Walter Jens

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Jens giving a speech at the Academy of Arts (2005)

Walter Jens (born March 8, 1923 in Hamburg ; † June 9, 2013 in Tübingen ) was a German classical philologist , literary historian , writer , critic and translator . He was full professor for rhetoric at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen , president of the PEN Center Germany and president of the Berlin Academy of the Arts .


Childhood and studies

Scholars' School of the Johanneum in Hamburg (2006)

Walter Jens was the son of a bank director and a teacher. From 1929 he attended the co-educational elementary school at Breitenfelder Straße 35 in Hamburg-Eppendorf , half of his classmates were of Jewish faith . From 1933 until his Abitur in 1941 he was a student at the Hamburg School of Academics at the Johanneum . From 1941 to 1945 Jens studied German and Classical Philology - first in his hometown Hamburg, from April 1943 in Freiburg im Breisgau . His academic teachers included Bruno Snell and Martin Heidegger . Because of his severe suffering from asthma , he was not called up for military service in the Wehrmacht . During the time of National Socialism , Jens was a member of the Hitler Youth and the NS student union . Since September 1, 1942, he was listed as a member of the NSDAP .

He has been passionate about football since his youth . He attended games of the Eimsbütteler TV , a Hamburg district club. Later he was a goalkeeper in a Freiburg student team.

“What should become of an asthmatic who had to spend a full quarter of his school days in sanatoriums (and did it with joy: Children's sanatorium, Sister Frieda Klimsch Foundation, Königsfeld in the Black Forest in Baden - a refuge where I was safe)? How could someone have survived who was lost for the heroic times because he needed bronchovydrin and alludrin in high doses in order to exist at all - and who at the same time was grateful for his illness because it saved him from marching and he never had one in his life Had to pick up a weapon? "

- Walter Jens

Assistant and group 47

Walter Jens (center) with his wife Inge and Josef Tal (June 2004)

On December 8, 1944, Jens received his doctorate at the University of Freiburg under Karl Büchner with a thesis on the Sophoclean tragedy "in an abbreviated process". The rigorosum took place in an air raid shelter. From 1945 to 1949 he worked as a research assistant in Hamburg and Tübingen. His first literary text The White Handkerchief appeared in 1947 under the pseudonym Walter Freiburger. Jens completed his habilitation in 1949 at the age of 26 with the non-printed font Tacitus und die Freiheit at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen . From 1950 he belonged to " Group 47 "; this year he made his breakthrough with the novel no. The world of the accused . The publisher Ernst Rowohlt had hired him in 1948 to write a novel.

"Your little, big Walter." Handwritten dedication by Walter Jens, in: Walter Jens: No. The world of the accused . Hamburg 1950.

“The conditions were good. 300 Reichsmarks a month, plus, that was the most important thing, 1000 sheets of wood-containing gray paper. I went to work, made notes, sketched the scheme of the composition and wrote the book, in May 1949, in three whole weeks: 16 pages per night, in pencil on Rowohlt's pieces of wood; more time was not available to the post-doctoral candidate Jens. "

- Walter Jens

With this novel, Jens protested against a utopian model of totalitarian power. The main character is Walter Sturm, a former lecturer and writer who loves Franz Kafka's work more than anything else. The supreme judge and ruler of the state explains to him that "in the whole world there are only defendants and witnesses and judges." The novel was created under the impression of National Socialism and Stalinism . The critics were enthusiastic, the book was dramatized in France by Émile Favre and in this version received the Amis de la liberté award . In 1951 Walter Jens married the literary scholar Inge Puttfarcken . The couple had two sons, the journalist Tilman Jens (1954-2020) and the television editor Christoph Jens (* 1965).

