This article by Ruth Klüger is from 2012. We have republished it on the occasion of the Google Doodle in honor of Mascha Kaléko.
It was around 1930 Mascha Kaléko, Born in 1907, the child prodigy of the Berlin newspapers, where she published her poems to the great applause of the audience. Her first book, “Das lyrische Stenogrammheft”, appeared in 1933 and was a success. In 1935 Rowohlt still brought her Small reading book for adults. The rhyming and the absurd. And then of course it was over. Late, but nevertheless, she emigrated to New York with her husband and young son in 1938 and moved to Jerusalem in 1959, but her home was only Berlin. The early success never wanted to repeat itself.
She wasn’t actually a “real” Berliner, because she was an “Eastern Jewish” child by origin, just like Marcel Reich-Ranicki, who wrote about Mascha Kaléko’s work: “Her verses are perky and bold, cheeky and smart, brash and very melancholy, funny and a little bit wise. Mascha Kaléko’s voice sounds completely natural, relaxed and always a little resigned. “
Disappointments and love affairs
It was the life of the so-called little people that she celebrated in her youth, especially that of the female employees, their hopes and disappointments, their love affairs, limited joie de vivre and limited exuberance.
In the first person of the poem “Interview with myself”, she writes about the economic hopelessness of young people: At the end of her schooling, it was said, “We should come into life now / but unfortunately I just stepped into the office”. This humorous melancholy about hope and hopelessness was their mark, what their readers loved them for.
There are sketches of the city dwellers’ insatiable longing for nature. The title of the well-known “Kleine Havel-Postcard” is typical because the postcard represents the landscape. It is a poem about a Sunday excursion in which there is hardly anything real, only transmitted. “The moon hangs like a kitsch lantern / In the Märk’schen firmament / A steamer called ‘Pavilion’ / Returns home from the weekend.”
Urban asphalt and tram
Even the moon looks like a lantern to the city dwellers who know more artificial than natural. And yet there is also the subliminal regret, not only about the used free time, also that you leave the trees behind you when “asphalt and tram” meet and everyday life begins again. “Föhren are still nodding softly in the forest /. Sunday is wasted. / And slowly the urban asphalt greets / The first tram.”
Her joy in German vocabulary, the merging of disparate syllables, including dialect variants, is always amusing. An example from her many quick portraits of Berliners: “Summer evening park whispers … / Young couple on the bench. – But the older register / sits in the garden restaurant. “
Berlin had shaped her and she never shook off the city. A poem to the little son illustrates the peculiar mixture of melancholy and irony that her best exile poems radiate, here embedded in the worry and pride of a young mother: “You just had your first tooth, / They put the red rooster on the roof. / The black man, the bitter medicine, / It was called: Berlin.// You learned to get up again if you fall. / Your pram rolled through the world./ You said thank you, thank you and merci, / you linguistic genius. “
I once had a beautiful fatherland
In New York, too, her thoughts revolve around Berlin: “I once had a beautiful fatherland – / that’s how the refugee Heine sang. / His was on the Rhine, mine on the sand of the Brandenburg region. // We all once had a (see above) ./ The plague ate it, it was destroyed in the storm./ O little rose on the heath, / strength broke through joy. … I get homesick sometimes / I just don’t know what. “
The New York insomnia is also saturated with nostalgia in the poem “A Mailied, so to speak,” in which she asks herself in the middle of the night: “Is the corner of Uhland the chestnuts / Well blooming?”
After the war, there were repeated attempts to rapprochement with Berlin, but they remained unfulfilled. In 1956, on her first visit to the famous streets, she wrote with her own passion for puns: “And everyone asks how I find Berlin. . ./How do I find it? Oh, I’m still looking for it! “
A female Erich Kästner
She is often compared to Erich Kästner. (Why are women authors so often seen in the shadow of authors, as if to legitimize them, as if they were children who have to hold on to a male hand?) But if so, I think she had a lot ahead of him, she was psychologically finer, he probably sharper. Both of them could just shake the verses out of their sleeves.
The New ObjectivityThe school to which they both belong was always in danger of succumbing to the tearful emotions that lurked behind the supposedly objective surface. But she (mostly) had an unmistakable ear for the transition from sentiment to irony, because irony allows sentiment to assert itself without sliding into foolishness that would question credibility.
The present edition *, overseen by Kaléko’s biographer Jutta Rosenkranz, is dignified, thorough and reader-friendly. It consists of a volume of works that not only brings published and unpublished poems, but also drafts and scattered things such as children’s poems, newspaper articles and advertising texts with which Kaléko kept herself and her family afloat. There are also two volumes of letters and a thick fourth volume with explanations and comments.
Proposed for the Fontane Prize
The initially frightening commentary volume, because it was so extensive and in small print, soon turned out to be an exciting treasure trove. For example, an incident that is outlined but not known in detail: in 1959, Kaléko becomes for the Fontanepreis proposed and withdrew her candidacy when she learned that a former member of the SS, namely Hans Egon Holthusen, was on the jury. A Mr. von Buttlar from the Berlin academy tries to contain the damage and does not show himself to be pissed off: “As a sensitive woman, you can [dem armen Holthusen] but her female compassion does not fail. “
When she stays cool, he loses patience and barks at her: “If the emigrants don’t like the way we do things here, they should stay away” and: “I’m not a Jew and have been through at least as much as them Jews. ” – No wonder she couldn’t make up her mind to return to Berlin. Incidentally, the Fontane Prize was endowed with DM 4,000. (“I could have used it”, she writes laconically in a letter to Hermann Kesten.)
A surprise for me in this issue is the discovery of what an extraordinary chronicler of exile she was. I had underestimated the later poems in favor of the more well-known early work, and it was only through the work as a whole that I noticed that a development was taking place that required new standards. Together with the letters, the later poems document the lack of stability and the scattering of these torn out people, who were nevertheless forever condemned to their mother tongue, a language that had become, so to speak, the enemy.
Liquid funny kids verses
Life in exile was of course difficult not only mentally, but also economically, especially for a poet with a family who had to devote herself to a man who was not always healthy and not always successful: “If someone made my beds and delivered my chicken in the pot, I would also be free for my muserich. . . . But so. . . . ”, She writes with an emphasis that was not yet called feminist at the time.
She learned English quickly, mastered it very well, also wrote poems in English, including fluently funny children’s verses, and many of her letters are written in English, some in French (both here translated carefully), but all without the linguistic power of persuasion , by which you can recognize a real poetic voice, nothing to remember, if nothing to be ashamed of. In the English texts, however, there is sometimes a satirical, nagging bitterness that is alien to her German work.
Your life ended tragically. The dearly beloved son (the émigré toddler who had been her “language genius”) died unexpectedly in 1968, the husband five years later. She writes: “Remember: one only dies one’s own death; but you have to live with the death of others. ”After two more lonely years, she died in Zurich on a return trip from Europe to Jerusalem. She was 67 years old. The later poems are still linguistically witty (“Began poems from an abandoned life”), but never again as bubbly and humorous as the early ones and attuned to reflection on loss and death. There is a lot of aphorism. An example:
My most beautiful poem
“My most beautiful poem …?
I didn’t write it.
It rose from the deepest depths.
I was silent. “
In the 1950s Mascha Kaléko was published and read again in Germany, then half forgotten again. It has so far been denied adequate recognition. This complete edition should make a significant contribution not only to gaining new readers for it, but also to helping literary studies, from which it has been shamefully neglected for a long time and which has only been trying to find it in the last few years, with new research opportunities help.
* This article by Ruth Klüger dates from 2012. We have republished it on the occasion of the Google Doodle in honor of Mascha Kaléko.