Wolfgang Koeppen

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Wolfgang Arthur Reinhold Koeppen (June 23, 1906 – March 15, 1996) was a German novelist and one of the best known German authors of the postwar period.


Koeppen was born out of wedlock in Greifswald to Marie Köppen, a seamstress who also worked as a prompt at the Greifswald theater. He did not have contact with his father, ophthalmologist Reinhold Halben, who never accepted the fatherhood formally. Wolfgang lived first in his grandmother's house on Bahnhofstrasse, but moved after her death in 1908 together with his mother to her sister in Ortelsburg (Szczytno), East Prussia, where Koeppen started visiting the public school. He and his mother moved back to Greifswald in 1912, but only two years later returned to East Prussia. Koeppen came back to Greifswald after World War I, working as a delivery boy for a book dealer. During that time he volunteered at the theater and attended lectures at the University of Greifswald. Finally in 1920, Koeppen left Greifswald permanently, and after twenty years of moving about, he settled in Munich, living there the remainder of his life.[1] Throughout the 1950s, Koeppen travelled extensively, to the U.S., the Soviet Union, London and Warsaw.

Koeppen's wife died in the year 1984, and he himself died in a nursing home in Munich in 1996.[2] To the remembrance of the author and to archive his literary achievements and personal belongings, the Wolfgang Koeppen Foundation[3] (German: Stiftung) was founded upon the initiative of fellow authors Günter Grass and Peter Rühmkorf in Greifswald in the year 2000.


He started as a journalist. In 1934 his first novel appeared while he was in the Netherlands. In 1939 he came back to Germany, and from 1943 lived in Munich, where he also died in 1996 at age 89.

In 1947, Koeppen was asked to write the memoirs of the philatelist and Holocaust survivor Jakob Littner (born 1883 in Budapest, died 1950 in New York City). The resulting book was published in 1948 without mention of Koeppen's name. It caused some controversy based on whether Koeppen was given a written manuscript to guide his work on Littner, and the novel never sold well.[citation needed] In 1992, a new edition was published, acknowledging Koeppen's authorship. In 2000, Littner's original manuscript was published in English and in 2002, in German.

In 1951, Koeppen had published his novel Tauben im Gras (Pigeons on the Grass), which utilized a stream of consciousness literary technique and is considered a significant work of German-language literature by Germany's foremost literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki. Das Treibhaus (1953) was translated into English as The Hothouse (2001) and was named a Notable Book by the New York Times and one of the Best Books of the Year by the Los Angeles Times. Koeppen's last major novel Der Tod in Rom (Death in Rome) was published in 1954. In the ensuing years, Koeppen found it difficult to complete longer works.

Gottlieb Judejahn, a character in Der Tod in Rom, is a former SS general condemned to death at the Nuremberg trials. He escaped to an Arab country whose military he is trying to build up. He is in Rome to buy weapons and to meet members of his family, including his wife Eva. Eva's sister is married to Friedrich Pfaffrath, who is now mayor of the same town where he used to be a senior administrator in Nazi Germany. Judejahn has a son, Adolf, who is also in Rome to be ordained into the priesthood. Pfaffrath's son Siegfried is a young composer, in Rome to hear the first performance of his symphony. Conductor Kürenberg is married to Ilse, who is Jewish and who survived the Holocaust as she and her gentile husband could afford to live outside Germany during the war. Der Tod in Rom is a rare exploration by a German author during the 1950s of themes associated with the Holocaust, German guilt, conflict between generations and the silencing of the past.[4]


Between 1962 and 1987, Koeppen received numerous literary prizes in the Federal Republic of Germany. In 1962 he was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize.


  • Eine unglückliche Liebe (1934) – A Sad Affair (2003)
  • Die Mauer schwankt (1935)
  • Jakob Littners Aufzeichnungen aus einem Erdloch (1948/1992)
  • Tauben im Gras (1951) – Pigeons on the Grass (1988)
  • Das Treibhaus (1953) – The Hothouse (2001)
  • Der Tod in Rom (1954) – Death in Rome (1956)
  • Amerikafahrt (1959) – Journey Through America (2012)
  • Jugend (1976)


  1. ^ Why Greifswald? Ziolkowski, Theodore; World Literature Today; May/Jun2007, Vol. 81 Issue 3, p20-24
  2. ^ Abschnitt nach: Wolfgang Koeppen – Sein Leben, Seite der Wolfgang-Koeppen-Stiftung, und Zeittafel zu Leben und Werk vom Wolfgang-Koeppen-Archiv der Universität Greifswald.
  3. ^ Ingo Schramm. "Wolfgang-Koeppen-Stiftung". Wolfgang-koeppen-stiftung.de. Retrieved 2014-02-17. 
  4. ^ Schlant, Ernestine (1999). The Language of Silence: West German Literature and the Holocaust. Routledge. pp. 36–50. ISBN 978-0415922203.