Mehring, Walter

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MEHRING, WALTER (1896–1981), German poet and author. The son of the well-known journalist Sigmar Mehring (1866–1915), Walter Mehring was born and raised in Berlin. He studied art history in Berlin and Munich. A friend of Kurt *Tucholsky, he joined the Berlin branch of the Dada movement, wrote political cabaret pieces, and published his early expressionistic poems in Herwarth *Walden's Sturm from 1916. They were collected in his first books, Das politische Cabaret (1919) and Ketzerbrevier (1921), which revealed his writing to be "heretical," meaning critical and provocative. During the Weimar Republic Mehring, who became a brilliantly witty spokesman of the moderate left, worked on the staff of the Weltbuehne as its correspondent in Paris, where he lived from 1922 to 1928. His satirical light verse followed the tradition developed by Wedekind, Ringelnatz, and Brecht, and his chansons dealt with the life of the vagabond, symbolizing the disillusionment of his age. Mehring's best-known collection of poems is Die Gedichte, Lieder und Chansons des Walter Mehring (1929), notable for its sarcastic criticism of contemporary society. In his comedy Der Kaufmann von Berlin (1929), which was staged by Erwin Piscator and outraged the Nazis, Mehring took on the subject of Shylock to describe the pogroms against the East European Jews in the Berlin Scheunenviertel in 1923. Confronting the beginning of persecution, he wrote Arche Noah s.o.s. (1931). On their accession to power in 1933, the Nazis planned to arrest Mehring, who, having been warned, managed to escape to Paris, and from there to Vienna in 1934 and after the "Anschluss" in 1938 back to Paris. In 1941 Mehring fled to New York, escaping from an internment camp in Southern France. There he remained from 1941 until after World War ii, living under difficult conditions but continuing to write such books as No Road Back (1944) and The Lost Library (1951; Die verlorene Bibliothek. Autobiographie einer Kultur; 1952), both published in English and German. The Lost Library, meaning the library of his father, is an analysis, in the face of the Nazi catastrophe, of the tragic failure of the intellectual culture of liberalism and optimism among 19th-century German Jews. After the war, Mehring returned to Europe, living mostly in hotels in Switzerland (Ascona and Zuerich, where he died). Here he recollected the avant gardist culture of the Weimar Republic in several books (e.g., Verrufene Malerei, 1958; Berlin-Dada, 1959) and reissued his Ketzerbrevier (1974) in an expanded version.

add. bibliography:

F. Hellberg, Walter Mehring: Schriftsteller zwischen Kabarett und Avantgarde (1983); H.-P. Bayerdoerfer, in: Conditio Judaica, 3 (1993), 307–23; B. Bauer, in: Deutsch-juedisches Exil (1994), 15–43; A. Kilcher, in: Deutsche Vierteljahrsschrift für Literaturwissenschaft und Geistesgeschichte, 78 (2004), 287–312.

[Rudolf Kayser /

Andreas Kilcher (2nd ed.)]