Erich Kästner

Emil Erich Kästner (German: [ˈʔeːʁɪç ˈkɛstnɐ]; 23 February 1899 – 29 July 1974) was a German author, poet, screenwriter and satirist, known primarily for his humorous, socially astute poems and for children's books including Emil and the Detectives. He received the international Hans Christian Andersen Medal in 1960 for his autobiography Als ich ein kleiner Junge war.[1][2] He was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature four times.[3]

Erich Kästner
Erich Kästner, 1961
Erich Kästner, 1961
BornEmil Erich Kästner
23 February 1899
Dresden, Saxony, German Empire
Died29 July 1974 (aged 75)
Munich, West Germany
GenreChildren's literature, poetry, satire, screenplays
Notable awardsHans Christian Andersen Award for Writing
PartnerLuiselotte Enderle
ChildrenThomas Kästner

Erich Kästner signature


Dresden 1899–1919

+Geburtshaus von Erich Kästner in Dresden - Bild 003
Birthplace - memorial tablet

Kästner was born in Dresden, Saxony, and grew up on Königsbrücker Straße in Dresden's Äußere Neustadt.

Kästner's father, Emil Richard Kästner, was a master saddlemaker.[4] His mother, Ida Amalia (née Augustin), had been a maidservant, but in her thirties she trained as a hairstylist in order to supplement her husband's income. Kästner had a particularly close relationship with his mother. When he was living in Leipzig and Berlin, he wrote her fairly intimate letters and postcards almost every day, and overbearing mothers make regular appearances in his writings. It has been rumored that Erich Kästner's natural father was the family's Jewish doctor, Emil Zimmermann (1864–1953), but these rumors have never been substantiated.[5] Kästner wrote about his childhood in his autobiography Als ich ein kleiner Junge war (1957, translated as When I Was a Little Boy). According to Kästner, he did not suffer from being an only child, had many friends, and was not lonely or overindulged.

In 1913, Kästner entered a teacher training school in Dresden. However, he dropped out in 1916 shortly before completing the exams that would have qualified him to teach in state schools. He was drafted into the Army in 1917 and was stationed with a heavy artillery company. The brutality of the military training he underwent and the slaughter he witnessed strongly influenced his later antimilitarism. The merciless drilling he was subjected to by his training officer, Sergeant Waurich, also caused a lifelong heart condition. Kästner portrays this in his poem Sergeant Waurich.

After the end of the war, Kästner went back to school and passed the Abitur exam with distinction, earning a scholarship from the city of Dresden.

Leipzig 1919–1927

In the autumn of 1919, Kästner enrolled at the University of Leipzig to study history, philosophy, German studies, and theater. His studies took him to Rostock and Berlin, and in 1925 he received a doctorate for a thesis on Frederick the Great and German literature. He paid for his studies by working as a journalist and critic for a newspaper, the Neue Leipziger Zeitung. However, his increasingly critical reviews, and the "frivolous" publication of his erotic poem "Abendlied des Kammervirtuosen" (Evening Song of the Chamber Virtuoso) with illustrations by Erich Ohser, led to his dismissal in 1927. That same year, he moved to Berlin, although he continued to write for the Neue Leipziger Zeitung under the pseudonym "Berthold Bürger" ("Bert Citizen") as a freelance correspondent. Kästner later used several other pseudonyms, including "Melchior Kurtz", "Peter Flint", and "Robert Neuner".

Berlin 1927–1933

Kästner's years in Berlin, from 1927 until the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933, were his most productive. He published poems, newspaper columns, articles, and reviews in many of Berlin's important periodicals. He was a regular contributor to dailies such as the Berliner Tageblatt and the Vossische Zeitung, as well as to Die Weltbühne. Hans Sarkowicz and Franz Josef Görtz, the editors of his complete works (1998), list over 350 articles written between 1923 and 1933, but he must have written even more, since many texts are known to have been lost when Kästner's flat burned down during a bombing raid in February 1944.

Kästner published his first book of poems, Herz auf Taille, in 1928, and by 1933 he had published three more collections. His Gebrauchslyrik (Lyrics for Everyday Use) made him one of the leading figure of the Neue Sachlichkeit movement, which focused on using a sobering, distant and objective style to satirise contemporary society.

