Die Chronik der Sperlingsgasse

[This page by Dagmar Paulus]

Die Chronik der Sperlingsgasse; The Chronicle of Sparrow Alley (1856)

Es ist eigentlich eine böse Zeit!


These are actually rather evil times!

With these words Raabe’s first novel begins. It is written from the perspective of an elderly man, Johannes Wachholder, who lives in a small attic room and observes the goings-on in the narrow street of the novel’s title. Although the street is located in the city of Berlin, descriptions of the metropolis itself are largely omitted with the narrator giving a panoramic impression of life in the Sperlingsgasse instead. The stories of various inhabitants of the Sperlingsgasse are told, for example that of a childhood friend of the narrator’s, the painter Franz Ralff, whose daughter Elise is adopted by Wachholder after her parents’ death. The girl later marries the young painter Gustav Berg who, in a complicated twist of fate, turns out to be a distant cousin of hers. Another main character is the journalist Wimmer who had to leave Berlin and move to Munich because of his political convictions and whose humorous letters to Wachholder are included in the Chronik. The novel thus has a complex structure consisting of several parallel storylines interspersed with flashbacks of the past, memories and biographical details of various people, all held together and presented by the narrator as a ‘Bilderbuch der Sperlingsgasse’; ‘picture book of the Sperlingsgasse’; https://www.projekt-gutenberg.org/raabe/sperling/sperl01.html

In spite of its ominously dark opening line, the novel continues in a mostly serene, in parts even idyllic vein. By telling the stories of ordinary people’s lives in an ordinary street, Raabe paints a picture of current social and political affairs in Germany at the time. The microcosm of personal stories related in Die Chronik der Sperlingsgasse can therefore be read as exemplifications of contemporary history seen through a magnifying glass:

Die Geschichte eines Hauses ist die Geschichte seiner Bewohner, die Geschichte seiner Bewohner ist die Geschichte der Zeit, in welcher sie lebten und leben, die Geschichte der Zeiten ist die Geschichte der Menschheit, und die Geschichte der Menschheit ist die Geschichte – Gottes!


The story of a house is the story of its inhabitants, the story of its inhabitants is the story of the time they lived and live in, the story of the times is the history of mankind, and the history of mankind is the history of – God!

Further Reading in German

Oliver Fischer, Ins Leben geschrieben. Poetik privater Geschichte bei Adalbert Stifter und Wilhelm Raabe (Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann, 1999)

William P. Hanson, ‘Raabes erste Chronik’, Jahrbuch der Raabe-Gesellschaft (1983), 33-48