Tag Archives: Hans Magnus Enzensberger

The Silences of Hammerstein

The Silences of Hammerstein is a book by Hans Magnus Enzensberger about a German general and his family, reflecting important periods of 20th-century German history.

The book is not a novel, but also not a normal non-fiction book, but to a certain extent a hybrid – while the author mainly follows the diverse sources on the life of the Hammersteins and retells and classifies them like a good historian, there are also fictional elements: Enzensberger “interviews” his long deceased characters and in these fictitious conversations aspects are reflected that usually go unnoticed in a non-fiction book, such as the supposedly sometimes different view of the historical persons on the events described in the book or things about which the available sources do not provide any information, but which are of equal interest to author or reader.

Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord (1878-1943) came from old but impoverished Prussian nobility. For impoverished aristocrats, the military was the only possible career at that time and so Kurt von Hammerstein entered a cadet school as a child, where he made friends that were to be of great importance for his later successful career. His military career was crowned in 1930, when the general became chief of the army command and thus supreme commander of the Reichswehr, a post he gave up after Hitler came to power because he was hostile to the Nazis.

Hammerstein experienced his youth in the German Empire, then the First World War at the front, the difficult years after WWI and the Versailles Treaty, which gave Germany sole responsibility for the war, Germany’s foreign policy rapprochement with the Soviet Union and the close military cooperation between the Red Army and the Reichswehr, the turbulent final phase of the Weimar Republic, the rise of Hitler and the Nazi dictatorship. An eventful life indeed, a life in which someone in a prominent military position like Hammerstein often faced difficult and far-reaching decisions. For this reason alone the book about this relatively unknown general is of great interest.

Apart from the historical dimension, the author – and of course the reader – wonders what kind of person the hero of this book was. For example: Was Hammerstein a good husband and father? The record is mixed here – as is the case with probably all husbands and fathers. Hammerstein was without doubt devoted to his wife and he had married for love. He had pushed it through against the initial resistance of his future father-in-law. General von Lüttwitz, Hammerstein’s superior for a long time, valued the young officer on the one hand, but considered his daughter’s marriage to this have-not to be inappropriate. In the end Lüttwitz agreed so as not to stand in the way of his daughter’s happiness.

Later, during his absences during the war and thereafter, Hammerstein’s wife often felt that she was on her own. The by no means brilliant salary of a Prussian (later German) general staff officer meant that domestic staff (except for a nanny) was not available and the wife not only had to keep a tight budget to obtain the household with many children, but also to manage the a lot of social obligations as the wife of a general.

In addition, Hammerstein had the habit of leaving domestic and official responsibilities behind and going on extensive hunting trips. Officially, that never really seems to have gotten him into trouble. The important personalities within the army and the Reichswehr Ministry were his personal friends, who liked to turn a blind eye when the general, who was valued for his abilities, was again untraceable for a while. In his own family, these absences were not so well received.

Even as a father, he was often absent. This does not mean that he was not interested in his children, rather he gave them a great deal of freedom from an early age and never interfered in his children’s personal or political affairs. He knew that three of his daughters were members of the Communist Party and also had Jewish friends and accepted it without any ifs or buts, just like the role that two of his sons later played in being involved in preparing the assassination attempt on Hitler.

Hammerstein’s sloppy handling of military secrets enabled his daughters to make many important documents available to the Soviets. Hammerstein was also in the Soviet Union for a longer time in the 1920s and maintained friendly relations with some high-ranking military figures there, in particular with Marshal Tukhachevsky.

The object of this German-Soviet military cooperation was, on the one hand, a transfer of know-how from which mainly the Soviets benefited. On the other hand, the agreement gave ‘unofficial’ units of the Reichswehr – the so-called Black Reichswehr – an opportunity to train in the Soviet Union, particularly with technologies that were forbidden to Germany according to the Versailles Treaty, such as the airforce. Hammerstein was the man to organize the whole scheme from the German side.

