accordingly, the first-person narrator Schmölder, a Cologne-born philology student who was assigned to the service with the spade in 1938 , also smells bad. He makes no secret of his aversion to the military, or more precisely, to its representatives. The “worker” keeps the superiors at bay with a “fecal odor belt”. He even "accidentally" injected the stuff in the face of an officer.

At the time of the narration , i.e. 1963, Schmölder's wife Hildegard, b. Bechtold, already deceased, and he has a 24-year-old daughter and a three-year-old granddaughter. His future wife Hildegard met and fell in love with Schmölder that September day, shortly after his comrade Engelbert Bechtold, known as Engel, asked him to marry. It wasn't love at first sight, and it all happened very quickly.

The mother-in-law is fond of the new son-in-law. After all, his father is a coffee wholesaler, and the Bechtolds are poor. For Schmölder's father, who is still alive in 1963, the son's marriage brings an advantage. After all, he gets a partner in old Bechtold with whom he can scold the Nazis for the rest of his life.

Actually, Schmölder is not about feces, but about love and innocence. But these two big topics are at best touched on in the “narrative work”. On the subject of innocence or guilt: Schmölder's brother-in-law Engel dies after a misunderstanding. When Engel tried to overrun on December 30, 1939, he is shot by an opposing post. Schmölder himself comes to the "SA-Sturm Köln Mitte-Süd" after he had rolled the dice with his brothers-in-law for membership. Someone should be the fool, because the father-in-law, a shoemaker, promised himself a major order from the SA. In writing, however, Schmölder asks for admission to the SA as a prisoner in the Cologne city prison. After an excessively long honeymoon (of exactly seven days), he was arrested by the troops while fetching bread rolls in the morning in the bakery for unauthorized removal. Schmölder portrays himself and his surroundings as a Nazi opponent and describes his step towards the SA as folly.


Wilhelm Schmölder doesn't reveal his name so easily. He only lets the three-year-old granddaughter talk about the beautiful German first name once. And the surname only appears once on the small board that Schmölder has placed in his “narrative”. At this point he remembers his dear wife Hildegard, who died on May 31, 1942 in a bomb attack in the middle of Cologne. It goes haywire in the story of the "focken German Nazi", as Schmölder was dubbed by an American officer. Schmölder calls himself a "neurotic". Complete strangers on the street put it down as a model for a “real Parkinson's disease”. Schmölder's son-in-law would like to classify the father-in-law "between nonsense and anti-sociality". What wonder, since Schmölder was shot in the head by a Frenchman with a pistol in early 1941. Since then he has been trembling, stuttering and drooling. His own daughter is disgusted with him.

The narrator wants his work to be understood as a “pure idyll”. Schmölder is still so consoled that after jumping back and forth between the time "levels" he can articulate encouragement: "This reaching back and forth may not make the reader nervous" What's more, Schmölder stands confidently above the subject if he keeps the reader engaged with such bits and pieces as: "It would complicate this narrative unnecessarily ...". Reader reassurance sometimes really has to be: "... I want to solemnly assure you that from now on the fecal issue is ... settled ...". Unfortunately, Schmölder cannot keep the laudable resolution. The requirement of the unconditional "historical" accuracy of his lecture sometimes compels Schmölder to relapse into the feces.

Schmölder is reluctant to reveal facts from Cologne in 1938. But he fully understands even the above-average curious reader when it comes to the Kölner Strasse where the Bechtolds lived, the street whose houses were then completely bombed in the war : "I suggest to the interpreter who is searching for reality ..." .

Schmölder, the carefree, doesn't bother to look over his confused presentation: “If I haven't written it down yet, I'll do it here.” All embarrassment comes up, and Schmölder concludes: “It may wholeheartedly be laughed. "


"Germans always have to educate."


  • Böll said that being away from the troops was “a fairly autobiographical story”. That can be explained - after all, in the autumn of 1938 Böll was assigned to work in a camp near Kassel.
  • "The fact that the incarnation begins when someone leaves the respective troop, I give this experience here frankly as advice to future generations."