Professor in Tübingen

Walter Jens autograph on Jan. 7, 2001

As a classical philologist, Jens sought to demonstrate the importance of the ancient myths of gods and the New Testament story of God for current questions about truth and peace through translations of Greek literature and the Bible. In 1956, Walter Jens was appointed as an adjunct professor for classical philology at the University of Tübingen. In his story The Testament of Odysseus (1957) he reinterpreted the ancient figure. Odysseus becomes an antihero who gives his grandson Prasidas a life story. He is not the brave adventurer, but a pacifist who hates the carnage and wants to prevent the Trojan War by all means. But he fails.

“It was a picture of horror, Prasidas. The city was still burning. Looting parties combed the houses - for three days they were allowed to do what they wanted; children lay open-mouthed in the street, balls, blocks and dolls still in their arms; the screams of the wounded came from half-smashed houses [...] "

- Walter Jens

Jens opened the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1961 with the speech Plea for the positive in modern literature . In 1962 he became a full member of the German Academy for Language and Poetry . In the fictional correspondence Herr Meister. Dialogue about a novel , Jens examined the possibility of poetic production: the protagonists, a literary scholar and a poet, discuss a failed novel project. From 1963 to 1988 Jens held the nationwide first chair for general rhetoric at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen , which had been set up especially for him - the first of its kind in Germany since 1829. He was also director of the seminar for general rhetoric. His students included Wilfried Barner and Gert Ueding , who succeeded Jens' chair.

Public work

Under the pseudonym Momos , Jens has been writing television reviews for the weekly newspaper Die Zeit almost every week since 1963 . Since 1965 he was a member of the Free Academy of the Arts Hamburg . In group 47 he became a feared critic at the lectures. In 1966, Martin Walser wrote a satirical description of how he handled the texts in his letter to a very young author :

"[...] but above all he will throw what you have read into the air over and over again and let a squadron of violently booming nouns followed in the air by a squadron of nouns that are trained in association flight [...] So you will be amazed and moved to watch that I already know when he deals with you with stormy accuracy; you will think of Kinski or Demosthenes [...] "

- Martin Walser

In 1971 Jens was appointed to the founding senate of the University of Bremen . He saw himself as a “writer and Protestant”. He was President of the PEN Center of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1976 to 1982 and again after the death of Martin Gregor-Dellin from 1988 to 1989. From 1989 to 1997 he was President of the Akademie der Künste zu Berlin, where he successfully merged with the Ostakademie . Then he was their honorary president. From 1990 to 1995 he was also chairman of the Martin Niemöller Foundation .

Christian and pacifist

In his last novel, Der Fall Judas , Jens dealt with a fictional beatification process for Judas Iscariot in the form of a forensic case study in 1975 : “Without Judas there is no cross, without the cross there is no fulfillment of the plan of salvation. No church without this man; no tradition without the narrator. ”He translated parts of the New Testament : the four Gospels , the Epistle of Paul to the Romans, and the Revelation of John . He had a long-standing friendship with Hans Küng , as well as with Ralph Giordano , whom he already knew from his school days in Hamburg, and - with interruptions - with Marcel Reich-Ranicki . Jens was a member of the Evangelical Church.

From the beginning of the 1980s he became involved in the resistance of the peace movement against the NATO double resolution and the stationing of Pershing missiles. With Heinrich Böll and other well-known writers and theologians , he took part in the “celebrity blockade” in front of the Pershing depot in Mutlangen at the beginning of September 1983 . During the Second Gulf War, his wife hid and he deserted US soldiers in her home. Jens was a member of the advisory board of the Humanist Union . Between January 1989 and April 2011 he was co-editor of the monthly magazine Blätter for German and international politics .

Controversial NSDAP membership

In 2003, the statement in the Germanists ' dictionary that Jens was a member of the NSDAP caused a scandal. Because at first Jens publicly denied membership. On December 6, 2003, Der Spiegel reported the existence of two membership cards from the NSDAP card index with his name. Thereupon Jens said in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung "with great certainty" that he was not a member of the NSDAP and that he could not remember ever having submitted a membership application. At most it could be that he unknowingly told the untruth. In a conversation with his son Tilman for the ZDF culture magazine aspekte on December 12, 2003, Jens admitted his own mistakes in his relationship to National Socialism. Referring to a speech about “degenerate literature” that he had given in Hamburg in 1942 as a 19-year-old member of the NS student union, he regretted that after the war he had not “emphasized his own errors more decisively, differentiated and emphatically”.