In the autumn of 1928, he published his best-known children's book, Emil und die Detektive, illustrated by Walter Trier. The owner of the Weltbühne publishing house, Edith Jacobsen, had suggested the idea of writing a detective story to Kästner. The book sold two million copies in Germany alone and has since been translated into 59 languages. The novel was unusual in that, in contrast to most children's literature of the period, it is set in contemporary Berlin and not in a fairy-tale world. Kästner also refrained from overt moralising, letting the characters' actions speak for themselves. Its sequel, Emil und die Drei Zwillinge (1933; Emil and the Three Twins) takes place on the shores of the Baltic. The Emil books may have influenced the creation of other books in the subgenre of literature about child detectives. Emil und die Detektive has been adapted for the cinema five times, three of them in Germany: in 1931, 1935 (UK), 1954, 1964 (USA) and 2001.

Kästner followed this success with Pünktchen und Anton (1931) and Das fliegende Klassenzimmer (1933). Walter Trier's illustration significantly contributed to the books' overwhelming popularity. Das fliegende Klassenzimmer has been adapted for the cinema several times: in 1954 by Kurt Hoffmann, in 1973 by Werner Jacobs and in 2003 by Tomy Wigand.

In 1932 Kästner wrote Der 35. Mai (The 35th of May), which is set in a fantasy land entered via a wardrobe and includes futuristic features such as mobile phones.

Gerhard Lamprecht's film version of Emil und die Detektive (1931) was a great success. Kästner, however, was dissatisfied with the screenplay, and that led him to become a screenwriter for the Babelsberg film studios.

Kästner's only major adult novel, Fabian, was published in 1931. Kästner included rapid cuts and montages in it, in an attempt to mimic cinematic style. Fabian, an unemployed literary expert, experiences the uproariously fast pace of the times as well as the downfall of the Weimar Republic.

From 1927 until 1931, Kästner lived at Prager Straße 17 (today near no. 12) in Berlin–Wilmersdorf and after that, until February 1945, at Roscherstraße 16 in Berlin-Charlottenburg.

Berlin 1933–1945

Kästner was a pacifist and wrote for children because of his belief in the regenerative powers of youth. He was opposed to the Nazi regime and was one of the signatories to the Urgent Call for Unity. However, unlike many other authors critical of the dictatorship, Kästner did not go into exile. After the Nazis' rise to power, he visited Meran and Switzerland and met with exiled writers, yet he returned to Berlin, arguing that there he would be better able to chronicle events. It is probable that he also wanted to avoid abandoning his mother. His Necessary Answer to Superfluous Questions (Notwendige Antwort auf überflüssige Fragen) in Kurz und Bündig explains Kästner's position:

I'm a German from Dresden in Saxony
My homeland won't let me go
I'm like a tree that, grown in Germany,
Will likely wither there also.

The Gestapo interrogated Kästner several times, the national writers' guild expelled him, and the Nazis burned his books as "contrary to the German spirit" during the book burnings of 10 May 1933, instigated by Joseph Goebbels. Kästner witnessed the event in person and later wrote about it. He was denied membership of the new Nazi-controlled national writers' guild, Reichsverband deutscher Schriftsteller (RDS), because of what its officials called the "culturally Bolshevist attitude in his writings prior to 1933."

During the Third Reich, Kästner published apolitical novels such as Drei Männer im Schnee (Three Men in the Snow) (1934) in Switzerland. In 1942, he received a special exemption to write the screenplay for Münchhausen, using the pseudonym Berthold Bürger. The film was a prestige project by Ufa Studios to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of its establishment, an enterprise backed by Goebbels.

In 1944, Kästner's home in Berlin was destroyed during a bombing raid. In early 1945, he and others pretended that they had to travel to the rural community of Mayrhofen in Tyrol for location shooting for a (non-existent) film, Das falsche Gesicht (The Wrong Face). The actual purpose of the journey was to avoid the final Soviet assault on Berlin. Kästner was in Mayrhofen when the war ended. He wrote about this period in a diary published in 1961 under the title Notabene 45. Another edition, closer to Kästner's original notes, was published in 2006 under the title Das Blaue Buch (The Blue Book).

