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The Hour That Breaks

Gottfried Benn: A Biography

Martin Travers

The Hour That Breaks is the first biography of Gottfried Benn to appear in English. The author of this study charts in impressive detail the complex paths of Benn’s life, through the demands of his medical practice and military involvement in two world wars, his brief political advocacy of Hitler and Nazism in 1933, to his final «comeback» in post Second World War Germany. The author also engages with Benn’s extensive body of poetry which, inventive, challenging and formally wrought, was the product of mind that was both radical and conservative. The same propensity to invention and transformation also informed Benn’s personal and professional life, giving rise to a practice of role-playing and dissimulation that the poet termed a «double life». As Travers shows in this well-written and informative biography, this was a strategy of survival of which Benn, ultimately, was as much the victim as the master. This biography also offers fresh translations of many of Benn’s poems, a number of which appear here in English for the first time.

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Chapter 7: Into the Night: Inner Emigration: 1935–1945

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279 Chapter 7 Into the Night: Inner Emigration: 1935–1945 Renuncio Berlin. Renuncio mundi: Hanover, 1935–1937 Benn’s life in Berlin had become impossible. On 18 November 1934, he wrote to Oelze telling him that he had received from within the “Reichswehr” the offer of a commission in an “Ersatz” (auxiliary) medical army division stationed in Hanover. As he later explained: In order to affect a retreat [from Berlin], there was only one way open to me: back into the army. A number of comrades with whom I had been a student had found posts in the One Hundred Thousand Army, and now occupied positions of influence. I got in touch with them and enquired whether I could re- enlist.1 In particular, Benn had contacted the Chief of Staff of the Army Medical Inspection Corps in Berlin, Walther Kittel, whom he had known in his days in the Kaiser-Wilhelm Academy prior to the First World War (both had graduated in 1905). Kittel was at midpoint in his career; he would later become Chief Medic of the 1st, 12th and 6th Armies before being promoted to Senior Quarter Master Department of Staff HQ Don in Russia. But by 1934 he was already an influential figure within the War Ministry. It was a timely utilisation of an old-school network upon which Benn would have further cause to rely, when times would be even darker. As Benn made clear to Oelze, the offer came at a critical turning point in his life: Everything...

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