The German Lesson

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The German Lesson
Author Siegfried Lenz
Original title Deutschstunde
Translator Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins
Country Germany
Language German
Genre Novel
Publisher Hoffmann und Campe
New Directions Publishing (English version)
Publication date
Media type Print
Pages 470 pp (English edition)
ISBN 978-0-8112-0982-3 (English version)

The German Lesson (original title: Deutschstunde) is a novel by the German writer Siegfried Lenz, published in 1968 in Germany. The English edition The German Lesson was published in 1986 by New Directions Publishing, New York City. Deutschstunde was translated into several languages.


Siggi Jepsen (the first-person narrator), an inmate of a juvenile detention center, is forced to write an essay with the title "The Joy of Duty." In the essay, Siggi describes his youth in Nazi Germany where his father, the "most northerly police officer in Germany," does his duty, even when he is ordered to debar his old childhood friend, the expressionist painter Max Nansen, from his profession, because the Nazis banned expressionism as "degenerate art" (entartete Kunst).

Siggi, however, is fascinated by Nansen's paintings, "the green faces, the Mongol eyes, these deformed bodies ... " and, without the knowledge of his father, manages to hide some of the confiscated paintings. Following the end of World War II, Jepsen senior is interned for a short time and later reinstalled as a policeman in rural Schleswig-Holstein. When he then obsewssively continues to carry out his former orders, Siggi brings Nansen paintings that he believes to be in danger to safety. His father discovers his doings and dutifully turns him in for art theft.

When forced to write the essay on "The Joy of Duty" during his term in the juvenile detention center near Hamburg, the memories of his childhood come to the surface and he goes far beyond the "duty" of writing his essay by filling several notebooks with caustic recollections of this entire saga.[1]


  • Siggi Jepsen
  • Jens Ole Jepsen, Siggi's father, a police officer
  • Max Nansen, a painter, pursued by the Nazis, whom Lenz based on the expressionist painter Emil Nolde[1]
  • Gudrun Jepsen, Siggi's mother
  • Klaas, Siggi's brother
  • Hilke, Siggi's sister


In 1971 Peter Beauvais filmed Deutschstunde (de) for the German TV-broadcaster ARD section SFB.[2]

Releases details[edit]

German first edition cover


  1. ^ a b "Siegfried Lenz (1926), Deutschstunde". Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. Retrieved 2009-10-04. 
  2. ^ "Deutschstunde" (in German). Zweitausendeins. Retrieved 2009-10-09. 

Further reading[edit]