How is Hammerstein to be classified politically? Like most officers of his time, he had a conservative upbringing, but apparently without the strongly anti-Semitic views that were common at the time. He was skeptical and opposed to political radicalism. He distanced himself from the Kapp Putsch early on, although it was organized by General von Lüttwitz, his father-in-law (Kapp was just a figurehead). After meeting Hitler personally at a dinner in the late 1920s, he knew the man was a nutcase. After Hitler was appointed Chancellor by de facto dictator Hindenburg (without the participation of the Reichstag), Hammerstein, who was also called the Red General because of his alleged sympathies for the political left, resigned. After 1933 he belonged to the resistance groups against Hitler within the military.

In this context it is noteworthy that what was probably the most promising opportunity to end the dictatorship of Hitler and the Nazis went unused in 1934. In the so-called ‘Night of the Long Knives’, during which Ernst Röhm and several other SA leaders were arrested and murdered, the new regime also used the situation to get rid of other potential enemies of their regime, including Hammerstein’s childhood friend, Kurt von Schleicher, a former Chancellor. While the Reichswehr shed no tears for the dead SA leaders, it was different with the murder of Schleicher and the ‘beheading’ of the army leadership. At this point in time, a military putsch against Hitler would have had a good chance of success, but the window of opportunity passed due also to Hammerstein’s reluctancy to make a decision.

What is also interesting about the Hammerstein family members is that none of them were actually Nazis and that the Nazis were always aware regarding their critical attitude towards the regime. Hammerstein himself died in 1943 from a tumor that was treated too late. The family refused the state funeral and ‘forgot’ Hitler’s funeral wreath, so the event took place with close family and friends only. In the final phase of the war, the Hammerstein family was taken into Sippenhaft (clan custody), but they survived an odyssey under SS guards unscathed.

The final chapters of the book are devoted to the post-war fate of Hammerstein’s surviving wife and children. It is interesting how many connections there were between the Hammersteins and important personalities not only in German history, without this being pointed out as particularly noteworthy by any member of the family in their recollections and memoirs. It is not really clear whether this characteristic of not making a fuss about oneself is typical of the Prussian nobility, as the author seems to believe, or whether it is rather a trait of this particular family.

A consistently interesting book, of particular interest to those readers who already have some prior knowledge of German history.

I read the excellent English translation by Martin Chalmers. Seagull Books in Calcutta is one of the best publishers of translated literature in the Anglophone world. Check out their programme (if you haven’t done it yet)!

Hans Magnus Enzensberger: The Silences of Hammerstein (tr. Martin Chalmers), Seagull Books, Calcutta London New York, 2017

 © Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki, 2014-22. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and Mytwostotinki with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.   

German Literature Month 2015 – wrap-up


German Literature Month in November was again an extremely interesting event, just like last year. The two unfatigable hosts Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Lizzy (Lizzy’s Literary Life) once again created an event with plenty of opportunities to join in. In the end 44 bloggers had published 166 posts, mainly about fiction and poetry, but also including some featured articles and several non-fiction reviews.

Over the years, this event has become increasingly popular and the index on the website that links to all articles that were published in all editions of the German Literature Month has become a major resource for anyone who wants to get informed about German literature. Check it out, the variety of authors and opinions is truly amazing! (Thanks, Lizzy!)

Interestingly, the most reviewed author this year was Stefan Zweig (14 reviews of 12 works), followed by Schiller (10 posts related to Schiller’s works and books about Schiller). Goethe on the contrary was ignored by everybody – maybe we should include a Goethe week next year?

After several months of being not very active, this event has brought me back to blogging on a more regular basis. I discovered plenty of new books, got reminded of some others I should re-read again in the future and I also discovered a few book blogs which I hadn’t known before but will follow in the future. It was fun to read the comments and to comment myself sometimes. I read literally all reviews, but time restrictions prevented me so far to comment on all of them.  Just like last year  I thoroughly enjoyed this event, and just like last year, I won a giveaway, Ulrich Plenzdorf’s Werther novel which I will review one day of course. (Thanks, Caroline!)