Kästner and the bombing of Dresden

In his diary for 1945, published many years later, Kästner describes his shock at arriving in Dresden shortly after it was firebombed in February that year and finding it a pile of ruins in which he could recognise none of the streets or landmarks among which he had spent his childhood and youth.

His autobiography Als ich ein kleiner Junge war begins with a lament for Dresden (quoted from the English translation, When I Was a Little Boy): "I was born in the most beautiful city in the world. Even if your father, child, was the richest man in the world, he could not take you to see it, because it does not exist any more. ... In a thousand years was her beauty built, in one night was it utterly destroyed."

Munich 1945–1974

After the end of the war Kästner moved to Munich, where he became culture editor for the Neue Zeitung and publisher of Pinguin, a magazine for children and young people. He was also active in literary cabaret, in productions at the Schaubude (1945–1948) and Die kleine Freiheit (after 1951), and in radio. During this time, he wrote a number of skits, songs, audio plays, speeches, and essays about National Socialism, the war years, and the stark realities of life in post-war Germany. Most notable among these works are Marschlied 1945 and Deutsches Ringelspiel. He also continued to write children's books, including Die Konferenz der Tiere (The Animals' Conference), a pacifist satire in which the world's animals unite to successfully force humans to disarm and make peace. This picture book was made into an animated film by Curt Linda. Kästner also renewed his collaboration with Edmund Nick, whom he had met in Leipzig in 1929, when Nick, then Head of the Music Department at Radio Silesia, wrote the music for Kästner's radio play Leben in dieser Zeit. Nick, now the Musical Director at the Schaubude, set more than 60 of Kästner's songs to music.

Kästner's optimism in the immediate post-war era gave way to resignation as Germans in the West attempted to normalize their lives following the economic reforms of the early 1950s and the ensuing "economic miracle" ("Wirtschaftswunder"). He became further disillusioned as Chancellor Konrad Adenauer remilitarized West Germany, made it a member of NATO, and rearmed it for possible military conflict with the Warsaw Pact. Kästner remained a pacifist and spoke out at anti-militarist Ostermarsch demonstrations against the stationing of nuclear weapons in West Germany. Later, he also took a stand against the Vietnam War.

Kästner began to publish less and less, partly because of his increasing alcoholism. He did not join any of the post-war literary movements in West Germany, and in the 1950s and 1960s he came to be perceived mainly as an author of children's books.

His novel Fabian was made into a movie in 1980, as were several of his children's books. The most popular of these adaptations were the two U.S. versions of The Parent Trap, made in 1961 and 1998, and based on his novel Das doppelte Lottchen (Lottie and Lisa).

In 1960 Kästner received the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Als ich ein kleiner Junge war, his autobiography.[1][2] The English translation by Florence and Isabel McHugh, published as When I Was a Little Boy in 1959, won the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1961.

Erich Kästner (left) in the English Garden, Munich, 1968

Kästner received several other awards, including the Filmband in Gold for best screenplay for the German film version of Das doppelte Lottchen (1951), the literary prize of the city of Munich in 1956, and the Georg Büchner Prize in 1957. The government of West Germany honored Kästner with its order of merit, the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Cross of Merit), in 1959. In 1968 he received the Lessing-Ring together with the literary prize of the German Masonic Order.

In 1951, Kästner was elected President of the PEN Center of West Germany, and he remained in office until 1961. In 1965 he became President Emeritus. He was also instrumental in the founding of the Internationale Jugendbibliothek, a library of children's books, in Munich. In 1953 he was founding member of IBBY (International Board on Books for Young People).

Kästner never married. He wrote his last two children's books, Der kleine Mann and Der kleine Mann und die kleine Miss, for his son Thomas Kästner, who was born in 1957.

Kästner frequently read from his works. In the 1920s, he recorded some of his poems of social criticism and in some of the films based on his books he performed as the narrator, as he did for the first audio production of Pünktchen und Anton. Other recordings for Deutsche Grammophon include poems, epigrams, and his version of the folk tale Till Eulenspiegel. He also read in theaters, such as the Cuvilliés Theatre in Munich, and for the radio, for which he read Als ich ein kleiner Junge war and other works.

