House without a guardian

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Heinrich Böll, 1981

Haus ohne Hüter is a novel by the German writer and Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Böll , published in 1954 by Kiepenheuer & Witsch . He describes the situation of two post-war families who try in different ways to compensate for the loss of their fathers who died in the war.


The novel is set in a town on the Rhine in the early 1950s . The plot is told from the point of view of the five main characters - the mothers of the Bach and Brielach families and their sons Martin and Heinrich, as well as Albert Muchow, who is a friend of the Bach family. The fathers died in the Second World War , the mothers and their children seek orientation. Opportunists like ex- lieutenant Gäseler, who is indirectly responsible for Raimund Bach's death, try to hide in the cultural scene. The atrocities of National Socialism are often downplayed by society ; the widowed women experience little support.

Nella, the beautiful widow of the poet Raimund Bach, lives in financially secure circumstances as the heiress of a jam factory. She lives in a spacious house with her son Martin, her mother, her old friend Bolda, the friend of her fallen husband Albert Muchow and the former inmate Glumbich Cholokusteban. Even after more than ten years, she cannot accept her husband's death; she refuses to read letters or to marry Uncle Albert, who is Martin's substitute father, and loses herself in daydreams of how life with Raimund, Martin and other children could have been.

Martin grows up as a key child because his mother leads an unsteady life. He is afraid of his grandmother, who tries to instill in him not only a bourgeois life, but above all a hatred of his father's “murderer”. He tries to avoid her if possible. Above all, Albert Muchow, who works as a comic artist for magazines and whose family lives in the excursion destination Bietenhahn, offers him support. "Uncle Albert", as he is called by both Martin and his friend Heinrich Brielach, embodies a kind of moral authority for the children. The question of morality plays an important role, especially for the two adolescent boys.

This uncle figure is particularly important for Heinrich Brielach, as he usually knows "uncle" from other contexts. Son of a car mechanic, he was only born after his father died in a hail of bombs . His mother, who, unlike Nella, can neither fall back on an inherited fortune - her old father lives in poor conditions in East Germany - nor learned a profession, has to make ends meet on her own and has already lived with numerous different life partners. The worst of them all, according to the boys, is Leo, a tram conductor , from whom she has the little daughter Wilma. Leo is as stingy as it is violent, and Heinrich sees it as his job to protect his little sister from her father. Like Nella Bach, Ms. Brielach is also a beautiful woman, but unlike her, she has to use her beauty in order to survive financially, and unlike Nella, this beauty is also acutely endangered by the miserable living conditions: Ms. Brielach suffers from periodontal disease and with it under the fear of soon being unable to find any more admirers and of being abandoned by Leo. Heinrich, who manages the family's finances, is therefore also faced with the task of being able to pay the upcoming dental bill.

Ms. Brielach herself sees the solution to this problem in a new partner change: she finally accepts the requests of the baker she works for and decides to move in with her children. Albert Muchow, who happened to witness the move and to whom the dissolved woman fell crying, gave Heinrich Brielach the hope that the family's situation could really change one day. Because the baker is just one more figure in the long line of “uncles”, on whom one cannot permanently rely and with whom a relationship exists mainly for financial reasons. Albert, on the other hand, is different.

Muchow takes Heinrich and Wilma as well as Martin to Bietenhahn. Martin, who suffers from the unpredictable and emotional conditions in his mother's house, is supposed to stay in Bietenhahn at all. A little later, Nella arrives there, who shortly before had met Gäseler, her husband's former superior. Gäseler sent Raimund on a patrol in Russia, from which Raimund never returned alive. Just like Martin, Nella has been conditioned by her mother for years to hate this man and initially set out to doom him after he finally emerged. But when he confronts her in person, she cannot carry out the long-cherished plans for revenge. Even her mother, who finds out about the meeting, can not do anything against Gäseler, who is now established in the cultural scene and wants to write about Raimund's poetry . Gäseler himself is apparently completely unaware that he met the poet in Russia, and he is busy building his career and forgetting the past, as is typical of post-war Germany of this time.

