The German Academy for Language and Literature emerged out of a multi-year discussion process in the literary world: as a place of open debate after the years of dictatorship. The idea of a »German Academy« had already been formulated by Rudolf Leonhard at the first all-German writers’ conference that took place in Berlin in October 1947.
The Berlin Writers’ Conference of 1947
© Deutsche Akademie
One year later, at a second writers’ conference convening in May 1948 in St Paul’s Church in Frankfurt to commemorate the 1848 revolution, Oskar Jancke held a speech »On a German Academy,« which was to have a great influence on coming developments. In the following months Oskar Jancke was the motor of the Academy’s foundation. He pushed his plan in countless conversations with colleagues, with various writers’ associations and the P.E.N. club. In March 1949 Jancke received significant support for his goal of the »transformation of a hoard of outsiders into a part of society imbued with particular authority« (cf. Doppelleben, 94) in Hamburg at a »Work Meeting of German Writers’ Associations«. Participants in Hamburg agreed that all energies should now be combined in working towards the festive proclamation of the Academy in St Paul's on the 200th anniversary of Goethe's birth. The goal was to realise an Academy for all of Germany despite the ever-increasing centrifugal tendencies pulling East and West apart. Time was of the essence, especially after news arrived that the Prussian Academy – including its literature class – had been re-established in the Soviet Zone, as well as plans from the French zone to found an academy of science and literature in Mainz. Jancke’s efforts were successful. The Lord Mayor of Frankfurt Walter Kolb opened the ceremony in St Paul’s on 28 August, 1949.
© Deutsche Akademie
Adolf Grimme held the ceremonial address before announcing the foundation of the German Academy for Language and Literature – as a »place of freedom« independent of state from the »state, politics and all influences that are not true to this spirit« (Doppelleben, 109). After years of enforced silence, hopes of actively participating in the restoration of democracy were foremost in the thoughts of those gathered in St Paul's. In a country destroyed by war, with German culture and language shattered and shamed by dictatorship and genocide, the Academy wished and indeed could only derive its legitimacy from the independence of its work and the objective authority of its judgement. Public recognition could not of course be commanded by diktat, especially immediately after the experience of dictatorship, but was to be earned by members' commitment to the reconstruction of a democratic culture.
Proclamation of the foundation of the German Academy for Language and Literature in St Paul’s Church in Frankfurt am Main 1949
© Deutsche Akademie
At the end of the 1940s, many wished for a place where the separations and injuries between emigrants and those writers who remained in Germany could be overcome, an independent authority that remembered those persecuted and silenced – for example through the rediscovery and republishing of their work. The Academy turned to this task soon after its foundation and above all began to give exiles a voice in Germany, with books by Franz Baermann Steiner, Gertrud Kolmar or Jesse Thoor. The devastation that the German catastrophe inflicted, not least in the realm of language, had to be regarded critically. These task of linguistic criticism and rebuilding associated with names like Dolf Sternberger or Gerhard Storz, was intended to be of benefit to the young German democracy as a whole. Additionally, early plans by the Academy envisioned a democratic re-establishment of German instruction in schools and the necessary new primers. This commitment to education policy on the part of Leo Weismantel and other members also demonstrated, as did the Academy's policy of informative language critique, pursued since its foundation, that though an independent non-governmental organisation, the Academy was nevertheless in a position to advise political bodies. Finally, the Georg Büchner Prize awarded by the Academy from 1951 on established itself as West Germany's most important literary award, winning recognition for the new literature of the post-war era well beyond the borders of Germany.
Doppelleben. Literarische Szenen aus Nachkriegsdeutschland. Band 1: Begleitbuch zur Ausstellung erarbeitet von Helmut Böttiger unter Mitarbeit von Lutz Dittrich. Band 2: Materialien zur Ausstellung, herausgegeben von Bernd Busch und Thomas Combrink. Göttingen: Wallstein 2009. 2 Bde., 528 Abb., 878 S.