Erich Kästner’s Books- Well Loved Stories in German & English

Sitting in the darkened theater surrounded by other kids, the obligatory bucket of popcorn on my lap, I stare up at the screen enjoying Haley Mills and Haley Mills fool parents Brian Keith and Maureen O’Hara, to bring them back together in the 1960s version of The Parent Trap. At the time, I had no idea that the original story, Das Doppelte Lottchen came from the pen of German author Erich Kästner. Kästner wrote for children in a new way… not necessarily fanciful and certainly not loaded with life lessons like so many German Children’s books. Despite being banned from publication in Germany due to his criticism of the Nazis, Erich Kästner’s books were eventually translated into 60 languages and published worldwide.

“Humans are fundamentally good, they say. And that may well be true. But you can’t make it too easy on them, those good humans. Otherwise, they might go bad all of a sudden.” -Emil and the Detectives

Erich Kästner

Born Emil Erich Kästner (for his father) in Dresden on February 23, 1899, Kästner was on track to be a teacher when he dropped out in 1917 to join a heavy artillery unit in the Prussian Army (he signed on for one year, to avoid the two-year draft). The harsh training and years of war made Kästner a pacifist. Instead of returning to teaching, he entered the University at Leipzig and studied history, philosophy, and theater. Upon receiving his doctorate in 1927 he moved to Berlin and began writing…volumes of light poetry and satire pieces (along the lines of Wilhelm Busch), and worked as a freelance journalist writing over 350 pieces for newspapers and periodicals.

In 1929, at the urging of his friend, he published Emil and the Detectives, illustrated by Walter Trier.  Kästner’s ‘Emil’ was unusual because it was a book for children that didn’t depend on fantasy or fairy tale worlds. The location was modern-day Berlin, and Emil was a very real, and very relatable character. There was no grand moral at the end for all to learn from. It may also be the first detective story featuring a child (without Emil we wouldn’t have Enid Blyton’s Famous Five or Donald Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown).  Millions were sold, and because of the popularity, Kästner wrote two other Emil books.

Emil und die Detektive (German Edition)Emil und die Detektive (German Edition)Emil und die Detektive (German Edition)

 

More of Erich Kastner’s books for children followed.

Pünktchen und Anton (Dot and Anton) in 1931, about a girl from a well-off Berlin family who befriends a boy from the other side of the tracks while begging on the street to help save her nanny from a blackmail scheme. (OH! And there is a dachshund named Piefke!).

Der 35 Mai (the 35th of May aka. Conrad’s Ride to the South Seas) in 1931 features a boy named Conrad who spends every Thursday with his uncle visiting magical lands on a horse who happens to be a good roller skater. (This story which begins with stepping through the wardrobe, was written about 12 years before Lucy and Edmund ended up in Narnia with their siblings. )

Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer (the Flying Classroom) written in 1932, is the story of what happens at a boarding school just before the Christmas holidays. This was the last book Kästner wrote before the Nazi’s came to power, and although they aren’t mentioned in the book, they cast a shadow in the story.

The War Years

In July of 1932, Kästner along with dozens of writers and scientists signed the Dringender Appell für die Einheit (Urgent Call for Unity) put forward by the
“International Socialist Militant League” or ISK.  This socialist split-off from the Social Democratic Party during the Weimar Republic actively resisted the rise of the Nazi movement, and tried to get the SPD and communist parties to band together to keep them from gaining control of the Reichstag.

Their petition failed.

It’s interesting to consider Erich Kästner a hero. But truthfully, his brave stance against the Nazis makes him one. At a time when writers were fleeing Germany, Kästner stayed… even when his books were being burned, even though he was pulled in repeatedly for questioning. From 1933 to 1945, Kästner was banned from publishing his books in Germany. Although he did manage to get books like Drei Männer im Schnee…Three Men in the Snow and the 1938 retelling of Till Eulenspiegel out to Switzerland for publication.

And in what must be one of the stranger twists in WWII history, Hitler’s Propaganda Minister Goebbels decided that the story of the Baron von Münchhausen needed to be filmed in brilliant technicolor to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the UFA Film studio. Erich Kästner was called in to write the screenplay for Münchhausen, which he did under the pseudonym Berthold Berger.

Münchhausen [Deluxe Edition] [2 DVDs]Münchhausen [Deluxe Edition] [2 DVDs]Münchhausen [Deluxe Edition] [2 DVDs]

Post War

After the War, Erich Käster and his life partner Louise Enderele moved to Munich, where he started a children’s magazine called Pinguin. Then in 1950, he wrote Das Doppelte Lottchen aka. Lisa and Lottie (The Parent Trap) which later was filmed both in Germany and twice in the US, the story of twins who are separated as babies when their parents divorce who find each other by chance at Summer camp, and try to reunite the family. (My children are big fans of the Lindsay Lohan version).

In those post-war years Kästner, a staunch pacifist, wrote for adults, including political satire and a number of anti-Nazi pieces.  But he would always be better known for his work as a children’s writer. After visiting his beloved hometown of Dresden, and seeing the destruction, he wrote his autobiography “Als ich ein Kleiner Junge War” (When I was a Young Boy) for which he was awarded the Hans Christian Anderson prize.

Years of declining health, took its toll, Erich Kästner died in 1974 of esophageal cancer and was buried at the Bogenhausen cemetery.

Today you’ll still find his book in libraries and books stores, and every new generation delights in his timeless stories Das Doppelte LottchenEmil and the Detectives, and Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer. Erich Kästners books have been translated into 60 languages and countless millions of copies sold. You can find most of them still in print, and available as films.

Add Erich Kästner’s books to your Home Library

In English and in German

Dot and AntonDot and AntonDot and AntonThe Parent TrapThe Parent TrapThe Parent TrapEmil und die Detektive (German Edition)Emil und die Detektive (German Edition)Emil und die Detektive (German Edition)Emil & the DetectivesEmil & the DetectivesEmil & the DetectivesThe Flying Classroom (Pushkin Children's Collection)The Flying Classroom (Pushkin Children’s Collection)The Flying Classroom (Pushkin Children's Collection)Das doppelte Lottchen: Deutsche Lektüre für das 1. und 2. Lernjahr. Mit Annotationen und IllustrationenDas doppelte Lottchen: Deutsche Lektüre für das 1. und 2. Lernjahr. Mit Annotationen und IllustrationenDas doppelte Lottchen: Deutsche Lektüre für das 1. und 2. Lernjahr. Mit Annotationen und IllustrationenDas fliegende Klassenzimmer (German Edition)Das fliegende Klassenzimmer (German Edition)Das fliegende Klassenzimmer (German Edition)Als ich ein kleiner Junge warAls ich ein kleiner Junge warAls ich ein kleiner Junge warPunktchen und Anton (German Edition)Punktchen und Anton (German Edition)Punktchen und Anton (German Edition)Till EulenspiegelTill EulenspiegelTill EulenspiegelErich Kästner BoxErich Kästner BoxErich Kästner BoxErich Kästner (Gedichte, Briefe, Leben zum 100. Geburtstag)Erich Kästner (Gedichte, Briefe, Leben zum 100. Geburtstag)Erich Kästner (Gedichte, Briefe, Leben zum 100. Geburtstag)

Resources

Erich Kästner Bio- Britannica

Literary Landscape Kästner

Arts & Culture Google Kästner

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