Sickness and death

In the 1980s, Jens suffered from depression. He was treated by Hans Heimann , a professor of psychiatry in Tübingen. 15 years later, Jens and his wife Inge publicly confessed to the disease on the ARD talk show Boulevard Bio on May 15, 2001. On August 3, 2001, he and his wife gave an interview to the journal Psychotherapie im Dialog .

In 2004 Walter Jens suffered from dementia . His son Tilman made the disease public in the feature section of the FAZ and triggered a debate in the German-language media. As a result, Tilman Jens published the books Dementia: Farewell to my father and parricide: Against a general suspicion . Inge Jens, the wife of Walter Jens, also published the experiences with her husband suffering from dementia. Walter Jens died at the age of 90 on June 9, 2013 in Tübingen. He was buried in the local city ​​cemetery (grave no. O VIII 11/12).

“Would it really be a gain ..., a gain for man, if he were immortal instead of - how soon! - to pass and suddenly have to go? Would it be an asset for him: not to be in time, but immortal like - maybe - a stone or a distant star? Isn't it precisely in transitoriness, and above all, in the knowledge of it, that its distinctive unparalleled power? "

- Walter Jens


  • From 1961 to 1993 member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin (West), literature section.
  • From 1986 to 1990 Corresponding Member of the Academy of the Arts, Berlin (East), Literature and Language Maintenance Section.
  • From 1990 to 1993 full member of the Academy of the Arts, Berlin (East), section literature and language maintenance.
  • From 1993 member of the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, literature section.
  • Member of the PEN Center Germany , of which he was Honorary President.
  • Member of the German Academy for Language and Poetry, Darmstadt, the Free Academy of Arts, Hamburg, and the German Academy of Performing Arts, Frankfurt am Main.
  • Honorary doctorates from the University of Stockholm, the Friedrich Schiller University Jena and the University of Hamburg.



