[This page by Nicholas Jacobs]

Hans Fallada (1893-1947)

Hans Fallada (pseudonym of Rudolf Ditzen) named himself after two characters in Grimms’ fairy tales – the country bumpkin in ‘Hans im Glück’, who blithely keeps throwing his luck away, and the faithful horse ‘Falada’ in ‘Die Gänsemagd’, who continued to speak the truth after being beheaded. Ditzen (henceforth here Fallada) would soon embody his pseudonym.

In rebellion against his highly-respectable upper middle-class background, Fallada entered the netherworld of drugs and alcohol already before the First World War, and was subsequently involved in petty financial crime, with several years in prison for drug offences and embezzlement.

Already as a schoolboy he was involved in an attempted double suicide, ending in the death of his best friend. Not for nothing did this ‘Hans’ see himself as a ‘Pechvogel’ (a walking disaster area). As for ‘Falada’, Hans Fallada’s witness to the truth is exemplified  in many of his novels – initially in Kleiner Mann – was nun? (‘Little Man – What Now?’) (1932). Even the novels he wrote during the Third Reich stay humanly truthful, which perhaps accounts for a new Fallada novel being published in English translation every year from 1933 to 1940.

Hans Fallada was born in Greifswald, son of a High Court judge. He had two older sisters and a younger brother, Ulrich, whose death in the First World War never left him. After Fallada’s involvement in 1911 in a fatal suicide pact near his school at Rudolstadt, he spent time in a psychiatric hospital, where an enlightened psychiatrist (Arthur Tecklenburg) recommended white-collar agricultural work to avoid a probable prison sentence for manslaughter. It was during these years, until the end of the war, working as a book-keeper and potato inspector, that Fallada collected his vivid agricultural knowledge of the great East Prussian estates, which he used so abundantly in his gigantic cinematic novel Wolf unter Wölfen (‘Wolf amongst Wolves’) (1937), which Goebbels hailed with delight, probably for its depiction of rural Weimar Germany (in Nazi terminology, die Systemzeit) as being as corrupt and rotten as the cosmopolitan cities.

It was a male friend who brought the young Fallada morphium from the Front. At the same time, Anna Marie Seyerlen, his girl-friend encouraged him to write and – through Egmont, her novelist husband – introduced him to the publisher Ernst Rowohlt. The result was the publication of Fallada’s first so-called Pubertätsromane (novels of his youth), Der junge Goedeschal (1920) and Anton und Gerda (1924), both written with the financial support of his father, given on condition that his son take a pseudonym.

Fallada’s addictions included cocaine, tobacco, and above all writing. He once wrote that ‘everything in my life ends up in my books’. His first mature novel, Bauern, Bonzen und Bomben (1930) (‘Peasants, Bosses and Bombs’), reflected his experience as a junior reporter in Neumünster (Schleswig-Holstein) at a time of rural revolt, and was praised by Kurt Tucholsky in Die Weltbühne as ‘a political textbook on the fauna Germanica that could not be bettered’. This was followed by the domestic world best-seller Kleiner Mann – was nun? (1932), a candid documentary novel, describing his own young marriage and struggle for a decent existence when society was sliding into a social and political abyss. This book replaced Erich M. Remarque’s Im Westen Nichts Neues (‘All Quiet on the Western Front’) at the top of the bestseller list and remains the best fictional account of Germany on the eve of the advent of Hitler. A caricature Nazi oaf had to be touched out when the book was reprinted after 1933, but the author refused to remove his subtly positive references to Jewish characters, which remained in the book throughout the Nazi period.

Fallada was briefly arrested in 1933, the result of a denunciation by a disaffected landlord, and moved to a smallholding (Carwitz, near Feldberg) in Mecklenburg. Here he remained in something of a rural idyll with his wife, two sons and a daughter, still pouring out ever longer novels. Referring back to his years in prison in the twenties, he published in 1933 the recidivist novel Wer einmal aus dem Blechnapf frißt (‘Once a Jailbird’), which contained a rather obviously fawning reference to the virtues of the ‘new era’, which earned its author a black mark from Thomas Mann, a great fan of Kleiner Mann – was nun?

