Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, Massachusetts

Heinrich  Boll

Ashlie  Beshwaty 
The Downfall of the Weimar Republic

Heinrich Boll's Criticism of Post-War German Society

After a grueling fourteen years in power, the Weimar Republic fell victim to a tragic downfall in 1933 as a result of many social, political, and economic problems. The Republic suffered greatly in the overwhelming aftermath of World War I. The Versailles Treaty created many problems for the Republic because it forced Germany to pay reparations and accept responsibility for the war. Government instability plagued the Weimar Republic; it struggled greatly to maintain power in the face of many attempted coups. An uprising led by the Spartacists on January 1st, 1919 challenged the new Weimar Republic. Also, the large number of political parties contributed to the government’s weakness and lack of unity. The Weimar government lacked support from both left and right wing political parties and it lacked the strength to be a successful and positive asset to the war-torn and broken Germany.

Decades later, following the Second World War, Germany found itself once again broken by defeat. Upon his return to Germany following the war, Heinrich Böll was disturbed to find the country debilitated by chaos and fear. In his work, Böll criticizes post-war Germany by focusing his novels on characters who are unable to function properly in society due to their lack of a clear identity. Often a direct result of a loss or trauma, the characters’ inability to function manifests itself in several ways: immoral behavior, becoming absorbed in routine as a coping mechanism, isolation, and even feeling some degree of insanity as a result of not fitting in with the rest of society. In Billiards at Half-Past Nine, Robert Faehmel is a veteran attempting to cope with trauma he experienced in the war, and he has a strict routine that he follows every day as a means of surviving life as a civilian. Consumed by this, and the loss of his two children, he loses his sense of self. Because of this lack of a clear identity, he is unable to function as a productive member of society. Böll uses Faehmel and his other protagonists as a means of revealing the negative effect of post-World War II German society on the individual.

Major Works Consulted:

Böll, Heinrich. Billiards at Half-Past Nine. New York: Melville , 2007.
---. The Clown. New York: Melville, 2007.
Coffin, Judith G., Robert C. Stacey, Robert E. Lerner, and Standish Meacham. Western Civilizations. Vol. 2. New York: Norton, 2002.
Kitchen, Martin. The Cambridge Illustrated History of Germany. New York: Cambridge UP, 1996.
Photo Credit: Nobel Prize Winners. New York: Wilson, 1987.