Position of the novel in Böll's work

A recurring theme in Heinrich Böll's works is the restoration of normality, the bourgeois restoration of the old Federal Republic in the spirit of the Rhenish Catholicism of the petty-bourgeois character. The people are sharply differentiated, sometimes clichéd: those who suppress the criminal Nazi past without further ado and unscrupulously devote themselves to their economic career ( economic miracle ), stand in contrast to the others who do not deal with the seamless transition to the new order can accept.

The boys Heinrich and Martin with their mothers, widowed during the war, are representative of the post-war generation, whose life is characterized by the absence of husbands and fathers and the dissolution of traditional norms. The "fatherless society" ( Mitscherlich ) experienced the reconstruction after the devastating war without the support of a family, without being integrated into a value system. People also experience how former supporters of the National Socialists make a career again through unscrupulous opportunism a few years after the end of the war. The experience of the powerlessness of the individual in the face of these social circumstances has a profound effect on Böll's entire work and this book too.

As in the novels And Said Not A Single Word (1953) and Billard at 9.30am (1959) Heinrich Böll used a poly-perspective narrative technique . House without a Guardian should be his penultimate novel with this technique. Although the first drafts and processing statuses of views of a clown indicated something different, this meant the final departure from the former concept of success.


After the convincing success of And Said Not a Single Word (1953), the publisher Joseph Caspar Witsch waited “full of burning curiosity” for Böll's next book and told him the change in perspective that he believed to be expected: “The war is now over - I mean the very positive - the time-related post-war problem has been dismissed; now it has to be shown how far the horizon goes ”. Since Böll was now a successful author in the center of public interest, Witsch tried, as a publisher, to exert greater influence on the design of the book. Accordingly, he was well informed about the current status of the book and followed the production process in discussions with Böll. Witsch was finally satisfied with the result.


Despite the initially good criticism, through which the book, which had been launched in 10,000 copies, was named Book of the Month in quick succession , House Without Guardians met with rejection from the public due to the topic and the method of representation that were again indirectly linked to the Second World War. Thus, after studying the make-up copy , the Deutsche Buchgesellschaft decided not to include this Böll in its selection series because of the depressing atmosphere and "tendency towards complete hopelessness, contrary to their original plans".

Even Karl Korn , co-founder of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , who saw the work as originally desired preprint in his newspaper, refrained as he then felt it more than "literary experiment" as a novel. Nonetheless, Korn had given it a benevolent review in the FAZ at the Frankfurt Book Fair .

Friedrich Sieburg certified Böll that he had grown with a house without a guardian as a narrator, Paul Hühnerfeld also praised it in Die Zeit . Johann Christian Hampe joined this list as well as Hans Schwab-Felisch . Even the Rheinische Merkur took positive note of the publication this time - and even ahead of the other major newspapers.

Since Witsch had recognized the importance of a prompt, positive review of such works, for the first time, and according to his own admission, for the first time, as an exception, he personally influenced the awarding of the review copies to well-meaning reviewers. Even if it was already possible to announce in autumn 1954 that the translation rights had been sold to four foreign publishers ( Allert de Lange in Amsterdam , Mondadori in Milan , Éditions du Seuil in Paris , and Norstedt & Söners in Stockholm ), one was in Cologne aware of the publishing risk. In 1956 the East Berlin publisher Volk und Welt wanted to have publishing rights with an open mind. The short novel Where have you been, Adam? Böll's first work to be published in the East by Rütten and Loening; Only the following year was House without Guardians published by Union Verlag Berlin . In the years to come, none of the GDR publishers developed into a real Böll house publisher.


The German literary history associated Unguarded House in the system critical overall context of his work, "If Böll (..) in his short stories so often told by children and young soldiers when the marriage crises of the post-war period ( and never said a word , 1953) or chose the overlooked widow's misery ( House without Guardians , 1954) as the subject of his novels, then because he also distrusted the new organizational skills of the reconstruction and did not want to overlook the moral downsides and Nazi remnants behind the restored facades of the economic miracle ( billiards at 9:30 , 1959) ".