Kästner died of esophageal cancer on 29 July 1974 in the Neuperlach Hospital in Munich. He was buried in the St. George cemetery in the Bogenhausen district of Munich. Shortly after his death, the Bavarian Academy of Arts established a literary prize in his name.

The asteroid 12318 Kästner is named after him.[6]


A list of his works under their German titles, arranged by their German publication dates:

  • Herz auf Taille, 1928
  • Emil und die Detektive, 1929 (Emil and the Detectives)
  • Lärm im Spiegel, 1929
  • Ein Mann gibt Auskunft, 1930
  • Pünktchen und Anton, 1931 (Anna Louise and Anton)
  • Der 35. Mai, 1931 (The 35th of May, or Conrad's Ride to the South Seas)
  • Fabian. Die Geschichte eines Moralisten, 1932 (Fabian, the Story of a Moralist; republished as Going to the Dogs: The Story of a Moralist by New York Review Books Classics, 6 November 2012, ISBN 9781590175842)
  • Gesang zwischen den Stühlen, 1932
  • Emil und die Drei Zwillinge 1933 (Emil and the Three Twins)
  • Das fliegende Klassenzimmer, 1933 (The Flying Classroom)
  • Drei Männer im Schnee, 1934 (Three Men in the Snow)
  • Die verschwundene Miniatur, 1935 (The Missing Miniature)
  • Doktor Erich Kästners Lyrische Hausapotheke, 1936 (Doctor Erich Kästner's Lyrical Medicine Chest)
  • Georg und die Zwischenfälle, (aka Der kleine Grenzverkehr) 1938 (A Salzburg Comedy)
  • Das doppelte Lottchen, 1949 (Lottie and Lisa; republished as The Parent Trap)
  • Die Konferenz der Tiere, 1949 (The Animal Congress)
  • Die dreizehn Monate, 1955
  • Als ich ein kleiner Junge war 1957 (When I Was a Little Boy)
  • Das Schwein beim Friseur 1963
  • Der kleine Mann 1963 (The Little Man)
  • Der kleine Mann und die kleine Miss 1967 (The Little Man and the Little Miss)
  • Mein Onkel Franz 1969


  1. ^ a b "Hans Christian Andersen Awards". International Board on Books for Young People (IBBY).
  2. ^ a b "Erich Kästner" (pp. 26–27, by Eva Glistrup).
    "Half a Century of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards" (pp. 14–21). Eva Glistrup.
    The Hans Christian Andersen Awards, 1956–2002. IBBY. Gyldendal. 2002. Hosted by Austrian Literature Online.
  3. ^ "Nomination Database". Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 19 April 2017.
  4. ^ Through the Looking Glass of Erich Kästner: Culture and Crisis in Germany by Katherine Sue Gelus Larson, Department of History, Stanford University, 1968
  5. ^ Hanuschek, Sven (1999). Keiner blickt dir hinter das Gesicht. Das Leben Erich Kästners. Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. p. 46. ISBN 3-423-30871-0.
  6. ^


  • Volker Ladenthin, "Erich Kästner, the Innovator: Modern Books for Modern Kids", Volker Ladenthin and Susanne Hucklenbroich-Ley, ed., Erich Kästner Jahrbuch vol. 3, Würzburg 2004, pp. 19–26

External links

A Salzburg Comedy

A Salzburg Comedy or Little Border Traffic (German: Der kleine Grenzverkehr) is a 1943 German comedy film directed by Hans Deppe and starring Willy Fritsch, Hertha Feiler and Heinz Salfner. Erich Kästner wrote the screenplay based on one of his own novels. As he had been blacklisted by the Nazi Party he used the pseudonym Berhold Bürger. The novel was again adapted for the 1957 film Salzburg Stories. Although it was set in Austria, the film was not made by the Vienna-based Wien-Film which had been set up following the Anchluss of 1938. Instead it was produced by the dominant German studio UFA.