This year, I published ten posts – compared to eight last year. Beside a featured anecdote about Jean Paul, nine of the posts were reviews:

Veza Canetti: The Tortoises

Thomas Kling: Collected Poems

Schilleriana (9 publications of Deutsche Schillergesellschaft)

Hans Magnus Enzensberger: New Selected Poems

Walther von der Vogelweide: Poems

Detlef Opitz: The Books Murderer

Jean Paul: The strange company at New Year’s Eve

Joseph Roth: Letters from Germany

Gertrud Kolmar: Poems

Several of the books I had intended to read for German Lit Month, I had to postpone for the time being, while others popped up in the last moment. I reviewed/presented more poetry than last years and a bit less prose by contemporary authors. Who knows what I will be up to next year?!

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Public Intellectual


This blog post is part of the German Literature Month, hosted by Lizzie (Lizzies Literary Life) and Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)

He is probably the most important living German poet, an essayist whose publications are usually a reason for major public discussions, an author of novels, stories, plays, children’s books, a book about mathematics, several poetological books and a scholarly work on Clemens Brentano, the co-author of a poetry automaton, the editor of the famous book series Andere Bibliothek, the founder of the Kursbuch, for a long time Germany’s most important journal for political debates, and of Transit, another important journal, a film regisseur, a librettist, a congenial translator from French (Moliere, Denis Diderot, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Jean de la Varende), Italian (Franco Fortini), Spanish (Cesar Vallejo, Federico Garcia Lorca), English (William Carlos Williams, Charles Simic, Stanley Moss), Hungarian (Gyorgy Dalos), and Swedish (Lars Gustafsson), amongst others, and and and…It is impossible to write about him in a few lines.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger (born 1929) is the public intellectual par excellence, a very urban and unique figure in German literature. 

Fortunately quite a number of his books are available in translations, and a new poetry collection (New Selected Poems) has just been published – so maybe this is a good opportunity to discover at least the poet Enzensberger for now. Here are three exemplary poems in German and English translation:

ins lesebuch für die oberstufe

lies keine oden, mein sohn, lies die fahrpläne:
sie sind genauer. roll die seekarten auf,
eh es zu spät ist. sei wachsam, sing nicht.
der tag kommt, wo sie wieder listen ans tor
schlagen und malen den neinsagern auf die brust
zinken. lern unerkannt gehn, lern mehr als ich:
das viertel wechseln, den paß, das gesicht.
versteh dich auf den kleinen verrat,
die tägliche schmutzige rettung. nützlich
sind die enzykliken zum feueranzünden,
die manifeste: butter einzuwickeln und salz
für die wehrlosen. wut und geduld sind nötig,
in die lungen der macht zu blasen
den feinen tödlichen staub, gemahlen
von denen, die viel gelernt haben,
die genau sind, von dir.

In a College Textbook

don’t read odes, my son, read timetables:
they are more exact, unroll the sea-charts
before it is too late, be on guard, don’t sing.
the day will come again when they paste blacklists upon the door
and place their mark on the no-sayers,
learn to pass unidentified, learn more than I:
how to change your living quarters, passport, face.
understand the small betrayal,
the sordid daily escape, useful
are the wide-spread fire starters,
the manifestoes: wrapped-up butter and salt
for the defenseless. anger and endurance are necessary
to blow a fine deadly dust 
into the lungs of power, ground up
by those such as you who have learned much
and are fastidious in their ways.

Translated by Jim Doss, Loch Raven Review, Summer 2008

Privilegierte Tatbestände

Es ist verboten, Personen in Brand zu stecken.

Es ist verboten, Personen in Brand zu stecken,
die im Besitz einer gültigen Aufenthaltsgenehmigung sind.

Es ist verboten, Personen in Brand zu stecken,
die sich an die gesetzlichen Bestimmungen halten und im Besitz einer gültigen Aufenthaltsgenehmigung sind.

Es ist verboten, Personen in Brand zu stecken,
von denen nicht zu erwarten ist, daß sie den Bestand und die Sicherheit der Bundesrepublik Deutschland gefährden.