Signature of Walter Jens



  • Hofmannsthal and the Greeks . Max Niemeyer Verlag, Tübingen 1955, DNB  452195608 .
  • Instead of a literary history. Poetry in the twentieth century . Neske, Pfullingen 1957, DNB  452195756 (latest edition by Artemis & Winkler, Düsseldorf / Zurich 2004, ISBN 3-491-69121-4 ).
  • The gods are mortal . Neske, Pfullingen 1959, DNB  452195586 (latest edition from dtv, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-423-10076-1 ).
  • Contemporary German literature. Topics, styles, tendencies . Piper Verlag, Munich 1961, DNB  452195632 . - Further edition: dtv, Munich 1964.
  • Assignments. 11 literary portraits . Piper Verlag, Munich 1962, DNB  452195810 .
  • Walter Jens (Ed.): The Good Samaritan . Kreuz, Stuttgart 1973, ISBN 3-7831-0413-0 .
  • TV, topics and taboos. Momos 1963-1973 . Piper Verlag, Munich 1973, ISBN 3-492-00351-6 .
  • Republican speeches . Kindler Verlag, Munich 1976, ISBN 3-463-00677-4 .
  • A German university. 500 years of the Tübingen Republic of Scholars . With Inge Jens . Kindler Verlag, Munich 1977, ISBN 3-463-00709-6 (latest edition by Rowohlt, Reinbek 2004, ISBN 3-499-61690-4 ).
  • Walter Jens (Ed.): The place of action is Germany. Talking in a time that is hostile to memory . Kindler, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-463-00813-0 .
  • Momos on the screen. 1973-1983 . Piper Verlag, Munich / Zurich 1984, ISBN 3-492-00604-3 .
  • Pulpit and chair. Talk . Kindler Verlag, Munich 1984, ISBN 3-463-00886-6 .
  • Poetry and religion. Pascal, Gryphius, Lessing, Hölderlin, Novalis, Kierkegaard, Dostojewski, Kafka . With Hans Küng . Kindler Verlag, Munich 1985, ISBN 3-463-40028-6 .
  • German résumés in autobiographies and letters . With Hans Thiersch . Juventa-Verlag, Weinheim / Munich 1987, ISBN 3-7799-0803-4 .
  • National and world literature as seen from Goethe. Essay . Kindler Verlag, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-463-40117-7 .
  • Republican campaigns. A reader . Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1988, ISBN 3-423-10847-9 .
  • Talk . Kiepenheuer, Leipzig / Weimar 1989, ISBN 3-378-00318-9 .
  • Jews and Christians in Germany. 3 speeches . Radius-Verlag, Stuttgart 1989, ISBN 3-87173-784-4 .
  • Poet and state. About spirit and power in Germany; a disputation between Walter Jens and Wolfgang Graf Vitzthum . Verlag Walter de Gruyter, Berlin / New York City 1991, ISBN 3-11-013207-9 .
  • Objection. Talking against prejudice . Kindler Verlag, Munich 1992, ISBN 3-463-40200-9 .
  • Myths and Poets. Models and variations; four discourses . Kindler Verlag, Munich 1993, ISBN 3-463-40215-7 .
  • Advocates of humanity. Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Heinrich Böll . With Hans Küng . Piper Verlag, Munich / Zurich 1993, ISBN 3-492-11267-6 .
  • Past - present. Biographical sketches . With Inge Jens . Radius-Verlag, Stuttgart 1994, ISBN 3-87173-011-4 .
  • Walter Jens, Hans Küng: To die humanely. A plea for personal responsibility . With Hans Küng . Piper Verlag, Munich / Zurich 1995, ISBN 3-492-03791-7 . , written as a plea for active euthanasia, provided in the new edition of 2009 with an "afterword on my own account" in which Inge Jens describes her experiences with her husband's dementia; this expanded and updated new edition was published as a paperback in 2010 ( ISBN 978-3-492-25852-4 )
  • Dialogue with Hans Küng. With Hans Küng's farewell lecture . Piper Verlag, Munich / Zurich 1996, ISBN 3-492-03898-0 .
  • Power of memory. Considerations by a German European . Artemis and Winkler, Düsseldorf / Zurich 1997, ISBN 3-538-07054-7 .
  • Given the occasion: texts from a period of service . Parthas Verlag, Berlin 1998, ISBN 3-932529-19-7 .
  • Rudolf Radler (editor): Kindlers New Literature Lexicon . Ed .: Walter Jens. Komet, Frechen 2001, ISBN 3-89836-214-0 (licensed edition by Kindler-Verlag, Munich).
  • Pathos and precision. Eight texts on theology . Radius-Verlag, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-87173-248-6 .
  • Mrs. Thomas Mann. The life of Katharina Pringsheim . With Inge Jens . Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek 2003, ISBN 3-498-03338-7 .
  • Katia's mother. The extraordinary life of Hedwig Pringsheim . With Inge Jens . Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek 2005, ISBN 3-498-03337-9 .
  • In search of the prodigal son. Hedwig Pringsheim's trip to South America in 1907/08 . With Inge Jens . Rowohlt Verlag, Reinbek 2006, ISBN 3-498-03337-9 .
  • Our Uhland. Tübingen speeches . With Hermann Bausinger . Klöpfer & Meyer Verlag, Tübingen 2013, ISBN 978-3-86351-062-6 .


