Kästner, Erich

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Writer. Nationality: German. Born: Dresden, Saxony, Germany, 23 February 1899. Education: Attended Lehrerseminar (teacher training school) in Dresden; attended König-Georg-Gymnasium (grammar school) in Dresden after World War I; won a scholarship to Leipzig University; awarded a doctorate for a dissertation written in French on Frederick II and German literature, 1925. Military Service: Served in Army during World War I. Family: Partner, Luiselotte Enderle, from 1939. Career: Published poems in Dichtungen Leipziger Studenten (Poems by Leipzig Students), 1920; worked as a bookkeeper and wrote journalism and advertising copy in 1920s; wrote extensively for the journal Die Weltbühne; published several novels and collections of poetry during 1930s; refused to leave Nazi Germany during World War II, and witnessed the burning of his own books on 10 May 1933; twice arrested by Gestapo and questioned about his writing; books published in Switzerland from 1933; edited magazine section of Die neue Zeitung (Munich newspaper), 1945–47; founded Pinguin (children's magazine); President of West German PEN Writers' Organization, 1952–62; cultural adviser for Munich Olympics, 1972. Awards: Federal Film Prize (Germany), for Das Doppelte Lottchen, 1950. Died: In Munich, Germany, 29 July 1974.

Films as Writer:


Dann schon lieber Lebertran (I'd Rather Have Cold Liver Oil) (Ophüls) (co-screenwriter and story); Emil und die Detektive (Emil and the Detectives) (Lamprecht) (novel, credited as Berthold Bürger); Die Koffer des Herrn O.F. (Build and Marry, The Thirteen Trunks of Mr. O.F., The Trunks of Mr. O.F.) (Granowsky) (lyricist)


Emil and the Detectives (Rosmer) (novel, Emil und die Detective)


Stackars miljonärer (Arvedon and Ibsen) (novel Drei Männer im Schnee)


Paradise for Three (Romance for Three) (Buzzell) (novel Drei Männer im Schnee, credited as Erich Kaestner)


Münchhausen (The Adventures of Baron Munchausen [USA], Baron Munchhausen, The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Muenchhausen) (von Baky) (novel and screenplay,credited as Berthold Bürger); Der Kleine Grenzverkehr (Deppe) (novel)


Das Doppelte Lottchen (Two Times Lotte [USA]) (von Baky) (novel, screenplay, and role as speaker)


Pünktchen und Anton (Engel) (story); Twice Upon a Time(Pressburger) (novel Das Doppelte Lottchen)


Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer (The Flying Classroom [USA]) (Hoffman) (novel and screenplay, credited as Berthold Bürger); Emil und die Detektive (Stemmle) (novel, credited as Berthold Bürger)


Drei Männer im Schnee (Hoffman) (novel, credited as Berthold Bürger)


Salzburger Geschichten (Hoffman) (novel and co-screenwriter)


The Parent Trap (Swift) (novel Das Doppelte Lottchen, credited as Berthold Bürger)


Emil and the Detectives (Tewkbury) (novel, Emil und die Detektive, credited as Berthold Bürger)


Konferenz der Tiere (Linda) (novel, credited as Berthold Bürger)


Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer (Jacobs) (novel, credited as Berthold Bürger)


Fabian (Gremm) (novel)


Die Verschwundene Miniatur (Loebner—for TV) (novel); Parent Trap III (Parent Trap IV: Hawaiian Honeymoon) (Miller—for TV) (novel, Das Doppelte Lottchen)


Charlie & Louise—Das Doppelte Lottchen (Vilsmaier) (novel, Das Doppelt Lottchen)


The Parent Trap (Meyers) (novel, Das Doppelte Lottchen)


Pünktchen und Anton (Annaluise and Anton [USA]) (Link) (novel)


By KÄSTNER: books-

Emil und die Detektive, Berlin, 1928 (as Emil and the Detectives, London, 1931, 1959).

Fabian, Die Geschichte eines Moralisten, Berlin, 1931 (as Fabian, the Tale of a Moralist, London, 1932).

Pünktchen und Anton, Berlin, 1931 (as Annaluise and Anton, London, 1932).

Emil und die drie Zwillinge, Zurich, 1934 (as Emil and the Three Twins, London, 1935, 1970).

Drei Männer im Schnee, Zurich, 1934 (as Three Men in the Snow, London, 1935).

Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer, Zurich, 1934 (as The Flying Classroom, London, 1934, 1967).

Die veschwundene Miniature, Zurich, 1935 (as The Missing Miniature, London, 1936).

Der kleine Grenzverkehr, Zurich, 1938.

On KÄSTNER: books—

Winkelmann, J., Social Criticism in the Early Works of Erich Kästner, Columbia, 1953.

Kästner, Erich, and Luiselotte Enderle, Erich Kästner, Life and Work (texts for an exhibition arranged by the Goethe-Institut, Munich), Munich, 1964.

