Franz Hessel

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Franz Hessel (before 1910)

Franz Hessel (born November 21, 1880 in Stettin , † January 6, 1941 in Sanary-sur-Mer ) was a German writer , translator and editor .

Franz Hessel published numerous poems, volumes of prose and novels, which usually recognisably processed their own experiences and in which a patiently suffering first-person narrator is the focus. In addition to his own work, he has done excellent translations of French classics, such as Marcel Proust . Hessels work is through the condemnation as a Jewish author by the Nazis largely forgotten. It was not until the 1980s that it began to attract more attention, partly due to the love triangle with Helen Grund , his future wife, and Henri-Pierre Roché , which served as the basis for the novel Jules et Jim ( 1953 , which became famous through the film by François Truffaut) ) by Henri-Pierre Roché.


Fanny Countess zu Reventlow, photograph around 1900
Memorial plaque on the house, Lindauer Strasse 8, in Berlin-Schöneberg
Memorial plaque in Sanary-sur-Mer for the German and Austrian refugees

After the death of his wealthy father, who was a banker, Hessel moved with mother and brother from Stettin to Berlin at Genthiner Strasse 43 at the age of eight. His brother was the later historian Alfred Hessel . Hessel came to Munich to study law in 1899. He later switched to Oriental Studies, but never graduated from university. The inherited fortune enabled him to pursue his literary ambitions. Via Karl Wolfskehl he got connected to the circle around Stefan George and got to know Fanny Countess zu Reventlow . With the "Queen of Schwabing" and her companion, Baron Bohdan von Suchocki, he lived from 1903 to 1906 in the shared apartment in the "Eckhaus", Kaulbachstrasse 63. This time is the basis of the novels Kramladen des Glücks by Franz Hessel and Herr Dames Aufzüge or Events from a strange part of town from Fanny to Reventlow. Together with her he wrote several editions of Schwabinger Beobachter , which parodied above all the circle around Stefan George .

From 1906 until shortly before the First World War , Hessel lived in Paris , where he frequented the artistic circles of Montparnasse , especially in the famous Café du Dôme , where foreign artists met. It was during this time that he became acquainted with the French art dealer and writer Henri-Pierre Roché and the young painter Helen Grund , whom he married in 1913. The later diplomat and resistance fighter Stéphane Hessel came from the marriage . After the war, the family settled in the Villa Heimat on the outskirts of Schäftlarn south of Munich. In 1920, when his marriage had already broken down, he published the novel Pariser Romance , in which he processed his time in Paris and the acquaintance with his wife in literary terms.

In the twenties, Hessel lived in Berlin's Friedrich-Wilhelm-Strasse and worked as an editor at Rowohlt Verlag . He has translated works by Giacomo Casanova , Stendhal and Honoré de Balzac and, together with Walter Benjamin, two volumes of the novel In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. Together with the editor Paul Mayer and publisher Ernst Rowohlt , Hessel presided over the author evenings every quarter, in which the most important writers of the time took part. He was best known as a poet, novelist and prose writer. He fell in love with Doris von Schönthan and dedicated his Doris texts to her . Despite being banned from his profession, Hessel continued to work as an editor at Rowohlt Verlag in Nazi Germany until 1938 . He had to stop writing, but he translated Jules Romains . Finally, he followed the advice of his wife and friends and reluctantly emigrated to Paris shortly before the November 1938 pogrom . Fearing the advance of the German occupiers, Hessel and his family moved to Sanary-sur-Mer, a center of exile in southern France . Soon afterwards, at the instigation of the French interior minister, Georges Mandel , he was interned with his older son Ulrich and many other emigrants such as Lion Feuchtwanger in the Les Milles camp near Aix-en-Provence . The 60-year-old Hessel suffered a stroke during his two-month stay in the camp and died shortly after his release in 1941 as a result of his imprisonment in Sanary-sur-Mer.

