Back when I read Döblin’s novel and saw Fassbinder’s movie (discussed in this post), I had little access to the internet and it wasn’t what it is today (no Google, no Wikipedia), so a lot of stuff went over my head. Now I can get background information on just about anything, and oh what a difference it makes! Two samples from the Second Book of the novel and the second episode of the Fassbinder:

1) On page 90 of my F. Unger paperback, when our man Franz and his girlfriend Lina approach the newsvendor who pressed sex manuals on Franz, gravely upsetting Lina when Franz tried to explain to her what he had been reading about the oppression of homosexuals, he lets her go on the attack while he hangs back, and we get this: “In the fighting zone, Lina, the hearty, sloppy, unwashed, weepy little girl, made an offensive of her own à la Prince of Homburg: My noble uncle Friedrich von der Mark! Natalie! Let be! Let be!” And the scene ends with this fairly impenetrable paragraph:

Oh immortality, thou art my very own, beloved what sheen is now outspread, hail, all hail, to the Prince of Homburg, victor in the battle of Fehrbellin, all hail! (Court ladies, officers, and torches appear on the castle terrace.) “Waiter, how ’bout another Gilka.”

The only thing I could have looked up at the time was the battle of Fehrbellin, whereupon my old standby Merriam-Webster’s Geographical Dictionary would have told me Fehrbellin, a town northwest of Berlin, was the “scene 1675 of victory of Great Elector Frederick William of Brandenburg over the Swedes under Karl Gustav Wrangel.” Which would have meant nothing to me (except that it would have occasioned a brief perplexity as to why they translated Friedrich Wilhelm’s name but not Karl Gustav’s).

Now I can go to Wikipedia for a full account of the battle, but that’s not really so important, because it turns out Döblin is referencing not the battle itself but Heinrich von Kleist‘s last play, Prinz Friedrich von Homburg oder die Schlacht bei Fehrbellin (the link is to the German Wikipedia article; there’s no English one, but a couple of reviews of Neil Bartlett’s revival give a good idea of what it’s like: Independent, Guardian). The Wikipedia article links to a Project Gutenberg text, where one can find the originals of the quoted bits: Natalie (knieend). “Mein edler Oheim, Friedrich von der Mark!” Der Kurfürst (legt die Papiere weg). “Natalie!” (Er will sie erheben.) Natalie. “Laß, laß!” (Act IV, Scene 1); Der Prinz von Homburg. “Nun, o Unsterblichkeit, bist du ganz mein!” (Act V, Scene 10); Der Prinz von Homburg. “Lieber, was für ein Glanz verbreitet sich?” … Kottwitz. “Heil, Heil dem Prinz von Homburg!” … Alle. “Dem Sieger in der Schlacht bei Fehrbellin!” (Act V, Scene 11, the last scene of the play). Oh, and Gilka (which Franz pronounces “Yilka”) is a Berlin-made kümmel aperitif.

2) On page 104, in the midst of an argument between Franz and some acquaintances of his, whose Communist sensibilities were offended by seeing Franz wearing a swastika armband and hawking the Nazi Völkischer Beobachter (he’s not a Nazi, but he has feelings of confused resentment about the war and needed the job), there occurs this mysterious sentence: “Blood must bubble, blood must bubble, in currents muggy and thick.” Huh? I guess I took that as some sort of quasi-poetic expression of how he was feeling, but it turns out that “Blut muss fließen, knüppelhageldick” is from a storm trooper marching song—you can get a full set of the disgusting lyrics here, with translation. But a search on “knüppelhageldick” revealed that the Nazi song is simply a rewrite of the earlier “Die Konkubine,” a revolutionary song that specifies “Fuerstenblut muss fliessen” (‘princely blood must flow’), and that in turn is reworked from the song immediately preceding it in that very useful and compendious Chansonnier international du révolté, “Das Lied der ’48,” better known as the Heckerlied, a revolutionary song from 1848. (Somewhere in my meanderings I found a web page where you could hear a chorus singing it, but I seem to have lost it.) Did I ever mention that I love the internet?


  1. I’ll just remind everyone that those Wrangels really get around, and that damn! I love Kleist.

  2. A producer locks three writers in a room with him with orders to “think up something funny.” After several hours of silence while the producer works a crossword puzzle, he calls out “Who was Goethe?”
    Silence. None of the writers can think up anything funny.
    “Okay, who was Schiller?”
    “Okay, who was Kleist, then?”
    One of the writers is heard drawling in an exhausted voice:
    “The Chinese messiah.”

  3. Johan Anglemark says

    You’ll find the web site for Wrangel’s castle in Sweden here:

  4. i suppose you just have to accept that Døblin, who was 51 when he wrote BA, would have had enough time to accumulate the knowledge required to make such convoluted references; but Fassbinder (in acknowledging them) was only 35 at the time he made the film. How did he do it? When did he have the time to research this stuff (without the internet)? He was frenetically making films, directing plays. So maybe this stuff is ingrained if you’re German? I can imagine there might be equivalents in England or the US, though I can’t think what, right now.