Es ist verboten, Personen in Brand zu stecken,
soweit sie nicht durch ihr Verhalten dazu Anlaß geben.

Es ist insbesondere auch Jugendlichen,
die angesichts mangelnder Freizeitangebote und in Unkenntnis der einschlägigen Bestimmungen sowie aufgrund von Orientierungsschwierigkeiten psychisch gefährdet sind, nicht gestattet, Personen – ohne das Ansehen der Person – in Brand zu stecken.

Es ist mit Rücksicht auf das Ansehen der Bundesrepublik Deutschland im Ausland davon abzuraten.

Es gehört sich nicht.

Es ist nicht üblich.

Es sollte nicht zur Regel werden.

Es muß nicht sein.

Niemand ist dazu verpflichtet.

Es darf niemandem zum Vorwurf gemacht werden,
wenn er es unterläßt, Personen in Brand zu stecken.

Jedermann genießt ein Grundrecht auf Verweigerung.

Entsprechende Anträge sind an das zuständige Ordnungsamt zu richten.

Nota bene. Wer diesen Text in eine andere Sprache überträgt, wird gebeten, an Stelle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland versuchsweise die offizielle Bezeichnung seines eigenen Landes einzusetzen. Diese Fußnote sollte auch in der Übersetzung stehen bleiben.

Privileged Facts of the Case

It is forbidden to set people on fire.

It is forbidden to set people on fire in possession
of a valid green card.

It is forbidden to set people on fire who uphold
the laws and are in possession of a valid green card.

It is forbidden to set people on fire who
are not thought to endanger the continuance
and security of the United States of America.

It is forbidden to set people on fire who do not
arouse suspicion with their behavior.

This particularly applies to youngsters who, in view
of the lack of leisure opportunities and their ignorance
of the relevant regulations or because
of difficulties in orientation are psychologically endangered,
are forbidden to set people on fire they do not respect.

In consideration of the reputation of the United States of America
abroad it is urgently advised against.

It isn’t proper.

It isn’t normal.

It shouldn’t become the rule.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

No one is obligated.

No one will be reproached if they decline
to set a person on fire.

Each enjoys a fundamental right to refuse.

Suitable applications are to be submitted
to the Municipal Office of Public Order.

Translated by Jim Doss, Loch Raven Review, Summer 2008

John von Neumann

1903 – 1957

Doppelkinn, Mondgesicht, leichtes Watscheln –
das muß ein Komiker sein
oder ein Generalvertreter in Teppichböden,
ein Bonvivant aus dem Rotary Club.

Aber wehe, wenn Jánsci aus Budapest
anfängt zu denken!
Unerbittlich tickt unter der Schädeldecke
sein weicher Prozessor,
ein Flimmern geht durch den Datenspeicher
und blitzartig wirft er ballistische Gleichungen aus.

Eichmann und Stalin hat er mattgesetzt
in drei Zügen: Göttingen-Cherbourg,
Cherbourg-New York, New York-Princeton.
Erster Klasse verließ er die Todeszone.

Mehr brauchte er nicht als vier Stunden Schlaf,
reichlich Schlagobers auf den Mohnstrudel
und ein paar Bankkonten in der Schweiz.

Auch wer nie von ihm gehört hat
(und das sind die meisten),
der setzt mit der Maus in der Hand
seine Schaltalgebra in Gang.
Und was die Künstliche Intelligenz betrifft –
ohne die seinige wäre sie vielleicht heute noch
ein Wechselbalg ohne Adresse.

Ganz egal, ob es um eine Knobelpartie
oder um einen Hurrikan geht,
um fruchtbare Automaten oder um Schußtabellen,
die Kreide in seiner Hand hinkt hinterher –
so schnell ist sein neuronales Netz.

Manisch kritzelt er Hilbert-Räume,
Ringe und Ideale hin. Unbeschränkt
operiert er mit unbeschränkten Operatoren.
Hauptsache: elegante Lösungen,
um den Planeten zum Tanzen zu bringen.