Hessel's novels Der Kramladen des Glücks (1913), Pariser Romance (1920), Heimliches Berlin (1927) and the fragment Alter Mann (1987) published posthumously by Bernd Witte show a melancholy narrator in the tradition of Marcel Proust, who mourned the lost past who is ready to enjoy the phenomena of modernity. Tucholsky wrote in a 1929 review:

“First of all: he is a poet. Something like that has just been picked in the azure: […] There is a kind of manly weakness in this man, something almost feminine (not: feminine) - even in the charming ribbon of pasta there are lightly colored parts that could almost have been written by a woman - it is something unfit for life, oh, how should I paint this word so that it doesn't taste like a beard and horn-rimmed glasses? And Hessel knows that. And because he is clever, he makes a virtue out of necessity and plays, a little coquettishly, the unfit for life: I am a quiet, modest poet ... That's not unpleasant, just a little monotonous - despite the great ability, the wonderfully clean Style, the enchanting interspersed stories and stories. "

As an employee of the magazines Die literäre Welt and Das Tage-Buch , Hessel was the author of numerous prose pieces , which show him in the vicinity of Walter Benjamin and his friend Alfred Polgar ; Such little prose appeared collectively in the volumes Pasta Lightly Colored (1926), Nachfeier (1929) and Encouragement for Enjoyment (1933). Perhaps Hessel's most beautiful book, however, is Walking in Berlin (1929), which Benjamin praised in a review - which he entitled Die Wiederkehr des Flaneurs - as "a thoroughly epic book for which memory was not the source but the muse" Has. Benjamin saw in Hessel, in analogy to Louis Aragon's Paysan de Paris , a “peasant of Berlin”. In Berlin and Paris, the metropolises of the 19th and early 20th centuries, he knew how to identify mythology as the recurring constant. This view of the recurring ultimately became the central aspect of Hessel's flaneur concept. Above all, with his feature section collection Walking in Berlin, he tied in with a figure of thought that Walter Benjamin was able to realize in his Berlin childhood texts. Together with Benjamin, a type of flaneur was constructed that established itself as the paradigm of the feature pages of the Weimar Republic . The traces of Hessel's flaneur not only lead to the places of his childhood, but also reach back into the past, creating a counter-concept to the fast-paced pace and lack of orientation of modernity . Accordingly, in the subtitle of his Flaneur anthology, Hessel speaks of a “magic of the city”, the roots of which lead back to a historical and decelerated Berlin. Benjamin also recognized a visionary level in Hessel's texts. In the essay Die Wiederkehr des Flaneurs Benjamin writes: "Only a man [Hessel] in whom the new, albeit quietly, so very clearly announces itself, can take such an original, so early look at this just old" - Hessel himself speaks of the so-called "first look".


With the increasing interest of German studies in the feature pages, the work of Franz Hessel was rediscovered. Above all, the mutual work between Hessel and Benjamin came into focus, whereby important foundations for the development of promenadology according to Lucius Burckhardt were consolidated.

In 2010, a Franco-German literature prize was founded that bears his name: Franz Hessel Prize . The aim is to honor contemporary authors from both countries who promote the building of Franco-German bridges with their literature. The prize was first awarded in December 2010 to Maylis de Kerangal and Kathrin Röggla .


  • Franz Hessel: lost playmates. Poems. Fischer, Berlin 1905.
  • Franz Hessel: Laura Wunderl. Munich novellas. Fischer, Berlin 1908.
  • Franz Hessel: The general store of happiness. Novel. Rütten & Loening, Frankfurt a. M. 1913.
  • Franz Hessel: A strollers in Berlin , new edition of walks in Berlin ; Ed. And with an afterword by Peter Moses-Krause . With photographs by Friedrich Seidenstücker, Verlag Das Arsenal, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-931109-95-0
  • Franz Hessel: Encouragement to enjoy and pasta lightly colored and after-party . The Little Prose 1926-1933. With an avant-propos from Walter Benjamin. Ed. And with an afterword by Peter Moses-Krause. Verlag Das Arsenal, Berlin 1987, ISBN 978-3-931109-15-8 .
  • Franz Hessel: Walking in Berlin - With a preface by Stéphane Hessel . Newly published by Moritz Reininghaus. Berlin: Verlag für Berlin-Brandenburg 2011, ISBN 978-3-942476-11-9
  • Franz Hessel: Complete works in five volumes ; ed. by Hartmut Vollmer, Bernd Witte; Igel-Verlag, Oldenburg 1999; 2. updated & extended edition, Igel-Verlag, Hamburg 2013, ISBN 978-3-86815-580-8
  • Manfred Flügge (Ed.): Last homecoming to Paris. Franz Hessel and his people in exile Texts by Franz, Helen, Stéphane and Ulrich Hessel, Alfred Polgar , Wilhelm Speyer . With ill. Contains Hessel's last autobiographical narrative fragment, which was written in 1940 in Les Milles; Arsenal, Berlin 1989; ISBN 3-921810-43-4 .