Emil and the Detectives

Emil and the Detectives (German: Emil und die Detektive) is a 1929 novel for children set mainly in Berlin, by the German writer Erich Kästner and illustrated by Walter Trier. It was Kästner's first major success, the only one of his pre-1945 works to escape Nazi censorship, and remains his best-known work, and has been translated into at least 59 languages. The most unusual aspect of the novel, compared to existing children's literature at the time, was that it was realistically set in a contemporary Berlin peopled with some fairly rough characters, not in a sanitized fantasy world; also that it refrained from obvious moralizing, letting the characters' deeds speak for themselves. Emil was the name of Erich Kästner's father (Emil Kästner).

Emil and the Detectives (1931 film)

Emil and the Detectives (German: Emil und die Detektive) is a 1931 German adventure film directed by Gerhard Lamprecht and starring Rolf Wenkhaus. It is based on the 1929 novel by Erich Kästner, who also contributed to the film's script. The film script was written by Billy Wilder. It is generally considered to be the best film adaption of Emil and the Detectives.

Emil and the Detectives (1935 film)

Emil and the Detectives is a 1935 British family adventure film directed by Milton Rosmer and starring John Williams, George Hayes and Mary Glynne.

It is a remake of the 1931 German film Emil and the Detectives with the main setting moved from Berlin to London. Otherwise it follows the original very closely, largely using Billy Wilder's screenplay, the music by Allan Gray, even recreating many of the same camera shots. It was made at Shepperton Studios.

Emil and the Detectives (1964 film)

Emil and the Detectives is a 1964 film directed by Peter Tewksbury based on the novel by German author Erich Kästner. The film stars Walter Slezak and Bryan Russell.

Emil and the Detectives (2001 film)

Emil and the Detectives is a 2001 German family film directed by Franziska Buch and starring Tobias Retzlaff, Anja Sommavilla and Jürgen Vogel. It is based on a novel by Erich Kästner.

Emiler Goenda Bahini

Emiler Goenda Bahini is a 1980 Bangladeshi feature film directed by Badal Rahman. It is based on German writer Erich Kästner's 1929 novel Emil and the Detectives. The film won Bangladesh National Film Awards in 5 categories including Best Film, Best Supporting Actor, Best Child Artist, Best Cinematographer (Color) and Best Editing.

Erich Kästner (World War I veteran)

Erich Kästner (10 March 1900 – 1 January 2008) was the last documented World War I veteran who fought for the German Empire (including all nationalities and ethnic groups) and the last who was born in Germany. Consequently he was the last Central Powers combatant of the Western Front. He was also the second oldest man in Germany. However, he was not the last veteran living in Germany. Franz Künstler was an ethnic German who was born in and fought for the Austro-Hungarian Empire, migrating to Germany in 1946 and subsequently becoming a German citizen.

Born in Leipzig-Schönefeld in 1900, Kästner joined the German Army in July 1918, in the "Sonder-Bataillon Hauck" (unsure information), and served on the Western Front in Flanders. He rejoined the military in 1939 and during the Second World War was a Major serving as ground support for the Luftwaffe, mostly in France.Kästner earned a doctorate degree in law from University of Jena in 1924 with a dissertation on Das landwirtschaftliche Pachtwesen und die Pachtschutzordnung unter besonderer Beleuchtung der Verhältnisse des früheren Großherzogtums Sachsen-Weimar-Eisenach (The agricultural leasehold system and the Leasehold Protection Act with special regard to the situation in the former Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach). He subsequently worked as a judge at the Higher Regional Court (Oberlandesgericht), for which work he was awarded the Lower Saxony Merit Cross, 1st Class. Kästner was also honored by Germany's president for his 75-year marriage to his wife Maria, shortly before her death in 2003 at the age of 102. Both had lived in Hannover since 1945. Some months before his death, he moved to a retirement home in Pulheim near Cologne.

Erich Kästner (camera designer)

Erich Kurt Kästner (5 April 1911 – 31 January 2005) was a German movie camera designer. He was born in Jena.

During his work for ARRI, he invented the spinning mirror reflex shutter for film cameras, which was first used in the Arriflex 35 in 1937. It allows the operator to have a viewfinder image equal to the recorded picture.

Kästner received a Gordon E. Sawyer Award in 1992 and an Oscar in 1973 (Class II technical award [plaque]) and 1982 (Academy Award of Merit [statuette]). In 1994 he won the Bavarian Film Awards Honorary AwardHe died in Penzberg.

