Hermann Löns (1866–1914) was a German journalist and writer. He is most famous as "The Poet of the Heath" for his novels and poems celebrating the people and landscape of the North German moors, particularly the Lüneburg Heath in Lower Saxony. Löns is well known in Germany for his famous folksongs. He was also a hunter, natural historian and conservationist. Löns was killed in World War I and his purported remains were later used by the Nazi government for propaganda purposes.
Life and work
Hermann Löns was born on 29 August 1866 in Kulm (today Chełmno, Poland) in West Prussia. He was one of twelve siblings, of whom five died early. His parents were Friedrich Wilhelm Löns (1832–1908) from Bochum, a teacher, and Klara (née Cramer, 1844–96) from Paderborn. Hermann Löns grew up in Deutsch-Krone (West Prussia). In 1884, the family moved back to Westfalen as his father found a position in Münster. A sickly child who survived typhus, Löns graduated from school on his second try with the Abitur in 1886. Urged by his father, he began to take courses at Münster university in preparation for studying medicine. In 1887, he started his studies at Greifswald university. Here he joined a dueling fraternity (Turnerschaft Cimbria), but was ejected cum infamia (with dishonour). In November 1888, Löns moved to the university of Göttingen, but returned to Münster without having attained a degree. In fact, he never even enrolled at Göttingen but joined a drinking club called the Club der Bewusstlosen. At Münster he studied natural sciences with a focus on zoology at the Theologische und Philosophische Akademie from the spring of 1889 to fall 1890. Whilst there, he developed interests in environmental issues – protecting nature from damage by industrial activity – and in literature. However, he was also arrested in 1889 for disorderly conduct and sentenced to five days in jail for extinguishing gas lights and resisting arrest while drunk.
In the fall of 1891, Löns decided to leave university without graduating and to become a journalist. He went first to Kaiserslautern, where he worked at the Pfälzische Presse. He was fired after five months for being late and for drinking too much. Löns then went to Gera where he again became an assistant editor, this time at the Reußische Volkszeitung. He also lost that job after three weeks, again for being drunk. Löns then started work as a freelance reporter for the Hannoveraner Anzeiger. From 1892, Löns lived at Hanover and as a regional news editor wrote on a wide variety of subjects. Some of his writings under the nom de plume "Fritz von der Leine" were collected in a book Ausgewählte Werke von Fritz von der Leine, published in 1902. The year before, Löns had published a collection of poetry and a book of short stories on hunting. In 1902, Löns left the paper and co-founded the rival Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung. In April 1903, he became its editor-in-chief, but in February 1904 the paper folded due to a lack of funds. Löns then joined the Hannoversches Tagblatt, writing as "Ulenspeigel". It was at this time that Löns began to make a name for himself as a writer on nature, in particular on the heaths of Lower Saxony (Heidedichter). In 1906, he published these writings in Mein braunes Buch which became his first literary success. In 1907, Löns became editor-in-chief at Schaumburg-Lippische Landeszeitung at Bückeburg, where he remained through April 1909. Once again, alcohol consumption was the cause of his dismissal.
Freed from the need to do regular work as a newspaper man, Löns wrote and published several more of his works in 1909, emphasizing animal studies and characterization, including the popular Mümmelmann. That same year, he wrote three more novels, two of which were published in 1910, including Der Wehrwolf, his most successful book, depicting the bloody revenge of Lower Saxony peasants against marauding soldiers of the Thirty Years War. The poems contained in the collection Der kleine Rosengarten (1911) were referred to by Löns as "folk songs" (Volkslieder). They included the Matrosenlied ("Sailors' Song") with the chorus Denn wir fahren gegen Engelland ("For we are sailing against England"), which was put to music by Herms Niel and became one of the most-sung German military songs of World War II.
Marriages and divorces
Löns had married Elisabet Erbeck (1864–1922), a divorced sales assistant, at Hanover in 1893 (engagement in 1890, divorce in 1901). She had five miscarriages and was committed to a sanatorium. Shortly after the divorce, Löns had changed his confession from Catholic to Protestant and married Lisa Hausmann (an editorial assistant, born 1871), also at Hanover. He had a child with his second wife, but their son was mentally and physically handicapped. In 1911, his family left him, after he fired a shotgun inside their home. During the divorce proceedings he had a nervous breakdown. Löns refused to pay alimony and then left without leaving an address, travelling in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands. In November 1911, Löns considered suicide. In November 1912, he returned to Hanover and subsequently published two more collections of hunting and nature stories Auf der Wildbahn (1912) and Mein buntes Buch (1913), followed by his final novel, Die Häuser von Ohlendorf (1913). Suffering from bipolar disorder, Löns veered between depression and making fantastic plans for the future.
First World War service
At the age of 48, he volunteered for service in the German Army in the First World War. Due to his ill health and weak constitution, he was initially rejected by the military. It took the intervention of an officer friend of his for Löns to be accepted as a common fusilier by the Ersatzbatallion of the Regiment Generalfeldmarschall Prinz Albrecht von Preußen, also known as 73rd Fusilier Regiment. On 26 September 1914, just three weeks after enlisting on 3 September, Löns was killed in action during an assault on a French position at Loivre near Reims in France. Out of 120 men in his unit only two dozens survived.
Reception in Nazi-Germany
Löns' books continued to sell well after his death. By 1934, they had reached an overall circulation of 2.5 million books. By 1938, the Wehrwolf had sold over 500,000 copies (reaching 865,000 copies by 1945). This made him one of the most successful authors in Germany at the time.