In the nineteen-thirties Fallada sometimes made a fruitful retreat, writing children’s stories, which were at the same time  often confessional parent’s stories – Hoppelpoppel – wo bist du? (‘Hoppelpoppel – where are you?’) published in 1937, Geschichten aus der Murkelei (‘Stories from Murkel-land’) of 1938 (‘Murkel’ being the nickname of  Fallada’s first son), and Fridolin der freche Dachs (‘That Rascal Fridolin’). All three are often reprinted and – like most of Fallada’s books – have been abundantly translated.

The kaleidoscopic Wolf unter Wölfen (‘Wolf among Wolves’), published in 1936, is an 800 page novel – and a reminder of  Fallada’s admiration for Dickens – that seethes with colourful characters.  By now Fallada was officially ‘unwanted’ (unerwünscht), the outcome of one of the many cultural  squabbles between Goebbels and Alfred Rosenberg. This ‘unerwünscht’ category formally banned foreign editions of Fallada novels, but does not seem to have had that effect, certainly not in the UK and America, where his books continued to be published by the distinguished firm of Putnam.

Another long novel, Der eiserne Gustav (‘Iron Gustav’) followed, commissioned by Goebbels for a film starring the great Emil Jannings. A historical novel, relating German history from the beginning of the twentieth century, through the lives of a tough Berlin coach driver and  his troubled children, Goebbels’ idea was that one of the children should join the Nazi party and bring about a happy ending. Fallada did not comply, and when forced to do so wrote such an ambiguous ending that no one was any the wiser – certainly neither Goebbels, nor Rosenberg. The film was abandoned. The book appeared in its ‘approved’ version and made little impact. The latest English edition (2014), is probably closest to Fallada’s original conception.

Fallada captured the idyll of the family and animal life in the Mecklenburg smallholding in two partial autobiographies, Damals bei uns daheim (‘Our Home in Days Gone By’) and Heute bei uns zu Haus (‘Our Home Today’), both subtitled – echoing Goethe’s Dichtung und WahrheitErfahrenes und Erfundenes (‘Experiences and Inventions’). These books are only dishonest in what they omit, and this  Fallada made good in his confessional autobiographical novel Der Trinker (‘The Drinker’) (written in an asylum for the criminally insane in September 1944, but only published posthumously, at the author’s request, in 1947). This painfully honest book reflects the break-up of his marriage to Anna Issel,  the wife lovingly portrayed in Kleiner Mann – was nun?, as a result of his infatuation with a young widow and morphine addict, Ulla Losch. This fatal attraction ended the rural idyll and initiated a life in Berlin with his new wife, combining the outer destruction of the city and the renewal of his own inner destruction through morphine and cocaine. This dark, but not quite last, episode in Fallada’s life is described in his semi-novel Der Alpdruck (‘The Nightmare’), a book full of self-pity, even allowing for the misery of the period.

At the end of the Second World War, Fallada found himself in the Soviet Zone. The fact that he stayed there, and had stayed in Nazi Germany, largely explains why he was neglected for many years.

A senior German cultural official who returned from Moscow to Berlin with the Soviet administration, Johannes R. Becher (later Minister of Culture in the German Democratic Republic), was on the look-out for writers who might be encouraged by the new regime. Becher knew Fallada’s work, and arranged for him to receive a Nazi intelligence report about a simple couple who had attempted to offer civil resistance to the Nazi authorities, with a view to his writing a novel based on the case. Fallada’s initial response was that he should not write such a book because he had himself offered no such resistance. After several months delay, he took the report and began Jeder stirbt für sich allein (‘Alone in Berlin’).

This 700-page book he completed in four intense weeks. The old addiction was back, and the novel had all the narrative intensity and character richness of Wolf unter Wölfen  and Der eiserne Gustav. Fallada was able to hold a copy before he died, and it is the book of his that has done most to revive interest in his writing, well beyond Germany. Fallada’s witness to quotidian life in Hitler’s Germany sets the Holocaust in its actual context, thereby showing the real horror of its relief. The Grimms’ ‘Falada’, his head nailed to the city walls, continues to speak the truth.

