Alfred Kerr

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Alfred Kerr
Alfred Kerr, by Lovis Corinth, 1907.jpg
Alfred Kerr
Lovis Corinth (1907)
Alfred Kempner

(1867-12-25)25 December 1867
Died12 October 1948(1948-10-12) (aged 80)
OccupationAuthor and theatre critic
Ingeborg Thormählen
(m. 1917; died 1918)

(m. 1920)
ChildrenMichael Kerr
Judith Kerr
RelativesMatthew Kneale (grandson)

Alfred Kerr ( Kempner; 25 December 1867 – 12 October 1948, surname: German pronunciation: [kɛʁ])[1] was an influential German theatre critic and essayist of Jewish descent, nicknamed the Kulturpapst ("Culture Pope").



Kerr was born in Breslau, Silesia, the son of Helene (Calé) and Meyer Emanuel Kempner, who was a wine trader. He had one sister always known as Annchen: she married Siegfried Ollendorf and ultimately left Germany for Palestine. His family was Jewish. Alfred said while still at school that he intended to shorten his name to Kerr, which became official in 1909. He studied literature in Berlin with Erich Schmidt and completed his Ph.D. at the University of Halle.[2] Alfred Kerr worked as a theatre critic for Der Tag and later for the Berliner Tageblatt. He wrote weekly Berliner Briefe for the Breslauer Zeitung from 1895-1900 and for the Königsberger Allgemeine Zeitung from 1897 to 1922. With the publisher Paul Cassirer he founded the artistic review Pan in 1910.


Kerr changed his surname to avoid association with Friederike Kempner.[3] Kerr was noted for his treatment of drama criticism as another branch of literary criticism. As his fame grew he engaged in polemics, with the critics Maximilian Harden, Herbert Ihering and Karl Kraus in particular. In the 1920s he was hostile to Bertolt Brecht, and assailed him with accusations of plagiarism.


In 1933 Kerr was warned by a policeman that his passport was about to be confiscated. He fled to Prague immediately. His wife Julia and their children followed him to Switzerland later. They then went to Paris and then, after the purchase of a film script by Alexander Korda, to England. (These years of exile are described, from a child's perspective, by Kerr's daughter, author Judith Kerr, in her Out of the Hitler Time trilogy.) His books were amongst those burnt in May 1933 by the Nazis when they came to power; Kerr had attacked the Nazi Party publicly very early on and Goebbels said before Hitler came to power that Kerr would be one of the first he would shoot. He lived in penury in London. He was a founder of the Freier Deutscher Kulturbund, and worked for the German PEN club. An old feud with Karl Kraus worked against him at the BBC.

Kerr became naturalised as a British subject in 1947. In 1948 he visited Hamburg at the start of a planned tour of several German cities but suffered a stroke, and then decided to end his own life via an overdose of Veronal, procured for him by his wife.[4] He was buried, without references to religion according to his wishes, in Ohlsdorf Cemetery in the position "Z 21-217" [1] and his wife was cremated with her ashes buried at the foot of his grave when she died in 1965.[5]

The Alfred-Kerr-Preis für Literaturkritik was established in 1977. His Berliner Briefe for the Breslauer Zeitung were published as Wo liegt Berlin in 1997, Warum fliesst der Rhein nicht durch Berlin and as Was ist der Mensch in Berlin in 2017. Wo liegt Berlin was a best-seller and the proceeds were given by Michael and Judith Kerr to the Kerr Foundation in Berlin which awards an annual Kerr Prize for a young actor. An eight volume edition of his works has been published and a biography of 720 pages appeared in 2016.


Alfred Kerr married for the first time when he was over 50, to Ingeborg Thormählen, who was much younger than he, and who shortly afterwards died in the 1918 flu pandemic while pregnant; the bereavement affected him deeply.[6] His second marriage was to the talented musician, Julia Weismann (1898–1965)[6][7] in 1920.[8] Julia was the daughter of a Prussian Secretary of State, Robert Weismann [de]. The Kerrs' son Michael Kerr became a prominent British lawyer. Their daughter Judith Kerr wrote a three-volume autobiography and the children's books The Tiger Who Came To Tea and the Mog series; the writer Matthew Kneale is her son with Nigel Kneale, the author of Quatermass scripts.


