From Zero Hour To Eleventh Hour? German Fiction of the Nuclear Age Between 1945 and 1963

Wolfgang Lueckel


This essay investigates five German literary post-war dystopias by Oskar Maria Graf, Hans Henny Jahnn, Hans-Helmuth Kirst, Gilbert Merlin, and Hans Wörner, depicting global nuclear war. Although not recognized as canonical Nachkriegsliteratur, these pieces offer remarkable evidence that the years after 1945, leading up to Germany’s economic miracle, were suffused with tremendous pessimism that not only questioned the validity of the Zero Hour, a democratic reboot after 1945, but also anticipated the dawning Cold War and its potential for total destruction. Through an innovative narrative technique that dismantles the coordinates of time and space, these texts explore new realms and also accomplish an early productive confrontation with the Third Reich and its aftermath during a time that lacked a more substantial public debate about Germany’s past. Their deep moral skepticism suggests that the world has been irrevocably changed through modern science and that our entire civilization is at stake. (WL)

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