Fallada’s main works – all first published by Rowohlt, except the last title – are:

Bauern, Bonzen und Bomben; Peasants, Bosses and Bombs (A Small Circus) (1931)

Kleiner Mann – was nun?; Little Man – What Now? (1932)

Wer einmal aus dem Blechnapf frißt; Once a Jailbird (1934)

Wolf unter Wölfen; Wolf among Wolves (1937)

Der eiserne Gustav; Iron Gustav (1938)

Damals bei uns daheim; Our Home in Days Gone By (1941)

Heute bei uns zu Haus; In Our House Today (1943)

Jeder stirbt für sich allein; Every Man Dies Alone / Alone in Berlin (1947)

Der Trinker; The Drinker (written 1944, published 1947)

In meinem fremden Land – Gefängnistagebuch 1944, ed. by Jenny Williams and Sabine Lange; A Stranger in my Own Country – The 1944 Prison Diary (Berlin: Aufbau, 2009)


There are so far three volumes of selected letters:

Uli Ditzen (ed.), Mein Vater und Sein Sohn – Briefwechsel (Berlin: Aufbau, 2004)

Uli Ditzen (ed.), Wenn du fort bist, ist alles nur halb – Briefe einer Ehe (Berlin: Aufbau, 2007)

Michael Töteberg and Sabine Buck (eds.), Hans Fallada, Ewig auf der Rutschbahn – Briefwechsel mit dem Rowohlt Verlag (Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 2008)

Fallada also published numerous short stories, two volumes of autobiography, some reviews, and in the late thirties translated the humorous short stories of the popular American writer, Clarence Day. His own accounts of his all together seven years in prison and also his drug-taking experiences were published posthumously (see Williams, below).


There are no less than five biographies of Fallada. Outstanding and in English (also translated into German) is:

Jenny Williams, More Lives Than One – A Biography of Hans Fallada (London: Libris, 1998)

Manfred Kuhnke, who died in 2015, was for years the leading light of the Hans Fallada Society. His numerous short but incisive works are available through the Society (web link here and below, in English). Günter Caspar was the editor of the 10-volume Fallada edition published by Aufbau from 1962 to 1985. His Afterwords constitute a profound study of the author, augmented by Caspar’s characteristically modestly titled Fallada-Studien of 1988.

Further Reading in English

H. J. Schueler, Hans Fallada: Humanist and Social Critic (The Hague: Mouton, 1970)

Geoff Wilkes, Hans Fallada’s Crisis Novels 1931-1947 (Bern: Peter Lang, 2002)

Jenny Williams, More Lives Than One – A Biography of Hans Fallada (London: Libris, 1998)

Jenny Williams, ‘Hans Fallada’s literary breakthrough: Bauern, Bonzen und Bomben and Kleiner Mann – was nun?’, in German Novelists of the Weimar Republic: Intersections of Literature and Politics, ed. by Karl Leydecker (Rochester, NY: Camden House, 2006)

Further Reading in German

Günter Caspar, Fallada-Studien (Berlin: Aufbau, 1988) 

Carsten Gansel and Werner Liersch (eds.), Zeit vergessen, Zeit erinnern: Hans Fallada und das kulturelle Gedächtnis (Göttingen: V&R unipress, 2008)

Carsten Gansel and Werner Liersch (eds.), Hans Fallada und die literarische Moderne (Göttingen: V&R Unipress, 2009)

Sabine Koburger, Ein Autor und sein Verleger. Hans Fallada und Ernst Rowohlt in Verlags- und Zeithorizonten (Munich: Belleville, 2015)

Gunnar Müller-Waldeck and Roland Ulrich (with Uli Ditzen), Hans Fallada. Sein Leben in Bildern und Briefen (Berlin: Aufbau, 2012)

Klaus-Jürgen Neumärker, Der andere Fallada. Eine Chronik des Leidens (Berlin: Steffen, 2014)

Cecilia von Studnitz, Ich bin nicht der den Du liebst. Die frühen Jahre des Hans Fallada in Berlin (Neubrandenburg: Steffen, 2007)

Web Link


Hans Fallada Society (in English, German and Polish)