  • Godwi. Ein Kapitel deutscher Romantik (1898). Dissertation on Clemens Brentano.
  • Das neue Drama (1905)
  • Die Harfe (1917) poems
  • Ich sage, was zu sagen ist: Theaterkritiken 1893–1919. Werke Band VII, 1.
  • Wo liegt Berlin? Briefe aus der Reichshauptstadt 1895–1900 (1997)
  • Warum fließt der Rhein nicht durch Berlin? Briefe eines europäischen Flaneurs. 1895 bis 1900
  • New York und London, travel
  • O Spanien!, travel
  • Caprichos (1926) poems
  • Buch der Freundschaft (1928) children's literature
  • So liegt der Fall Theaterkritiken 1919 – 1933 und im Exil
  • Der Dichter und die Meerschweinchen: Clemens Tecks letztes Experiment
  • Diktatur des Hausknechts
  • Walther Rathenau. Erinnerungen eines Freundes
  • Gruss an Tiere (1955) with Gerhard F. Hering
  • Theaterkritiken (1971) selected criticism
  • Ich kam nach England (1979) diary
  • Mit Schleuder und Harfe (1982)
  • Wo liegt Berlin? Briefe aus der Reichshauptstadt (1997)

Warum fliesst der Rhein nicht durch Berlin 1999

  • Alfred Kerr, Lesebuch zu Leben und Werk (1999)
  • Mein Berlin (2002)

Sucher und Selige. Literarische Ermittungen Werke Band IV, (2009) Das war meine Zeit Band V/VI 2013. Was ist der Mensch in Berlin Aufbau-Verlag 2017 Berlin wird Berlin Vier Bände Wallstein-Verlag 2021

Was ist der Mensch in Berlin und Berlin wird Berlin sind beide im Buchhandel erhältlich. Beide von mir Dr. Deborah Vietor-Engländer Präsidentin der Kerr-Stiftung herausgegeben

Further reading[edit]

  • Out of the Hitler Time trilogy (When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Bombs on Aunt Dainty (originally published as The Other Way Round) and A Small Person Far Away) (1971, 1975 and 1978 respectively) Judith Kerr
  • United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – Alfred Kerr
  • German Writers in French Exile, 1933–1940, by Martin Mauthner (London: 2007), ISBN 9780853035404.
  • As Far As I Remember. Hart Publishing, Oxford and Portland/Oregon 2002, ISBN 1-901362-87-6 Michael Kerr
  • Deborah Vietor-Engländer, Alfred Kerr Die Biographie Rowohlt Verlag 2016 p. 720


  1. ^ As Far As I Remember (paperback ed.). Hart Publishing. 2002. p. 5. ISBN 1-84113-565-8.
  2. ^ "Sir Michael Kerr". The Daily Telegraph obituary of Alfred Kerr's son. Retrieved 6 March 2016.
  3. ^ As Far As I Remember (paperback ed.). Hart Publishing. 2002. p. 4. ISBN 1-84113-565-8.
  4. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 June 2008. Retrieved 3 August 2008.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  5. ^ Kerr, Michael (2002). As Far As I Remember (Paperback ed.). pp. 207–233. ISBN 1-84113-565-8.
  6. ^ a b "Alfred Kerr – Centenary of his birth" (PDF). AJR ... "Unfortunately, Julia Kerr, who had done so much for her late husband, passed away suddenly in October 1965.". Association of Jewish refugees in Great Britain. December 1967. p. 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 September 2015. Retrieved 8 March 2016.
  7. ^ "JULIA KERR. Kerr, Julia – Composer, Germany *1898-1965+". The source includes a photo-portrait of Julia Kerr. Granger – Historical Picture Archive. Retrieved 8 March 2015.
  8. ^ "Alfred Kerr 1867–1948: Theaterkritiker, Publizist". Lebendiges Museum online. Stiftung Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin. Retrieved 6 March 2016.

External links[edit]