History

The foundation of the German Academy for Language and Literature was publically announced on 28 August, 1949 in St Paul’s Church in Frankfurt am Main. The Academy is located in Darmstadt since 1951.

1949 – Difficult Beginnings
1950s – Democratisation
1968 – Turbulent Times
1989 – East-West Issues
1997 – Questions of Language
2006 – an Academy in Europe

1950s – Democratisation

»The guilt has been cried out, we have escaped/to the last grief,« wrote Gertrud von le Fort. Metaphors of fate and the yearning for an »ideal world« increasingly displaced the critical spirit of the early awakening (Doppelleben, 9). The young Academy was also shaped by the difficulties of the slow-moving democratisation process and it inherited passionate debates that divided the literary milieu and the nation as a whole after 1945. The early 1950s were particularly marked by tensions between exile authors and ›inner emigrants‹, which constantly flared up.

Appeal by the German Academy for Language and Literature with notes by Adolf Endler
© Deutsche Akademie

The ›inner emigrants‹ soon came to predominate among the relatively mixed circle of founding members, although this label proved to be a useful cover for a number of writers who had been on excellent terms with the Nazi regime. This soon led to critical voices attacking those members for their behaviour during the Nazi era. Rudolf Pechel, a representative of the conservative resistance to Hitler and newly elected president of the Academy, set the Academy's policy in a critical situation which left the young institution's democratic self-conception under threat: outwardly, rally behind members under attack by the "emigrant complex"; internally, examine the veracity of the attacks.

The focus of vitriol for all those who had absconded abroad was Thomas Mann. Frank Theiss, an influential member of many literary institutions and from 1950 vice president of the Academy, had already set the agenda in 1945: he claimed Mann and others had »watched the German tragedy from the boxes and stalls abroad,« In 1951 Theiss formulated, for the benefit of his Academy colleague in Mainz, Alfred Döblin, and particularly the new opponents in the East: »the unity of Germany should be cherished but it can and should only be extended to Germans, although in private I am of the opinion that Döblin, Zweig and Becher are three Jews and emigrants that intuitively belong together.« Even within the Academy, conflict about the question of Thomas Mann’s membership sparked repeatedly during those early years, before he was ultimately nominated an honorary member in 1955.

Group photo from the first conference on 17 and 18 March 1950 in Stuttgart. The Executive Committee is in the first row: f.l.t.r. Oskar Jancke, Frank Thiess, Rudolf Pechel, Kasimir Edschmid
© Robert Poebel

However, this kind of antagonistic tenor towards the exile authors within the Academy was met with firm rebuttals, as were the attempts to whitewash various forms of arrangement with the dictatorship. Rudolf Pechel had repeatedly and decisively resisted admitting former NSDAP members into the Academy. He also firm stand against Werner von der Schulenburg, who in 1951 bemoaned the »advance of Jewish authors, above all of foreigners.« At their autumn conference in 1951, the Academy passed a resolution condemning the fact »that National socialist writers, who had been willing to repress freedom and were therefore complicit in the destruction of numerous intellectual existences, would once again appear in public« (Chronik, 34). The majority of members repudiated all attempts in the early 1950s to nominate authors like Hans Grimm or Ina Seidel for the Academy under the slogan of »national reconciliation« (Bernt von Heiseler).

However, the debate over guilt and responsibility in the Nazi era was soon supplanted by the increasing East-West polarisation of the Cold War, and by then the »fight for intellectual freedom« in East Germany seemed much more important to many members. As early as 1950 Rudolf Pechel had believed it necessary to warn against the threat to freedom with words surprising for a conservative opponent of the Nazi dictatorship: developments in East Germany »that in their crudeness, baseness and stupidity, developments in East Germany outdid even the National Socialists in suppression of intellectual freedom« (Chronik, 28).

The Academy and the early controversies that defined it mirrored Germany's difficult path to democratisation. However, a new tone was gradually recognisable following the election of Hermann Kasack as Academy president (1953). For example, in 1955 Kasack intervened as an expert witness in the blasphemy and pornography case against Arno Schmidt Kasack defended Schmidt against this accusation so characteristic of the culturally restrictive 1950s and appealed passionately for »the boldness of themes, the caustic stridency of culturally critical content and linguistic diction pushed to radicalism« (Doppelleben, 345).


Thomas Mann, Hermann Kasack and host Rudolf Pechel (f.r.t.l.),
Stuttgart, 9 May, 1955
© Hannes Kilian

A new, differentiated approach to the neighbours to the east also set in under Kasack’s presidency, although there was still a commission for »cultural German questions« – in addition to commissions for »publications,« »book criticism,« »language and critique,« »school and youth literature,« »librarianship,« »questions of translation« and »copyright questions.« The demands raised at the »Homeland Day« in 1954 for an »Eastern curriculum« to maintain the »literary, artistic and scholarly inheritance of East Germany« (Chronik, pp.5) sound similar from today’s perspective. However, clear signs of a growing appreciation for the ›other‹ German literature were also becoming apparent. In 1956, for example, alarmed that Bertolt Brecht was reportedly a serious candidate for the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Foreign Office turned to Kasack and requested an assessment of Brecht and an assessment of Brecht's stance and the preparation of an official response were this catastrophe for Adenauer era cultural politics indeed to transpire. Kasack’s draft, which was never sent due to Brecht’s death, concluded as follows: »In the view of the Academy, it is correct for Brecht to receive international literary recognition. An award - such as the Nobel Prize, for example - would in the eyes of the world bestow honour on German literature as a whole, not merely one of its artificially severed parts« (Doppelleben, 217).

Literature:

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.

Chronik: Zwischen Kritik und Zuversicht. 50 Jahre Deutsche Akademie für Sprache und Dichtung. Herausgegeben von Michael Assmann und Herbert Heckmann. Göttingen: Wallstein 1999. 81 Abb., 479 S.