Lilienfeld Verlag in Düsseldorf has been publishing new editions of Hessel's works in the Lilienfeldiana series since February 2012:

  • Franz Hessel: Secret Berlin. Novel. (With an afterword by Manfred Flügge), Lilienfeld Verlag, Düsseldorf 2012, ISBN 978-3-940357-23-6 (Lilienfeldiana vol. 12)
  • Franz Hessel: The general store of happiness. Novel. (With an afterword by Manfred Flügge), Lilienfeld Verlag, Düsseldorf 2012, ISBN 978-3-940357-26-7 (Lilienfeldiana vol. 14)
  • Franz Hessel: Parisian romance. Papers of a missing person. (With an afterword by Manfred Flügge), Lilienfeld Verlag, Düsseldorf 2012, ISBN 978-3-940357-28-1 (Lilienfeldiana vol. 15)


  • Hartmut Vollmer: Hessel, Franz. In: Andreas B. Kilcher (Ed.): Metzler Lexicon of German-Jewish Literature. Jewish authors in the German language from the Enlightenment to the present. 2nd, updated and expanded edition. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2012, ISBN 978-3-476-02457-2 , pp. 213-215.

Monographs and edited volumes

  • Gregor Ackermann, Hartmut Vollmer (ed.): About Franz Hessel. Memories - portraits - reviews. Igel Wissenschaft, Oldenburg 2001.
  • Michael Bienert: The imaginary metropolis. Berlin in the feature section of the Weimar Republic. Stuttgart: Metzler 1992.
  • Gerd-Rüdiger Erdmann: Two strollers in Berlin - on the trail of Franz Hessel and Walter Benjamin. Berlin: VBB 2020.
  • Manfred Flügge Ed .: Franz Hessel: “Last homecoming to Paris.” Franz Hessel and his family in exile. Arsenal, Berlin 1989.
  • Elisa Garrett: Heterotopia and Chronotopos. On the (re) design of the big city in the context of the First World War - space and time in Franz Hessel's “Parisian Romance”. Neuhaus, Berlin 2019, ISBN 978-3-937294-14-8 (university publication)
  • Eckhardt Köhn: Street rush. Flanerie and small form. Attempt on the literary history of the flaneur 1830–1933. With ill .; Arsenal, Berlin 2001, ISBN 3-921810-95-7 (central chapter on Hessel)
  • Nathalie Mälzer : “Proust or similar”. Proust translation in Germany. A study on the history of the “German Proust”. Arsenal, Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-921810-22-1 (On the role of Hessel in the literary naturalization of the French, together with Walter Benjamin).
  • Harald Neumeyer: The flaneur. Conceptions of modernity. Würzburg: Königshausen and Neumann 1999. (= literary studies series. 252.)
  • Magali Laure Nieradka: The master of soft tones. Biography of the poet Franz Hessel. Igel, Oldenburg 2003, ISBN 3-89621-169-2 .
  • Michael Opitz, Jörg Plath Ed .: "Enjoy what you don't have." The flaneur Franz Hessel. Königshausen & Neumann, Würzburg 1997,
    • therein: Eva Banchelli: Between memory and discovery. Strategies of the big city experience with Franz Hessel. Pp. 105-116.
  • Jörg Plath: Lovers of the big city. Aesthetic concepts in the work of Franz Hessel. Igel Wissenschaft, Paderborn 1994
  • Christiane Zauner-Schneider: Berlin - Paris. Victor Auburtin's and Franz Hessel's Franco-German perceptions. Carl Winter, Heidelberg 2006.


