Ehrenstein, Albert

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EHRENSTEIN, ALBERT (1886–1950), German poet and author. Born in Vienna of Hungarian parents, Ehrenstein lived until 1932 mostly in Vienna and Berlin as a freelance writer. Studying history and geography in Vienna, he published his first poems in Karl Kraus' Die Fackel (e.g., "Wanderers Lied"). The publication of the novel Tubutsch (with drawings by Oskar Kokoschka, 1911) made Ehrenstein an important exponent of the expressionist movement. His texts were guided by a new diaspora politics and aesthetics, understanding modernity as the overcoming of the bourgeois concept of nation and art. Ehrenstein's work is populated by exterritorial figures who suffer from homelessness and at the same time stand for a modern, aesthetic cosmopolitanism which transcends the 19th century concept of nationalism. This constant subject is found in Ehrenstein's novels (Der Selbstmord eines Katers, 1912; Nichtda nicht dort, 1916; Bericht aus einem Tollhaus, 1919; Zaubermerchen, 1919; Die Nacht wird, 1921; Briefe an Gott, 1922; Ritter des Todes, 1926) as well as in his poetry (Die weisse Zeit, 1914; Die Gedichte, 1920; Wien, 1921; Herbst, 1923; Mein Lied, 1931). In his essays, collected in Menschen und Affen (1926), Ehrenstein legitimized this programmatic extraterritoriality as a new "ahasverism" with social-revolutionary aspects, criticizing both assimilation and Zionism as throwbacks to old-European nationalism (cf. Zionismus, Vom deutschen Adel juedischer Nation, Nationaljudentum). He spent World War i in exile in Switzerland, vehemently criticizing the war (cf. Der Mensch schreit, 1916; Die rote Zeit, 1917; Den ermordeten Bruedern, 1919). After the war he turned to rewriting old Greek and Chinese works (cf. Lukian, 1918; Longos, 1924; Schi-King, 1922; Pe-Lo-Thien, 1923; China klagt, 1924; Raeuber und Soldaten, 1927; Das gelbe Lied, 1933). With the three cultural spaces of Hellas, Zion, and China, Ehrenstein constructed an antique world as a medium for contemporary criticism. In 1929, Ehrenstein together with Kokoschka visited Palestine, describing his impressions in a series of articles. In 1932, Ehrenstein moved to Switzerland. Even though the Swiss authorities prohibited him from writing, Ehrenstein praised Switzerland as a liberal and pancultural community within barbarian Europe (Tessin, 1938; Switzerland, 1942). In 1941 he settled in New York, where he died in poverty. After selected editions by Karl Otten and M.Y. Ben-Gavriel, the work and letters of Ehrenstein were published in a complete edition (ed. H. Mittelmann). Ehrenstein's manuscripts are at the Hebrew University.


A. Beigel, Erlebnis und Flucht im Werk Ehrensteins (1966); J. Drews, Die Lyrik Ehrensteins (1969); A. Beigel, Erlebnis und Flucht im Werk Albert Ehrensteins (1972); K.-M. Gauss, Wann endet die Nacht (1986); U. Laugwitz, Albert Ehrenstein (1987); A.A. Wallas, Albert Ehrenstein (1994); A. Kilcher, "Jenseits von Zionismus und Assimilation," in: Kirche und Israel, 18 (2003).

[Andreas Kilcher (2nd ed.)]