  5. Trivia: “The Prince of Homburg” was also the “nom de guerre” of Norbert Grupe, a German boxer who took up acting and appeared in the film Stroszek by Fassbinder’s mate Werner Herzog (and, according to his Wiki-bio, Die Hard!). Not the kind of guy you’d want to get on the wrong side of, judging by the anecdotes in Herzog’s DVD audio-commentary.

  6. There’s a readable biography of the real Prince Friedrich by Herbert Rosendorfer. It’s called, if I remember correctly, simply Der Prinz von Homburg.

  7. When did he have the time to research this stuff (without the internet)?
    He just had to ask anyone over fifty. He was researching it in the 1970s, and anyone of that vintage would know the cultural references. (And I presume any literate German is familiar with Kleist, who is both famous and—as Johann von Emersohn points out—terrific.)

  8. (That should probably be Emmersohn.)

  9. Kleist could be quite funny, though that wasn’t his specialty:
    Nowhere do we more readily receive an idea of the cultural level of a city and its prevailing tastes than in its reading libraries.
    Listen to what I encountered there, and I will say no more about the intellectual level of Würzburg.
    “We would like to have a couple of good things to read.”
    “The collection is at your disposal.”
    “Something of Wieland?”
    “I rather doubt it.”
    “Or Schiller, or Goethe?”
    “They would be hard to find.”
    “What! Are all of their books loaned out? Are the people here such readers?”
    “Hardly that.”
    “Who are the most avid readers here?”
    “Lawyers, merchants, and married ladies.”
    “And the unmarried ones?”
    “They may not borrow books.”
    “And the students?”
    “We have been instructed not to give them any.”
    “Well, then, please tell us, if so little reading is done here, where in the world are the works of Goethe and Schiller?”
    “By your leave, sir, such things are never read here.”
    “You mean, you do not have them here in your library?”
    “They are not allowed”.
    “What sort of books are all these on the shelves, then?”
    “Chivalric romances. Nothing but chivalric romances. On the right, chivalric romances with ghosts; on the left, chivalric romances without ghosts, as you prefer.”
    “Ah, I see.”

    Heinrich von Kleist, (Philip B. Miller, ed., tr.), An Abyss Deep Enough, Dutton, 1982,
    p. 61 (Letter to Willhelmine von Zenge from Würzburg, Sept 13-18, 1800)

  10. They had a bookstore like that in Pittsfield, whose cultural level is presumably comparable to that of Würzburg, mutatis mutandis, except that now they call them “romance novels” instead of “chivalric romances.”

  11. An amazingly durable genre, tracing back to about 1200 AD.
    I have a Chinese translation of a semi-pornographic American romance novel which used the most amazingly flowery euphemisms for the naughty bits. Can’t remember exactly, but it was all jade shafts and quivering lotus blossoms, etc.

  12. Oh, they go back long before that; the Alexandrian Greeks loved them.

  13. I guess I meant “a continuous tradition since about 1200 AD”. I believe that there was a break between ca 500 and ca 1200, though perhaps even then there were oral Romance, Celtic, and Germanic romances floating around. But the Celtic and Germanic stuff I know about seems like quite a different thing, despite the characters shared between both genres.

  14. What, is Minnesota closed today, Emerson? Why the constant banter?

  15. Kuruun, this thread looked lonely.
    33 below yesterday (F), with a 5-10 mile wind. Just like the good old days. The night before that I went out to a bar at 25 below.
    Smokers still have to stand outside to smoke, but I’m not a smoker.

  16. Fassbinder would have known Prinz Friedrich von Homburg, long before he was 35. It’s very familiar to Germans of my generation (he was 2 years older than me). And he would have researched the other Döblin references.

  17. A hat for Hat:
    Make loudest possible proclamation of your Hat: true proclamation if that will do; if that will not do, then false proclamation–to such extent of falsity as will serve your purpose, as will not seem too false to be credible!

  18. David Marjanović says

    a brief perplexity as to why they translated Friedrich Wilhelm’s name but not Karl Gustav’s

    If the latter’s name is indeed Swedish, they did — into German. In Swedish, AFAIK, it’s Gustaf.

    “Heil, Heil dem Prinz von Homburg!”

    Dem Prinz? Not dem Prinzen? Strikes me as odd.

  19. Oww. That’s cold, John. I wonder if cigarettes still burn when it’s that cold. Here it’s a sweltering 14F. Anne B lives in Denmark, with Sili. I’ll bet it’s really hot in Denmark.
    I think it’s great to have so many comments from you, you know I love you, it just doesn’t happen that often.

  20. Maybe they were hedging their bets about exactly which ugly Swede it was; from the orthography it seems to more likely to be the later, phonetically it seems more likely to be the former.
    Hah, now I look, it turns out it was neither!

  21. A guy on Ambien went sleepwalking into the night yesterday and froze to death. A few days ago an arthritic woman fell down and lay out all night in 20 degree cold; she was saved.

  22. Yes, I live in Denmark now, but I went to grad school in Minnesota, and listen to MPR online for old time’s sake. And to feel better about it only being right around freezing here.

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