Löns had viewed himself as a poet of nature and he had argued eloquently for the conservation approach which later evolved into the environmental movement. He was co-founder of the Heideschutzpark at Wilseder Berg which later grew into the Naturpark Lüneburger Heide (Lüneburg Heath Nature Park), the first nature reserve in Germany. However, Löns combined these sentiments, based not least on the Heimatbewegung (de) of the turn of the century (as represented by Adolf Bartels) with an increasingly radical nationalism, the racist concept of an "aristocratic peasantry" (Blut und Boden), enmity towards the metropolis (Berlin) and xenophobia. His literary work has been categorised under the völkisch movement, although his character was also one of intense individualism.
As in some of his writings Löns had shown nationalistic ideas, he was considered by the Nazis as one of "their" writers (despite the fact that Löns' lifestyle didn't match the Nazi ideals). Some parts of his works fit well within the "Blood and soil" ethos endorsed by National Socialist ideologues such as Walther Darre and Alfred Rosenberg, which lauded the peasantry and small rural communities as the true lifeblood of the German nation.
On 5 January 1933, a French farmer found the boots of a German soldier in one of his fields. With the help of the local sexton, he uncovered a skeleton and identification tag. The sexton buried the body in an individual grave in a German graveyard near Loivre. It took almost 18 months for the tag to reach Berlin via the German embassy in France. This tag has been lost during an Allied bombing raid on Berlin, an extant photograph does not allow a definite conclusion on whether the tag said "F.R." (Füselier-Regiment) or "I.R." (Infanterie-Regiment). However, on 8 May 1934 the Völkische Beobachter announced that the grave of Löns had been discovered. In October 1934, at the behest of Adolf Hitler, Löns' body was exhumed and brought to Germany. There was no medical examination to try and verify that these were indeed the remains of the writer.
In 1919, several bodies had been exhumed in the vicinity of the area where Löns was killed and transferred to the war cemetery at Luxembourg. From there they were moved to a mass grave near Loivre, where they remain to this day, according to the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgräberfürsorge, a charity. It is quite possible that Löns' remains were among them.
The exhumed body the Nazis claimed was Löns was supposed to be buried in the Lüneburg Heath, given his links with the area. However, the exact location of his new grave posed problems. The initial plan to bury him at the Sieben Steinhäuser, a megalithic site, was abandoned since the military at the time had (still secret) plans to establish the military training facility Bergen in the area. An alternative site near Wilseder Berg was rejected due to concerns about the environmental impact of large numbers of visitors to the grave. Finding a suitable burial place became an issue for the top echelons of the regime, including Hermann Göring, Rudolf Heß, Joseph Goebbels, Werner von Blomberg and even Adolf Hitler. Rumours circulated that Löns had been Jewish, a social democrat or a pacifist. His alcohol abuse and "womanising" also became an issue.
To deal with what was increasingly becoming an embarrassing situation for the regime, on 30 November 1934 members of the SA, apparently on orders from Goebbels, snatched the remains from the graveyard chapel in Fallingbostel where they were awaiting reburial. They buried them near the roadside of what was then Reichsstrasse 3 (today B3) south of Barrl, near the area known today as Reinsehlen Camp. However, on 2 August 1935, the anniversary of the start of World War I, on the initiative of von Blomberg, Minister of War, the Reichswehr exhumed the remains and transferred them to the Tietlinger Wacholderhain near Walsrode, where an earlier (1929) memorial had been erected, for a ceremonial reburial.
After 1945, Löns remained a bestselling author. The company that published most of his works estimated that by 1966 they had sold 7.5 million books written by him.
There are 113 memorials in total to Löns in Germany plus eight in Austria and 19 in other countries. In addition, 247 streets and roads in Germany have been named after him. Twelve schools bear his name. Finally, there is Hermann Löns Stadium at Paderborn.
- Mein goldenes Buch, 1901
- Ausgewählte Werke von Fritz von der Leine, 1902
- Mein braunes Buch, 1906
- Mümmelmann, 1909
- Contributions to Lebensbilder aus der Tierwelt (edited by Hermann Meerwarth), 1910–12
- Mein blaues Buch, 1909
- Der letzte Hansbur, 1909
- Dahinten in der Haide, 1910
- Der Wehrwolf, 1910
- Der kleine Rosengarten, 1911, from which the song Auf der Lüneburger Heide was derived.
- Das zweite Gesicht, 1912
- Auf der Wildbahn, 1912
- Mein buntes Buch, 1913
- Die Häuser von Ohlendorf, 1913
- "Biografie Hermann Löns (German)". Bayerische Staatsbibliothek. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
- Albrecht, Jörg (3 November 2013). "Omnia schnuppe". Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung (in German). pp. 2–3.
- Juenger, Ernst. Storm of Steel. Penguin Modern Classics. p. 140.
- Wolff, M., "Hermann Löns: An Introduction to his Life and Work" in TYR, vol. 1 (Ultra Press, 2002), p. 143.
- "Biographie (German)". Hermann-Löns-Verband. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
- "Liste der bekannten Gedenkstätten (German)". Hermann-Löns-Verband. Retrieved 12 May 2013.
- Works by Hermann Löns at Project Gutenberg
- Works by Hermann Löns at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Hermann-Löns-Verband e.V. (German)
- Tomas Axelzon: Hermann Löns. A short introduction to the poet of the Heath. (Nov. 2011)
- Der Wehrwolf in German at Projekt Gutenberg