In pedagogy , two longer quotations were placed at the beginning of the relevant section on the subject of “pedagogy after the Second World War”. On the one hand the beginning of House Without Guardians , on the other hand as a comparison from the German Democratic Republic of Christa Wolf's The Divided Heaven from 1963. The following is then suggested as an impulse exercise: “Describe the boy's life. What's so special about it? What is his relationship like with his mother and how is it with his father who died in the war? Do you also see a current significance of this topic for the present? "

Interestingly, in this context reference is made directly to the corresponding passage in Kindler's New Literature Lexicon that the perspectives of all five main characters are determined by the awareness that the men of the respective families died in World War II, whereby the wives live without a husband and the children without Fathers have to grow up. Here the conflicts are described as the result of a "typical post-war situation".

The Slovenian literary historian Viktor Žmegač saw in his two-volume German literary history “Haus ohne Hüter” as the only novel by Heinrich Böll that sketched a utopian counter-world and also provided the only counter-example to a literary production “which is determined by a number of surprisingly unhistorical facts ". According to Hanjo Kesting , Böll shows in the book “the misery of the individual, his material and emotional hardships, the confusion of moral criteria. But he does not appear as a judge or as a judge, far more as a co-affected ”, which has earned him the sympathy of his readers.

Other retrospectives in the course of gender research with regard to the subject of fatherhood were relatively positive, but nevertheless greatly abbreviated ; they described Böll's work as a very successful novel, but primarily interpreted the work morally: The author said the war widow was from the perspective of two boys held out their immoral way of life and thus pleaded for a marriage. Edgar Wolfrum felt quite differently, who thought the work more than a description of a "desperate world of neglected children who became victims of the adult lifestyle". Here, too, he saw a clarification of the “shadow zones of society”, which extends into the big cities. In misunderstanding the poly-perspective narrative technique, Heinz Ludwig Arnold criticized the fact that Böll's work also had primarily male main characters before his creative phase before 1970.

The work even serves as a treasure trove of quotations for grammar textbooks , for example when it is used to clarify the modal verbs . "With verbs used to express thoughts and attitudes, the modal relation can be interpreted as being too obviously dependent on the rather" positive "or rather" negative "character of the thought or attitude and can therefore vary between the interpreting persons": "He was too happy when the light went out again because it was to be feared that the grandmother (...) would rush out."

In German studies , Heinrich Böll was received frequently anyway, but in addition to his fundamental socially critical statements, above all because of the relevant bon motes that are part of the general vocabulary and that illustrate the displacement of the German population, even if - as in this case - it is actually about Walter's works Kolbenhoffs ( From our flesh and blood 1947), Manfred Gregors ( Die Brücke , 1958) and Heinz Küppers ( Simplicius 1945 , 1963) went, for example, the following quote from House without Guardians : "Forget the war, but keep the generals' first names" .

From the perspective of the historical sciences, this work was one of those Bölls and those of other important authors, such as Martin Walser's marriages in Philippsburg (1959), Günter Grass ' Tin Drum (1959) and Uwe Johnson's speculations about Jakob of Group 47 , which generated the basis for it that West German literature mastered the “breakthrough to international resonance”. The title even seems to be used as a synonym for the family structure of the early post-war years. The work was even recommended to English-speaking students as a fictional approach that vividly depicts the everyday challenges of the German post-war period.

Even in the field of interior design , House Without Guardian was seen in retrospect as literary evidence and evidence that the core cell of the family was affected by the Second World War, which in turn led to changed framework conditions for living culture. Thus, the basic problem of this "civilization break" of "House without Guardian" was one of the big themes of the German post-war novel.

Unexpectedly, House without Guardian, like other works by Böll, enjoyed particular popularity in the People's Republic of China after the Cultural Revolution, especially with the female audience. The depressing things of the post-war period such as "the miserable mood in the house without a guardian and the sadness and apathy of the widow", the disaffected soldiers returning home and the various consequences of the war could understand the Chinese readers, and it could be food for thought, especially for many of them suffered similarly during the Cultural Revolution. In Finland , the book, along with Heimito von Doderer's Demonen from 1956, was one of the more popular German works in demand, while Bertolt Brecht's titles were almost never in demand. The book, as well as the Irish diary , was presented as an audio version on East German radio programs as early as 1957. In the Spanish world, the work is also firmly anchored in the literary canon. The same applies to France and Italy.