  • At the beginning of the stable, at the end of the gallows: Jesus of Nazareth. His story according to Matthew . Verlag Kreuz, Stuttgart 1972, ISBN 3-423-02086-5 (Original title: εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Ματθαῖον, Euangelion kata Mathaion . Translated by Walter Jens).
  • Aeschylus: The Oresty . A free transfer . Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 1981, ISBN 3-423-02086-5 (Original title: Ορέστεια, Oresteia . Translated by Walter Jens).
  • The Alpha and Omega. Revelation of John . Radius-Verlag, Stuttgart 1987, ISBN 3-87173-732-1 (original title: αποκάλυψις, Apokalypsis . Translated by Walter Jens).
  • The time is fulfilled. The hour has arrived. The Gospel of Mark . Radius-Verlag, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-87173-807-7 (original title: εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Μᾶρκον, Euangelion kata Markon . Translated by Walter Jens).
  • And a bid went out. The Gospel of Luke . Radius-Verlag, Stuttgart 1991, ISBN 3-87173-826-3 (original title: εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Λουκᾶν, Euangelion kata Loukan . Translated by Walter Jens).
  • In the beginning the word. The Gospel of John . Radius-Verlag, Stuttgart 1993, ISBN 3-87173-872-7 (original title: εὐαγγέλιον κατὰ Ἰωάννην, Euangelion kata Ioannen . Translated by Walter Jens).
  • Paul of Tarsus: The Letter to the Romans . Radius-Verlag, Stuttgart 2000, ISBN 3-87173-205-2 .


  • The Indomitable Leni Peickert , feature film, BR Germany 1970, director: Alexander Kluge , with Walter Jens, Heinrich Böll, Martin Walser, Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Alexander Mitscherlich and Theodor W. Adorno as discussants
  • The double face of the intellectual , conversation with Thomas Grimm . Contemporary witnesses - TV, 60 min, 1993.
  • Art and civil courage , documentary, Germany 1997, director: Thomas Grimm , contemporary witnesses - TV, 45 min.
  • Mrs. Walter Jens , documentary, D 2006, director: Thomas Grimm , with Inge and Walter Jens