Ein altes Wunderkind mit Schnittstelle zum Geheimdienst.
Wummernd landen die Helikopter auf seinem Rasen.
»Fat Man« auf Nagasaki: reine Mathematik.
Der Krieg als Droge. Eine zu große Waffe
kann es nicht geben. Immer gut gelaunt

beim Lunch mit den Admirälen.

Eigentlich ist er schüchtern, und es gibt Rätsel,
vor denen seine Black Box versagt.
Die Liebe zum Beispiel,
die Dummheit, die Langeweile.

Pessimismus = Sünde gegen die Wissenschaft.
Energie aus der Dose, Klimakontrolle, ewiges Wachstum!
Island in ein tropisches Paradies zu verwandeln –
kein Problem. Der Rest ist nebbich.

Dann der Betriebsausflug auf eine andere Insel,
im Zweireiher, mit geschwärzter Brille: Bikini.
»Operation Wendepunkt.« Der Test war gelungen.
Zehn Jahre brauchte der Strahlenkrebs,
um seine Synapsen abzuschalten.

John von Neumann (1903–1957)

Moon face, double chin, waddling gait:
a stand-up comedian, most likely,
or a salesman for fitted carpets,
bon vivant from the Rotary Club.

But as soon as he starts to think
watch out for Jáncsi from Budapest!
The soft processor under his skull-cap
will relentlessly tick away,
and with a mere flicker of his memory chip
he will produce a rush of ballistic equations.

In three moves he checkmated Eichmann and Stalin:
Göttingen-Cherbourg, Cherbourg-New York,
New York-Princeton. First Class
he escaped from the Final Solution.

All he needs is four hours’ sleep,
plenty of whipped cream on his Viennese strudel
and a couple of Zürich bank accounts.

Even those who have never heard of him
(and most of us haven’t)
switch with a click of the mouse
into his algebraic circuitry.
Without his own brand of it,
Artificial Intelligence
might never have got off the ground.

Whether it’s a question of playing dice
or detailing a hurricane — you name it..
self-fertilising automata or firing-tables
the piece of chalk in his hand
will lag behind the speed of his mind.

A maniac scribbling down Hilbert spaces,
rings and ideals, operating beyond all limits
with unlimited operators. A few new ideas,
he says, and we could jiggle the planet.

An elderly wunderkind with an interface
to the CIA. Helicopters roaring down on his lawn.
‘Fat Man’ on Nagasaki: pure mathematics.
War is his cocaine. There is no such thing
as too big a weapon. Always in high spirits,
lunching with admirals.

A shy fellow at heart. Mysteries
his black box cannot cope with.
Love, for example,
stupidity, boredom.

Pessimism = a sin against science.
Energy out of the can, climate control,
eternal growth! To turn Iceland
into a tropical paradise — no problem!
The rest is nebbich.

Finally: staff outing to another island,
in business suit and blackened glasses,
Bikini. ‘Operation Turning-point’.
The test was successful. The cancer from the radiation
took ten years to turn off his synapses.

Translated by Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Enzensberger Enzensberger2 Enzensberger3 Enzensberger4

Several collections (most of them bi-lingual) of Enzensberger’s poems are available in English:

Hans Magnus Enzensberger: Selected Poems, bi-lingual edition, translated by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Michael Hamburger, Fred Viebahn and Rita Dove, Sheep Meadow Press, Rhineback 1999; Kiosk, bi-lingual edition, translated by Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Michael Hamburger, Sheep Meadow Press, Rhineback 1999; Lighter Than Air, bi-lingual edition, translated by Reinhold Grimm, Sheep Meadow Press, Rhineback 2000; New Selected Poems, bi-lingual edition, translated by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Michael Hamburger and David Constantine, Bloodaxe Books, Hexham 2015

© Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Suhrkamp Verlag, 1957ff.
© Jim Doss and Loch Raven Review, 2008
© Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Bloodaxe Books, 2015
© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014-5. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.