In the literature itself one saw clear parallels to Wolfgang Koeppen's novel Tauben im Gras . However, this appeared three years before the house without a guardian .





  • First edition: House without a Guardian. Novel . Cologne Berlin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch 1954, 320 pages; Wilpert / Guhring 28; Fig.
  • Heinrich Böll: House without a guardian. Novel. dtv, Munich 1981 and others
  • The first annotated edition of the novel was published in 2009 in vol. 8 of the Cologne Böll edition.

Audiobook, reading by the author

  • Heinrich Böll: House without guardians , Dhv der Hörverlag, 2003, ISBN 3899400690


  • Braem, Helmut M .: Fatherless Childhood. The new novel by Heinrich Böll . In: Stuttgarter Zeitung . October 23, 1954.
  • Hepp, Fred: When the father is missing, the uncles come . In: Süddeutsche Zeitung . September 26, 1954.
  • Hühnerfeld, Paul: We are not lost. Comments on German novels by Böll, Bender and Stahl . In: The time . 9. Vol. 38 of September 23, 1954. p. 8.
  • Korn, Karl: Bitter Spring Awakening 1954 . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . September 25, 1954.
  • Sieburg, Friedrich: Ability to suffer . In: The present (Frankfurt a. M.). 9. Vol. 20 (September 25, 1954) p. 623.

Research literature

  • Bernd Balzer : House without a guardian . In: Heinrich Böll. Novels and short stories. Interpretations. Edited by Werner Bellmann . Reclam, Stuttgart 2000. [At home without a guardian : pp. 119-136.] ISBN 978-3150175149
  • Hans Joachim Bernhard: The novels Heinrich Bölls. Social criticism and community utopia . Rütten & Loening, Berlin-East 1970th - 2nd, through. u. exp. Berlin: Rütten & Loening, 1973. [At home without guardians : pp. 144–181.]
  • Frank Finlay (Ed.): On the rationality of poetry. Heinrich Böll's aesthetic thinking . Rodopi, Amsterdam a. a. 1996.
  • Lawrence F. Glatz: Heinrich Böll as a moralist. The function of crime and violence in his prose works . Peter Lang Verlag, Bern u. a. 1999.
  • Eberhard Lehnardt: Early Christianity and affluent society. Heinrich Böll's novels from "House without Guardian" to "Group picture with lady" . Peter Lang Verlag, Bern u. a. 1984.
  • Heinrich Moling: Heinrich Böll - a "Christian" position? . Juris Verlag, Zurich 1974.
  • Werner Sulzgruber: Heinrich Böll. "House without a Guardian". Analyzes of "language finding", of the criticism patterns and problem constellations in the novel . Edition Praesens, Vienna 1997.

