Sandra's Reviews > Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen

Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen by Heinrich Heine
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's review
Jul 09, 11

bookshelves: classics, in-german, poetry, e-books, read-in-2011
Read from July 03 to 09, 2011

I like reading Heine. His poems have a real flow to them and it always pleases me to read them out loud. Each word has been carefully chosen and the rhyme is nearly always perfect. For me, reading Heine is the feeling of being at sea (while not being seasick): the soft lulling of the waves is the exact flow of these poems.

As for the Wintermärchen (Winter Fairytale) itself, I'm not always quite sure I fully understood it. Yes, it's a satire, definitely; but I felt that even though we have discussed this particular period of (literature) history in class, I'm not quite sure I fully got the whole satire. As with all satires, I think the reading experience improves when one understands the subject that's being ridiculed.

That's not to say that the Wintermärchen cannot be enjoyed without the proper background knowledge. If you ask me, Heine's writing style alone is reason enough to pick up this book of poems. There are the occasional sentences that stick around for example:

"Und viele Bücher trag ich im Kopf!
Ich darf es euch versichern,
Mein Kopf ist ein zwitscherndes Vogelnest
Von konfiszierlichen Büchern."

(I carry many books in my head! / I can assure you, / My head is (like) a nest of twittering birds / (full) of confiscated books. *)

And these few passages are really worth the read. My personal favourite Caput of the whole book was Caput 4, about the Kölner Dom. The one passage that amused me about that Caput was this one:

"Er ward nicht vollendet - und das ist gut.
Denn eben die Nichtvollendung
Macht ihn zum Denkmal von Deutschlands Kraft
Und protestantischer Sendung."

(It wasn't finished - and that's good. / The fact it remains unfinished / Makes it a monument of Germany's power / And Protestant's mission. *)

This particular bit amuses me, because even today the Kölner Dom isn't finished. In fact, the building of it is taking so long that many people seem to believe it will never be finished! A monk of its church told me that there is a German proverb that says: the day the Kölner Dom is finished, is the day the world ends. This saying has always stuck with me and it amused me to find it here in Heine's Wintermärchen.

But even for those who aren't familiar with German literature, you can pick up some clear clues about the climate of the time. Heine was, as you may or may not know, a poet living in exile because of his harsh critics on German society. The big part of the satire here is that he doesn't find Germany quite the place he had expected or hoped for. Heine went back to Paris after his visit saying he would write about how he thought Germany should be from there, which is a clear clue. The best clue you can find for his point of view can be found in his last Caput, where he warns kings not to insult the poets:

"Kennst du die Hölle des Dante nicht,
Die schrecklichen Terzetten?
Wen da der Dichter hineingesperrt,
Den kann kein Gott mehr retten -

Kein Gott, kein Heiland erlöst ihn je
Aus diesen singenden Flammen!
Nimm dich in acht, daß wir dich nicht
Zu solcher Hölle verdammen."

(Don't you know Dante's hell / Those hateful trios? / Who imprisons the poet there, / can no longer be saved by any God -

No God, no Saviour will ever save him / from these burning flames! / Beware, that we won't / damn you to such a hell. *)

Yes, even those not very familiar with history, should be able to taste Heine's bitterness here. Which is why I would say, that this book makes for a very good read: the writing is beautiful, the subjects are engaging (at least, if you care about Germany) and the book is a good depiction of its time. Even when you don't understand it completely, the underlying currents are clear.

But, most importantly, read Heine for his beautiful words. I know I will read much more by him: not just for his critics and sharp analyses of German society, but for his beautiful use of language. (Which is why I would strongly recommend reading this in German, although I'm sure a good translation would make for a good read as well.)

* These are very loose translations by yours truly, only meant to be able to understand this review and they in no way capture the beauty of Heine's writing.
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8.0% "I have an e-book of this, so I just picked a random edition for Goodreads. It looks nice though, doesn't it?"
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