  • Balzer highlights Schmölder's mother-in-law Anna Bechtold as the heroine of the “narrative”. After all, she is the only resolute person far and wide, was locked away twice by the Nazis in Siegburg and made two - albeit unsuccessful - escape attempts from there. Anna actually doesn't want to be married to her husband, from whom she has several children. The old Bechtold is also one of those who plunged the weak character Schmölder into misery (SA membership). After the war, the widower Schmölder only found support with Anna Bechtold. The mother-in-law puts his clothes in order and tells the son-in-law his life plan - something new for once -: study away from the troops.
  • Vogt calls the story "thematically familiar, formally highly experimental - a practice piece ... for larger formats".
  • Nordbruch sees Schmölder as a "personified opportunity to turn your back on official society".
  • Falkenstein sums up with a view to the title: It is not about the distance from the troops, but "about the distance from post-war Germany".
  • Herlyn emphasizes the “rogue role” and Schmölder's devotion to fate. Böll parodies his interpreters in the story. The above faecal realms are a counterworld to the performance society. Every military educator wants - as is well known - to make a person out of a civilian. The protagonist takes this truism seriously in the satire. The Schmölder, humiliated by the constant transport of feces, simply reinterprets his fate as an “act of becoming human”.
  • At a distance from the force , distance is ambiguous. One time it means falling away from the troops and another time it means that the superior treats the subordinate as rubbish.
  • The narrative works - especially through the narrator comment - as a farce.
  • According to Jurgensen, the mostly passive "refuser" Schmölder strives for unfit for service in the troops.


  • Heinrich Böll: Removal from the troops . In: Heinrich Böll works. Novels and short stories 3. 1961–1971. Edited by Bernd Balzer . Kiepenheuer & Witsch Cologne 1977, ISBN 3-462-01871-X , pp. 315–376
First edition
  • Heinrich Böll: Removal from the troops. Narrative. Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Cologne Berlin 1964.
Secondary literature
  • Bernd Balzer: Anarchy and tenderness . In: Heinrich Böll works. Novels and short stories 1. 1947–1952 . Kiepenheuer & Witsch Cologne 1977 (supplemented new edition 1987), ISBN 3-462-01871-X , pp. [11] to [187]
  • Gabriele Hoffmann : Heinrich Böll. Life and work . Heyne biography 12/209 Munich 1991 ( Cecilie Dressler Verlag 1977), ISBN 3-453-05041-X
  • Jochen Vogt: Heinrich Böll . Beck Munich 1978 (2nd edition, 1987), ISBN 3-406-31780-4
  • Claus HR Nordbruch: Heinrich Böll: His state and social criticism in the prose work of the sixties and seventies. A critical discussion . RG Fischer Verlag, Frankfurt a. M. 1994, ISBN 3-89406-939-2 , pp. 72-87
  • Georg Guntermann: “The author's persistence on his old jacket”. Böll as the author of the refused consent. In: Bernd Balzer (Ed.): Heinrich Böll 1917–1985 for his 75th birthday. Peter Lang AG Bern 1992, ISBN 3-906750-26-4 , pp. 195-230
  • Manfred Jurgensen: "The poetry of the moment". The short stories. In: Bernd Balzer (Ed.): Heinrich Böll 1917–1985 for his 75th birthday. Peter Lang AG, Bern 1992, ISBN 3-906750-26-4 , pp. 43-60
  • Werner Bellmann (ed.): The work of Heinrich Böll. Bibliography with studies on early work. Westdeutscher Verlag , Opladen 1995, ISBN 3-531-12694-6
  • Henning Falkenstein: Heinrich Böll . Morgenbuch Verlag Volker Spiess, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-371-00398-1
  • Heinrich Herlyn: Heinrich Böll as a utopian writer . Peter Lang AG, European Science Publishers, Bern 1996, ISBN 3-906756-34-3
  • Gero von Wilpert : Lexicon of world literature. German Authors A-Z . Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-520-83704-8 , p. 68

Individual evidence

  1. Bellmann, p. 157
  2. Source, p. 349, 17. Zvo
  3. Source, p. 318, 18. Zvo
  4. Source, p. 318, 6. Zvo
  5. Source, p. 338, 2nd to 7th Zvo
  6. Source, p. 363, 8. Zvo
  7. Source, p. 344, 9. Zvu
  8. Source, p. 368, 11. Zvo
  9. Source, p. 349, 4. Zvo
  10. Source, p. 332, 4. Zvo
  11. Source, p. 339, 8th Zvu
  12. Source, p. 337, 3. Zvo
  13. Source, p. 371, 2nd Zvu
  14. Source, p. 375, 3. Zvo
  15. Source, p. 367, 10. Zvo
  16. ^ Hoffmann, p. 60, 14th Zvu
  17. Hoffmann, p. 60 above
  18. Quoted in Bellmann, p. 23, footnote 30
  19. Balzer, foreword in Böll, Werke 1, p. [106]
  20. ^ Vogt, p. 98, 18. Zvo
  21. Nordbruch, p. 77, 2. Zvo
  22. ^ Falkenstein, p. 71, 7th Zvu
  23. Herlyn, pp. 182-183
  24. Guntermann, p. 204
  25. Jurgensen, p. 58 above
  26. Jurgensen, pp. 132-133