Fabian (novel)

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Fabian, edition from 1931

Fabian. The story of a moralist is a city ​​novel by Erich Kästner with autobiographical features, which can still be attributed to the New Objectivity . The novel, published in 1931 by the Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt , sketches a picture of Berlin society on the 'eve' of Adolf Hitler's " seizure of power " .


The protagonist of the novel is the Germanist Dr. phil. Jakob Fabian, who works as an advertising copywriter or propagandist. The main motif of the storyline is Fabian's confrontation with the immoral in Berlin's nightlife. You can find him in brothels, underworld pubs and artist studios, where he remains a somewhat distant observer who takes note of the events with irony. He apparatus further unintentionally into a vortex political polarization of Nazis contra Communists and unrestrained indulgence of sexuality, the discredited loving contact.

Fabian develops into a realist in the course of the novel. At first he is a “delicate ironic” who waits for the “victory of decency”. However, he is always disappointed by people and ultimately believes that at best he can improve himself. In contrast to his college friend Labude, who adheres to the illusion that mankind can be driven forward ethically, he is initially resistant to major disappointments because of the realism he has gained, while his friend, betrayed by his fiancée, tries to console himself with various women and only does so occasionally becomes happy. In an artist's studio, Fabian meets Cornelia Battenberg, who does not want to enter into a new relationship because of disappointing relationships with men. Fabian shows empathy for her and they make their way to her home, whereupon a love relationship develops between them. Fabian is now beginning to develop ambition and seems to give up his pessimistic and passive attitude. The next day, however, he is fired from his company - which, as he said a few days earlier, would not have bothered him at all at the time - while his colleague later receives a raise for Fabian's ideas. Cornelia wants to start a career as a film actress. Without talking to Fabian about it beforehand, Cornelia decides to start a relationship with a film director in order to secure her livelihood and her career. She tries to convince Fabian that she is doing this in their mutual interest. Ultimately, Fabian cannot accept this arrangement and breaks away from the relationship.

Another stroke of fate for the protagonist is the suicide of his friend Labude. His motive is the alleged rejection of his habilitation thesis, which, however, turns out to be a bad joke by the assistant to the privy council, who is really enthusiastic about Labude's work. Although Cornelia wants to visit him that afternoon, Fabian leaves Berlin and returns to his hometown, Dresden, where his pride and above all his morals prevent him from taking up a job offered by a politically right-wing newspaper. He eventually drowns trying to rescue a boy who fell in the river. The boy can save himself on the bank, but Fabian himself is not a swimmer.

Original version

Under the original book title, Fabian , a chapter was missing in which Fabian and his colleague Fischer looked at their boss's appendix scar. Concerned about possible censorship, the publisher has not included this chapter since the first edition in 1931. In this, Fabian accuses his boss: "Not everyone has the bad taste to put the typist on the desk." Some erotic passages were also deleted.

It was not until 2013 that the unabridged original version of the book was published by Atrium-Verlag under the title The Walk to the Dogs .

Fabian's typescript can be seen in the permanent exhibition in the Museum of Modern Literature in Marbach.


When Fabian is at the height of his happiness and he has almost given up his pessimism, he loses his job, and some time later love and friendship follow. In a book by Schopenhauer , which Kästner quotes by having Fabian read it shortly after he lost his job, the thesis is put forward that the optimist must suffer more misfortune than the pessimist.

The author and his main character are moralists , that is, they assume that the actions of people should be based on ethical principles, which in turn are based on civil liberties and interpersonal solidarity, but are not observed by the society of their time ( totalitarianism , National Socialism, Communism). The moralization does not take place with a raised index finger, but primarily with the means of irony . One can clearly see Kästner's philosophy that the world cannot be completely improved.

The plot of the novel takes place at the end of the 1920s, the work was published in 1931, Kästner interpreted this period not only as one of political but also of moral decline. The book shows that the downfall of the Weimar Republic was by no means unexpected, at least for Kästner.

Above all, the novel is supposed to show that as a moralist it was impossible for Fabian to swim in the current of immorality. The original title of this satire was: The Walk to the Dogs . However, it was rejected by the publishers. According to Kästner's own statement, “it should already be clear on the book cover that the novel was pursuing a specific goal: it wanted to warn” . Kästner paints a pessimistic picture of society - on a large and small scale. Because, as the author explains his story of a moralist himself, "the moralist does not have a mirror in front of his epoch, but rather a distorting mirror".


The National Socialists regarded the book as degenerate ; Because of this novel, the works of Erich Kästner were burned on the occasion of the book burning in Germany in 1933 on charges of pornography . While the sexual permissiveness of the 1920s and early 1930s is dealt with, the allegation of pornography is unfounded. In the article Fabian and the moral judges published on October 27, 1931 in the Weltbühne , Kästner comments on this. In it he writes, for example: “ Taught through experiences on his own body and through other observations, he [the author] saw that the erotic in his book had to take up considerable space. Not because he wanted to photograph life, because he neither wanted nor did. But he was extremely concerned with keeping the proportions of the life he represented. "The contribution to the world stage with the title Fabian and the censors was with another article, titled Fabian and the critic , which was first published in 1998 as epilogue thought to the actual novel.


The novel was filmed in 1979 under the title Fabian . Director: Wolf Gremm ; Producer: Regina Ziegler ; Studio: Ufa; Actors: Hans-Peter Hallwachs (Fabian), Hermann Lause (Labude), Ivan Desny (Labude sen.), Silvia Janisch (Cornelia), Brigitte Mira , Charles Regnier , Ruth Niehaus . The length of the film is given as 117 minutes, the DVD as 110 or 115 minutes. German Film Award 1980. DVD release date: November 8, 2004.

Since July 2019 Dominik Graf has been filming an adaptation under the title Fabian - the walk to the dogs . The film is expected to hit cinemas in autumn 2020.


In the spring of 2016, Fabian was a revue on the program of the Landestheater Altenburg (production and direction: Fabian Alder).


The novel was edited in 1987 by Matthias Thalheim as a radio play for radio in the GDR . Dramaturgy: Heide Böwe ; Director: Joachim Staritz ; Actors: Götz Schulte (Fabian), Steffen Mensching (Labude), Bärbel Röhl (Cornelia), Ruth Glöß (Fabian's mother), Heide Kipp (Irene Moll), Hans-Joachim Hanisch (inventor), Margit Bendokat (glove seller), Horst Lebinsky (Narrator and in nine other roles); First broadcast: February 5, 1987, Berliner Rundfunk, length: 70'15, archived: German Broadcasting Archive Potsdam-Babelsberg.

In 1998 an audio book read by Friedhelm Ptok was published on the Deutsche Grammophon Literatur label .

First editions

  • Fabian. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart and Berlin 1931.
  • The walk to the dogs. Atrium, Zurich 2013, ISBN 3855353913 .


  • Alexandra Gaida-Steingaß: From book to film: Erich Kästner's Fabian - The story of a moralist . Verlag Accepta Kommunikation, Ebersbach an der Fils 2014, ISBN 978-3-9815651-0-2 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Alexander Attimonelli: "Fabian - The walk to the dogs": Dominik Graf filmed Kästner. Retrieved August 28, 2019 .
  2. KULTURpur.de: Landestheater Altenburg KULTURpur.de .