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Heinrich Heine


Oli painting of Heine as a young man

Heinrich Heine, oil painting by Moritz Daniel Oppenheim, 1831
© Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin

Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) was one of the most important thinkers and poets of his age. He described himself as a "political writer in every sense," a "drummer boy" in the struggle for human emancipation. His work polarized audiences and was heavily censored, particularly in Prussia. Heine emigrated to Paris following the outbreak of the French July Revolution of 1830.

The multimedia story paints a vivid portrait of the sensitive lyricist and sharp-tongued observer. It illustrates him and his work in three chapters:

The first chapter describes the most important stages of his life, from his birth in Düsseldorf to his death in Paris.

The second chapter is devoted to his most significant works such as the "Buch der Lieder" (Book of Songs), the "Reisebilder" (Travel Pictures) and "Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen" (Germany. A Winter's Tale), written in exile in France.

An emigrant's luggage

An emigrant's luggage: One set of cutlery, a silk scarf and Heine's "Buch der Lieder" (Book of Songs) are all that Gerd Ehrlich from Berlin packs in his suitcase for life in exile.
© Jüdisches Museum Berlin, Dauerleihgabe von Sibylle Ehrlich

Ludwig Börne, a writer colleague of Heine who had also fled to France, and their difficult relationship are described in the third chapter.

Heine's lifelong struggle with Judaism, also reflected in his writings, is a core theme. He also experienced the exclusion and humiliation Jews were subjected to in the 19th century. A civil service career was forbidden him even after he was baptized. Both his person and his work were the target of anti-Semitic attacks time and again.

After his death, unreserved recognition was initially denied Heinrich Heine.

Play audio Play audio

Carl Joseph Begas reading "The Lorelei". 1835 Heine's "Lorelei" epitomizes the world of the Romantic imagination (Speaker: Ben Posener)

His poems and their setting to music by most of the great 19th century German composers  –  with the "Lorelei" leading the way – became a hugely important part of the German song repertoire. His political texts, by contrast, remained the cause of controversy until well into the 1960s. Today, Heine's work counts undoubtedly among the classics of German literature.

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