The German novelist Günter Grass (1927-2015) lived in a farmhouse near Lübeck for the last three decades of his life. He also maintained an office and ‘secretariat’ in the Glockengießerstraße (literally ‘bell-founder-street’) In the center of Lübeck, in the building that is now the Günter Grass House.
Günter Grass was the second Lübeck writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Thomas Mann, whose Buddenbrooks House is just a few blocks away, was the Nobel laureate for 1929. Günter Grass received the award seventy years later, in 1999. Both were moralists and anti-Nazis who tried in different ways to be the conscience of the German nation in their respective generations. Both were prolific writers who had long careers and published numerous books, but both are remembered especially for their blockbuster first-novels, Buddenbrooks in the case of Thomas Mann and Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) in the case of Günther Grass.
Nonetheless, they were very different writers. Thomas Mann was an intellectual who wrote traditional, carefully crafted prose, whereas Günter Grass was a hands-on graphic designer, painter and sculptor whose writings are more slapdash and spontaneous.
What struck me when I visited the Günter Grass House was that I have only ever read a small number of his books — two, to be exact, out of the many dozens of books that he went on to write. Die Blechtrommel was first published in 1959, and I read it in the early sixties on shipboard, while crossing the North Atlantic going to or from Europe. I was seasick the whole time, but that seemed to fit right in with the tone of the novel. Later, on dry land, I read his second novel, Katz und Maus (Cat and Mouse), but found it rather a let-down, and I haven’t picked up a book of his since.
The exhibits at the Günter Grass House did arouse my interest in one of his later works, Das Treffen in Telgte, which tells the story of a fictitious meeting of German poets and writers in the year 1647, towards the end of the Thirty Years’ War, including none other than Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmelshausen, with whom Grass seems to identify.
(I haven’t read Das Treffen in Telgte yet, but it’s on my list.)
My photos and text in this post are from 2020.
See more posts on Lübeck, Germany.