watch TV

Radio plays


Web links

Commons : Walter Jens  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Walter Jens: Scholar-Writer-Rhetor. A self-portrait , in: Welt und Wort 18/1963, p. 334
  2. Götz Aly : What did Walter Jens know? His admission to the NSDAP probably happened without his own knowledge , in DIE ZEIT March 7, 2008
  3. Interview ( Willi Winkler ): "I was adapted for many years" , Süddeutsche Zeitung , December 8, 2003
  4. Walter Jens, Republican Reden , 1976, p. 188 ff .: "When I went to school, everything was very simple: The object of identification was called TV Eimsbüttel [...]"; I love ETV , Interview with Walter Jens, in: ETV-Magazin 2/2006, p. 8 (PDF; 3.4 MB): “I love ETV, I grew up as a child in Eimsbüttel. And in my family, who loved football, there was only one favorite and that was ETV, that was Eimsbüttel. [...] I was not active in Eimsbüttel. I was more in the ranks. I was a goalkeeper in a Freiburg student team. Goalkeeper, that is the hardest position there is to exercise. I only did it for a short time because of the asthma I have had since I was three. "
  5. Walter Jens, Past Present. Biographical Sketches , 1994, pp. 65f.
  6. Walter Jens, The function of the Stichomythie in Sophokles' Tragödien der Mannesjahre , Diss. Freiburg i. Br. 1944; see. Walter Jens' memories of his time in Freiburg: Walter Jens: Memento. In memory of November 27, 1944 in Freiburg , in: City of Freiburg im Breisgau (ed.): Memento. Freiburg November 27, 1944. Chronicle of a memorial , Freiburg 1994, p. 9f.
  7. Lauffs (1980), p. 13
  8. Walter Jens, epilogue to No. The world of the accused , Munich 1977, p. 300
  9. Walter Jens, no. The world of the accused , 1954, p. 37
  10. Lauffs (1980), p. 27
  11. "Germany is experiencing a rhetorical bear market" Interview with Walter Jens, monthly magazine a tempo, October 2001
  12. ^ Maria Behre, Jens, Walter , article in: Walter Killy (Ed.), Literaturlexikon , Vol. 6, 1990, p. 96
  13. Walter Jens, The Testament of Odysseus , Pfullingen 1957, 4th edition 1968, p. 40
  14. Walter Jens, master craftsman. Dialogue about a novel , Munich 1963
  15. Martin Walser, letter to a very young author , in: Hans Mayer (Ed.), Deutsche Literaturkritik. From the Third Reich to the Present (1933–1968) , Frankfurt am Main 1978, p. 629 f.
  16. So the title of Karl-Josef Kuschel's biography , cf. Bibliography.
  17. Hink (1993), p. 128
  18. Walter Jens, Der Fall Judas , Stuttgart 1975, p. 8
  19. ^ The translations from the New Testament initially appeared individually and stretched over the decades. Walter Jens translated in the following order: First at the beginning of the stable - at the end of the gallows. Jesus of Nazareth, his story according to Matthäus , Stuttgart 1972; The A and the 0. The Revelation of Johannes , Stuttgart 1987; The time is fulfilled. The hour has arrived. The Markus Gospel , Stuttgart 1990; And a bid went out. The Gospel of Luke , Stuttgart 1991; In the beginning: the word. The Johannes Gospel , Stuttgart 1993; The four gospels. Matthäus - Markus - Lukas - Johannes , Stuttgart 1998; most recently Der Römerbrief , Stuttgart 2000.
  20. See Kuschel (2003), p. 182 f.
  21. Philipp Maußhardt: The Jens couple secretly fed US deserters: Warned , Die Zeit , June 17, 1994
  22. Big heads for big questions, sheets for German and international politics 5/11
  23. ^ Indication for Jens' voluntary NSDAP membership Pre-registration of the Spiegel on December 6, 2003 for issue no. 50/2003.
  24. Interview with Walter Jens in the Süddeutsche Zeitung of December 8, 2003 ( online ).
  25. ^ ZDF press release on the culture magazine "aspekte" from December 12, 2003
  26. a b Important intellectual: Walter Jens is dead. In: Spiegel Online , June 10, 2013. Retrieved on August 30, 2017.
  27. WDR press release on the show Boulevard Bio from May 15, 2001 .
  28. A way out of depression. Walter Jens and Inge Jens in conversation with Jochen Schweitzer and Ulrich Streeck. In: Psychotherapie im Dialog, 2001, pp. 519-526; see abstract and the first page of the interview, which can be accessed by clicking.
  29. Inge Jens in an interview with Arno Luik : “I watch it disappear” , Stern , April 2, 2008.
  30. Beate Strobel: "If he scolded, he was fine" , Focus , July 22, 2013.
  31. ^ Tilman Jens: Father's Forgetting , FAZ , March 4, 2008.
  32. Jens book “literary father murder” , dpa / Die Berliner Literaturkritik , March 5, 2008
  33. Patermord , Tübinger Wochenblatt, April 3, 2008.
  34. I'm not scoffing at my father!, July 21, 2009.
  35. ^ Author Tilman Jens on "Dementia" and "Parricide" ( Memento from March 22, 2013 in the Internet Archive ), Pforzheimer Zeitung, September 21, 2010.
  36. Christian Geyer: It doesn't have to happen today , FAZ February 22, 2009, p. 6, review of Tilman Jens 'book "Demenz" and of Inge Jens' epilogue in the new edition by Walter Jens / Hans Küng "Menschworthig Die"
  37. Pirmin Meier : 'Late echo on Gottfried Keller. On the death of the learned author and humanist Walter Jens' , Swiss Month Online, June 2013.
  38. ^ The grave of Walter Jens with gravestone.
  39. Funeral service in the collegiate church, burial in the city cemetery - hundreds said goodbye to Walter Jens. Schwäbisches Tagblatt, June 17, 2013.
  40. Walter Jens, On Transience. The 90th Psalm , in: the other objection. Speeches Against Prejudice , 1992, p. 228
  41. ^ The indomitable Leni Peickert , of the German Film Institute
  42. ^ Ms. Walter Jens ( Memento from March 5, 2016 in the Internet Archive ),, website of the House of Documentary Film