  • Walter Benjamin: The return of the flaneur. In: Ders .: City of the Flaneurs. Edited by Matthias Zimmermann. 2nd edition Berlin: be.bra 2018, pp. 125–132.
  • Iris Bäcker: Berlin pictures by Franz Hessel and Walter Benjamin. 'Stroll' in space and in time. In: German-Russian German Studies. Results Perspectives and Desiderata of Cooperation. Edited by Dirk Kemper and Iris Bäcker. Moscow: SdSK 2008. (= Institute for German-Russian Literary and Cultural Relations. 1.) pp. 102-121.
  • Angelika Corbineau-Hoffmann: Pictures and Voices of the City. Franz Hessel and Léon-Paul Fargue as "flaneurs" in Paris. In: Gerhard R. Kaiser, Erika Tunner Ed .: Paris? Paris! Images of the French metropolis in the non-fictional German-language prose between Hermann Bahr and Joseph Roth. Carl Winter, Heidelberg 2002, pp. 441-468.
  • Arndt Potdevin: Franz Hessel and the New Objectivity . In: Peter Sprengel: Berlin-Flaneure. City readings in novels and features 1910–1930. Weidler, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-89693-123-7 , pp. 101-135.
  • Moritz Reininghaus: Flaneur, Bohemian - Dandy? Franz Hessel in Munich, Paris and Berlin. In: The dandy: a cultural-historical phenomenon in the 19th and [early] 20th centuries. Edited by Joachim H. Knoll [u. a.]. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter 2013. (= European-Jewish Studies. 10.) pp. 235-250.
  • Markus Svoboda: The street as an apartment. Walter Benjamin's review of Franz Hessel's “Walking in Berlin”. In: Peter Sprengel: Berlin-Flaneure. City readings in novels and features 1910–1930. Weidler, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-89693-123-7 , pp. 101-135.
  • Peter Utz: Déjà-vu effects when strolling through the columns: Walter Benjamin, Franz Hessel, Robert Walser. In: Déjà-vu in literature and the visual arts. Edited by Peter Utz. Munich: Fink 2003, pp. 163–177.
  • Hendrik Weber: The strange place Paris. Forced travel, constructed distances. Franz Hessel's traveling flaneur figure in Paris before and after 1933. In: Walter Fähnders, Wolfgang Klein, Nils Plath (eds.): Europe, city, travelers. Look at travel texts 1918–1945. Aisthesis, Bielefeld 2006, pp. 107-120.
  • Sacha Zilberfarb: Flanerie in some Parisian texts by Franz Hessel. In: Hélène Roussel, Lutz Winckler (eds.): Right and left of the Seine. Pariser Tageblatt and Pariser Tageszeitung 1933–1940. Niemeyer, Tübingen 2002; Pp. 183-203.

Web links

Commons : Franz Hessel  - Collection of images, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Franz Hessel  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

  1. Magali Laure Nieradka: The master of the quiet tones - biography of the poet Franz Hessel. Igel-Verlag, Hamburg 2014, ISBN 978-3-86815-590-7 , p. 86.
  2. Tucholsky: Gesammelte Werke , Vol. 7, Reinbek 1981, p. 216 f.
  3. Walter Benjamin: The return of the flaneur . In: Matthias Zimmermann (ed.): City of the flaneurs . 2nd Edition. be.bra verlag, Berlin 2018, p. 130 .
  4. ^ Franz Hessel: Walking in Berlin. With a preface by Stéphane Hessel . 6th edition. Berlin Verlag, Berlin 2019, ISBN 978-3-8333-0814-7 , pp. 23 .
  5. ^ German-French Literature Prize ( Memento from December 15, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) and Der Standard