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. Irmela von der Lühe: Repression and Confrontation. The post-war literature . In: Peter Reichel , Harald Schmid , Peter Steinbach (eds.): National Socialism, the second story: overcoming, interpretation, memory . CH Beck, Munich 2009, p. 243ff., Here p. 248.
  2. See: Tobias Freimüller: Alexander Mitscherlich: Society diagnoses and psychoanalysis after Hitler . Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 2007, p. 233.
  3. See JH Reid: Silvio Blatter's novel trilogy "Days in Freiamt". The eco-novel between Heinrich Böll and Adalbert Stifter . In: Axel Goodbody (Ed.): Literature and Ecology . Rodopi, Amsterdam a. a. 1998, p. 161ff., Here p. 163.
  4. Anamária Gyuracz: Heinrich Böll: Views of a clown. A text genetic study . In: Laure Gauthier, Jean-François Candoni u. a. (Ed.): Files of the XI. International Congress of Germanists Paris 2005. Vol. 5: Cultural Studies vs. Philology - Academic Cultures: Contrasts, Conflicts, Synergies - Edition Philology: Projects, Trends and Conflicts . Peter Lang Verlag, Bern et al., P. 359ff., Here p. 361.
  5. Quoted from: Birgit Boge: The beginnings of Kiepenheuer & Witsch: Joseph Caspar Witsch and the establishment of the publishing house (1948-1959) . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2003, p. 167.
  6. Birgit Boge: The beginnings of Kiepenheuer & Witsch: Joseph Caspar Witsch and the establishment of the publishing house (1948-1959) . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2003, p. 169.
  7. Karl Korn : Bitter Spring Awakening 1954 . In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 25, 1954.
  8. ^ Friedrich Sieburg : Ability to suffer . (Review of Heinrich Böll: House without Guardians). In: Die Gegenwart 9, (1954), no. 20, p. 623.
  9. Paul Hühnerfeld : We are not lost. Comments on new German novels by Böll, Bender and Stahl . In: Die Zeit , September 23, 1954.
  10. ^ Johann Christian Hampe : In search of the father . In: Sonntagsblatt 7, (1954), No. 33
  11. Hans Schwab-Felisch : Review of Heinrich Böll: House without Guardians . In: Die Neue Zeitung , September 5, 1954.
  12. Otto B. Roegele: Review of Heinrich Böll: House without Guardians . In: Rheinischer Merkur , August 6, 1954.
  13. See Birgit Boge: The beginnings of Kiepenheuer & Witsch: Joseph Caspar Witsch and the establishment of the publishing house (1948-1959) . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2003, pp. 171f.
  14. ^ Elmar Faber: About the hardships and moments of happiness in German-German cooperation . In: Monika Estermann, Edgar Lersch (Hrsg.): German-German literature exchange in the 70s . Harrassowitz, Wiesbaden 2006, p. 21ff., Here p. 25.
  15. ^ Friedrich G. Hoffmann, Herbert Rösch: Basics, styles, shapes of German literature. A historical account . Hirschgraben-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main, 12th edition 1983, p. 350.
  16. Michael Siegmund, Joachim Bröcher (ed.): Educational principles The Applied Childhood Studies. Stendal study materials . 16 seminar lessons with impulse questions and transfer tasks, Volume 1, Norderstedt 2009, p. 241.
  17. Kindler's New Literature Lexicon . Vol. 2, NA 1996, p. 852.
  18. Viktor Žmegač (Hrsg.): History of German literature Volume III / 2: From the 18th century to the present . Beltz, Weinheim / Königstein / Ts. 2nd edition 1994, pp. 515f.
  19. Hanjo Kesting : Ein Blatt vom Machandelbaum: German writers before and after 1945 . Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 2008, p. 139.
  20. Mechthild Bereswill, Kirsten Scheiwe, Anja Wolde (ed.): Paternity in Transition, multidisciplinary analyzes and perspectives from a gender-theoretical point of view . Junventa, Weinheim / Munich 2006, p. 62.
  21. About this aftereffect in psychoanalysis : Hartmut Radebold: Absent Fathers and War Childhood: Persistent Consequences in Psychoanalysis . Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2004, p. 236ff.
  22. Edgar Wolfrum : The successful democracy. History of the Federal Republic of Germany from its beginnings to the present . Klett-Cotta, Stuttgart 2006, p. 168.
  23. ^ Heinz Ludwig Arnold: The three leaps of West German literature. A memory . Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 1993, p. 104.
  24. ^ Gisela Zifonun, Ludger Hoffmann, Bruno Strecker, Joachim Ballweg u. a. (Ed.): Grammar of the German Language Volume 1, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York 1997, p. 1898.