Fabian (film)

Fabian is a 1980 West German drama film directed by Wolf Gremm. It is based on the novel Fabian, the Story of a Moralist (1931) by German author Erich Kästner. The film was chosen as West Germany's official submission to the 53rd Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, but did not manage to receive a nomination.

Lottie and Lisa

Lottie and Lisa (original German title: Das doppelte Lottchen "The double Lottie") is a 1949 novel by Erich Kästner, about twin girls separated at birth who meet at summer camp.

The book originally started out during World War II as an aborted movie scenario. In 1942, when for a brief time Kästner was allowed by the Nazi authorities to work as a screenwriter, he proposed it to Josef von Báky, under the name “The Great Secret”, but before he could proceed the Nazis once again forbade him to work.

After the war, Kästner worked the idea into a highly successful book. Subsequently, it has been adapted into film many times, most notably

Disney's The Parent Trap film franchise, as well as being translated into various languages.

Paradise for Three

Paradise for Three, titled Romance for Three in the United Kingdom, is a 1938 romantic comedy film starring Frank Morgan as a wealthy industrialist who decides to find out about his German workers by temporarily living among them incognito. It was adapted from Erich Kästner's novel Three Men in the Snow, published in 1934.

The 35th of May, or Conrad's Ride to the South Seas

The 35th of May, or Conrad's Ride to the South Seas (Der 35. Mai oder Konrad reitet in die Südsee in German, its original language) is a novel by Erich Kästner, first published in 1931. Unlike most of Kästner's other works - set in a completely realistic contemporary Germany - the present book is a work of fantasy and satire.

In his preface to the 1928 Emil and the Detectives Kästner recounts that he intended to write a humorous South Sea adventure story, but got stuck with the concrete details and finally followed the advice of a friend to write instead a book set in the familiar Berlin reality. Several of the plot details and characters briefly mentioned where Kästner describes his aborted fantasy were taken up in "35th of May", written four years later.

The Flying Classroom

The Flying Classroom (German: Das fliegende Klassenzimmer) is a 1933 novel for children written by the German writer Erich Kästner.

In the book Kästner took up the predominantly British genre of the school story, taking place in a boarding school, and transferred it to an unmistakably German background.

The Flying Classroom (1973 film)

The Flying Classroom (German: Das fliegende Klassenzimmer) is a 1973 West German comedy film directed by Werner Jacobs and starring Joachim Fuchsberger, Heinz Reincke and Diana Körner. Two classes in a school have a running feud. It is based on The Flying Classroom, a novel by Erich Kästner.It was shot on location around Bamberg in Bavaria.

The Missing Miniature

The Missing Miniature (German: Die verschwundene Miniatur) is a 1954 West German comedy crime film directed by Carl-Heinz Schroth and starring Paola Loew, Ralph Lothar and Paul Westermeier. It is based on the 1935 story of the same name by Erich Kästner.

While on holiday in Copenhagen, a butcher meets a young woman in a café and agrees to transport a miniature painting back to Germany for her. This soon leads to complications.

Three Men in the Snow (1955 film)

Three Men in the Snow (German: Drei Männer im Schnee) is a 1955 German comedy film based on the eponymous novel by Erich Kästner.

Two Times Lotte

Two Times Lotte (German: Das doppelte Lottchen) is a 1950 West German film, directed by Josef von Báky and starring Antje Weisgerber, Peter Mosbacher, Jutta Günther and Isa Günther.Based on a 1949 novel Lottie and Lisa by Erich Kästner, it was made by Bavaria Film at the Emelka Studios near Munich. The film's sets were designed by the art directors Robert Herlth and Willy Schatz.

Woman Made to Measure

Woman Made to Measure (German: Frau nach Maß) is a 1940 German comedy film directed by Helmut Käutner and starring Hans Söhnker, Leny Marenbach and Dorit Kreysler.Produced by Terra Film, it was shot at the Babelsberg Studios in Berlin. The film's sets were designed by the art director Willi Herrmann.

Erich Kästner works
Recipients of the Georg Büchner Prize
Since 1951
Erich Kästner's Lottie and Lisa
Disney's The Parent Trap

This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.