Beutler, K., Erich Kästner, Berlin, 1967.

Last, R.W., Erich Kästner, London, 1974.

On KÄSTNER: articles—

Wiley, R.A., "The Role of the Mother in Five Pre-War Editions of Erich Kästner's Works," in German Quarterly (Philadelphia), 1953.

Christensen, Peter G., "The Representation of the Late Eighteenth Century in the Von Baky/Kästner Baron Munchhausen: The Old Regime and its Links to the Third Reich," in German Life and Letters (Oxford), October 1990.

Schwarzbaum, Lisa, "Girls of Wisdom," (review of The Parent Trap) in Entertainment Weekly (New York), 7 August 1998.

Murray, Giala, review of The Parent Trap in Empire (London), July 1999.

On KÄSTNER: film—

Das Große Erich Kästner Festival, 1999.

* * *

Best known as a writer of children's fiction, Erich Kästner was also an acclaimed poet, journalist, and the editor of several newspapers and journals. His novels have been adapted many times for the cinema in Germany and the United States, but his contribution to filmmaking also extends to work as a screenwriter and lyricist. In 1950, he even performed as the narrator of an adaptation of his novel, Das Doppelte Lottchen. Kästner's experiences at school and as a conscript during World War I left him antagonistic to authority and convention. His children's stories, such as Emil und die Detektive, in which a child bypasses the police in order to apprehend a thief, reflect his suspicion that humanity is not well served by the law and the government.

Against the advice of his friends, many of whom fled the country when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party came to power in 1933, Kästner chose to remain in Germany, where he witnessed the burning of his books along with the works of Brecht, Joyce, and Heinrich Mann. Kästner's work was considered threatening to the Nazi cause because of its emphasis on common humanity over the artificial structures of state and government. He was twice apprehended by the Gestapo, but Kästner continued to work, publishing novels from Zurich, Switzerland, rather than Berlin. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the film rights to several of his novels during this time. In 1942, he was even asked by Goebbels to write the script for a film, although the Nazi government refused to allow his name to appear on the credits. By way of commenting on this restriction, Kästner adopted the pseudonym of Berthold Bürger, a combination of the first name of dramatist Berthold Brecht, and the German word for "citizen." Kästner apparently suggested the life of Baron Munchhausen as the film's subject on the grounds that the "commission has come from the world's greatest liar—why not do a film about his closest competitor."

Münchhausen, directed by Josef Von Baky, was made in honor of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the famous German studio, UFA. It was filmed in Agfacolor, and contains elaborate special effects and trick photography. The luxurious banquet and street procession scenes seem all the more remarkable when it is remembered that the film was made during war-time. Kästner's script tells the involved story of Baron Münchhausen and his various adventures, including being shot on a cannonball, numerous duels, and a balloon that travels to the moon. In its original length the film ran to almost two and a half hours, but was finally reduced by about an hour. Overall the film is a great technical achievement, although the color process now seems rather crude.

Although Münchhausen was a great success, Kästner was soon banned from writing altogether, and it is perhaps because of this enforced silence that his greatest contribution to film is through adaptations of his novels. In particular Emil und die Detektive and Das Doppelte Lottchen continue to be of interest to filmmakers, having been filmed four and six times respectively on both sides of the Atlantic. Disney in particular picked up on the charming simplicity of Kästner's stories, producing The Parent Trap (based on Das Doppelte Lottchen) and Emil and the Detectives within a few years of each other in the early 1960s. More recently, in 1998, The Parent Trap was filmed again by Disney, and the result is if anything an improvement on the 1961 production, with a slick cast, including Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson, and Lindsay Lohan, carrying the breezy humour with ease. Emil und die Detektive has been less well served by later remakes, but Gerhard Lamprecht's 1931 adaptation of the novel is perhaps the best of the many films adapted from Kästner's work. With a script by a young Billy Wilder, this German film successfully transfers the innocent humour of the novel to the screen without seeming contrived.

Despite his reputation as a writer for children, Kästner also produced adult novels, including Fabian, which was adapted for the screen in 1980. Sometimes read as an archetypal existential novel, Fabian tells the story of a young man whose cynical view of German society leads him into a series of adulterous affairs and finally accidental death while trying to save a child from drowning. The novel's cold tone presents special difficulties for the filmmaker, and despite high production values, Wolf Gremm's adaptation is not a great success. Drei Männer im Schnee has similarly suffered, with its satirical edge blunted by the possibilities it offers for romantic comedy.

A prolific writer, Kästner had a practical approach to life, and seems not to have been concerned that his career as a scriptwriter should have been so quickly curtailed. The enduring success of his novels and stories in movies for adults and children is a testament to the power of his imaginative vision. It is disappointing that so many adaptations of his work have been inclined towards the sentimental, since Kästner's fiction itself conspicuously avoids romanticising human relationships.

—Chris Routledge