  25. ^ Heinrich Böll: House without a guardian . P. 46.
  26. See: Heidrun Ehrke-Rotermund: Child soldiers - without guilt? Young protagonists and the end of the Second World War in the novels of Walter Kolbenhoff, Manfred Gregors and Heinz Küppers . In: Ursula Heukenkamp (Ed.): Guilt and atonement? War experience and interpretation of war in the German media of the post-war period (1945-1961) . Rodopi, Amsterdam, pp. 173ff., Here p. 231.
  27. ^ Heinrich Böll: House without a guardian . Frankfurt / a. M. 1962, p. 169.
  28. Cf. Frank Finlay: `A writer who works is no longer one´: Heinrich Böll and the Gruppe 47 . In: K. Stuart Parkes, John J. White (eds.): The Gruppe 47 fifty years on a re-appraisal of its literary and political significance . Rodopi, Amsterdam a. a. 1999, pp. 105-128.
  29. ^ Gabriele Metzler : Introduction to the study of contemporary history . UTB / Schöningh, Paderborn u. a. 2004, p. 211.
  30. Wilfried Barner (Ed.): History of German literature from 1945 to the present . Beck, Munich 1994, p. 172.
  31. See Wilhelm von Sternburg : History of the Germans . Campus, Frankfurt / a. M. 2005, p. 278.
  32. Jörg Echternkamp : The 101 most important questions - the Second World War . CH Beck, Munich 2009, p. 141.
  33. Ruth Janzen: East Prussia - Mecklenburg - Württemberg: A life . Norderstedt 2004, p. 72.
  34. ^ Robert G. Moeller: Protecting motherhood: Women and the family in the politics of postwar West Germany . University of California, Berkeley et al. a. 1993, p. 238.
  35. Elizabeth D. Heineman: What difference does a husband make? Women and marital status in Nazi and postwar Germany . University of California Press, Berkeley et al. 1999, p. 290.
  36. Eva B. Ottillinger: Zappel, Philipp !: Children's furniture. A design story . (for the exhibition "Fidgety, Philipp! The world of children's furniture" in the Hofmobiliendepot - Möbel Museum Vienna, October 4, 2006 - January 7, 2007, at MARTa Herford, March 17 - June 13, 2007) Böhlau Verlag, Vienna et al. 2006, P. 102.
  37. Zhang Yuhsu: Germany is getting closer. Germany from the outside . Edited by Kurt-Jürgen Maaß , Moser, Rheinbach 1995, p. 1965.
  38. Yi Zhang: History of the Reception of German-Language Literature in China from the Beginnings to the Present . Peter Lang Verlag, Bern et al. 2000, p. 212.
  39. Hannes Saarinnen: On the cultural presence of Germany in Finland after the Second World War (1944-1961) . In: Edgar Hösch, Jorma Kalela, Hermann Beyer-Thoma (eds.): Germany and Finland in the 20th century . Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden 1999, p. 235ff., Here p. 253.
  40. Ingrid Pietrzynski: "The people and the circumstances better ...". Literature mediation in literary programs of the GDR radio. In: Monika Estermann, Edgar Lersch (Hrsg.): Buch, Buchhandel und Rundfunk 1950-1960 . Harrassowitz Verlag, Wiesbaden 1999, p. 120ff., Here p. 143.
  41. Erika Wischer (Ed.): Akal Historia de la Literarua. Literatura y sociedad en el mundo occidental. Volume sexto. El Mundo Moderno. 1914 hasta nuestro días . Ediciones AKAL, Madrid, p. 418.
  42. Manuel Maldonado Alemán (arrangement): Literatura e identical cultural. Representaciones del pasado en la narrative alemana a partir de 1945 . Peter Lang Verlag, Bern u. a. 2009, p. 155.
  43. Jordi Jané-MATURE: Heinrich Böll, Günter Grass i Wolfgang Koeppen i el món editoiral de guerra post . In: La Traduccio I El Mon Editorial De Postguerra . Punctum & Trilcat 2009, pp. 95ff.
  44. Histoire De L'humanite: Le XX Siecle De 1914 a Nos Jours . UNESCO 2009, p. 1003.
  45. ^ Repertorio bibliografico della letteratura tedesca in Italia (1900-1965) . vol. II 1961-1965. Istituto Italiano di Studi Germanici in Roma, Rome 1968, p. 144.
  46. Anja Schnabel: The Nazi past in sheep's clothing of West German restoration. Wolfgang Koeppen's post-war novels as literary processing . In: Stephan Alexander Glienke, Volker Paulmann, Joachim Perels (eds.): Success story Federal Republic? : the post-war society in the long shadow of National Socialism . Wallstein Verlag, Göttingen 2008, p. 241ff., Here p. 245.
  47. Archive contribution with still images on
  49. Fred Maurer: House without a Guardian. In: February 24, 2009, archived from the original on October 5, 2015 ; accessed on September 12, 2018 .