Beyond Weimar Expressionism and Agfacolor: Literary Representations of Rubble Space in Heinrich Böll’s Der Engel schwieg

Kai-Uwe Werbeck


This article queries the representation of rubble space in Heinrich Böll’s post-humously published novel Der Engel schwieg, written from 1949 to 1950. Taking a critical look at Germany’s rubble years, the novel at first evokes the expressionist tableaux that also dominated the contemporaneous rubble films. As the narrative progresses, however, the literary text abandons the surreal chiaroscuro landscapes in favor of a more differentiated image of the destruction, a reconfiguration that scholarship on Böll has overlooked so far. Neither a mere add-on to rubble film nor a late contribution to high modernism’s “filmic” writing, Der Engel schwieg is rather highly invested in the literary appropriation of a traditionally visual image—the rubble—as a means to reframe the nation’s postwar narrative after fascism. In the interplay between form and content, I argue, we find a forceful challenge of postwar Germany’s founding myth of the Stunde Null, the convenient belief that the end of the Third Reich also meant a clear-cut break from the nation’s fascist past. The reconfigurations of the rubble that occur throughout the novel give form to the historical continuities, conflicting perspectives, and competing ideologies that—as far as Böll was concerned—still permeated Germany after National Socialism.

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