Billiards at Half-Past Nine Characters

Heinrich Boll

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Robert Fähmel

Robert Fähmel (FAY-mehl), or Faehmel, a forty-three-year-old architect, demolitions expert, and widower. He is a distinguished looking gentleman with a red scar on the bridge of his nose. His days are spent according to a strict routine that stresses an almost total withdrawal from public life. Even his business associates and former army buddies do not, as a rule, see him. His secretary, Leonore, sees him only for an hour every business day. Robert inherited his father’s architectural firm. On the day of the novel’s plot, he reminisces about his life. His father had built the abbey of St. Anton, and, Robert had demolished it in the closing days of the war. He had done so on a military pretext; his real reason, however, was revenge. the monks and their abbot had partaken of “the sacrament of the buffalo”; that is, they had supported the Nazis. Robert has managed to keep his culpability a secret; not even his son, Joseph, who rebuilt the monastery, knows. Only his father suspects. Robert, as a young man, had resisted Nazism, and he was persecuted for it, even as a schoolboy. He and another of his classmates, Alfred Schrella, had to seek refuge in Amsterdam. Robert’s mother, who was acquainted with the administrative head of the province, intervened and secured his amnesty in exchange for the promise that her son never again meddle in politics. Robert spent the war years as a demolitions expert in the army. He rose to the rank of captain. Since his return to his hometown, he has hewed closely to a rigid and intensely private routine. Every day at half-past nine, he plays billiards in the Prince Heinrich Hotel. Only Hugo, the bellboy, is allowed in the room. It is to him that he tells his life’s story. In the end, he adopts Hugo as his son and signs over to him his landholdings. He adopts him in lieu of a son that his wife, Edith, might have borne him if she had not been killed in an air raid. Robert seeks to come to terms with his own past and with that of his country, and he seeks to avoid or to punish all those whom he knows to be tarnished by their Nazi past. He has given strict instructions to Leonore not to allow anyone near him, excepting his family and Alfred Schrella.

Heinrich Fähmel

Heinrich Fähmel (HIN-rihkh), Robert’s father, an eighty-year-old architect and privy councillor. He is slim and robust, the son of a peasant. He is the founder of a well-known and respected...

(The entire section is 1031 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

At the novel’s outset, each of the major characters is living a timeless existence, protected from contemporary reality. Heinrich Faehmel, patriarch of the clan, is a product of his own timeless myth, sure of the future because the present was always the fulfillment of the past. He came to town at the turn of the century with definite plans to attain his professional and personal goals. Heinrich succeeded precisely according to plan and on his own schedule, living to this day seemingly untouched by economic depressions, four governments, and two wars.

Heinrich Faehmel remains above everyday developments with an ironic stance. Unlike her husband, Johanna Faehmel openly condemns political criminals and acts to correct injustices. She is especially sensitive to blind nationalism and public respectability; this behavior is symbolized by her condemnation of Hindenburg, the German general and politician whose career spanned several generations, from the “blood and iron” years of the German Empire to Adolf Hitler’s National Socialism in 1933, to which he capitulated. Johanna’s lingering refrain, which summarizes those brutal years for the entire family, is the question, “whywhywhy.”

Unable to cope with the increasing violence of the Nazi regime (which affected her own son Otto and caused the death of her daughter-in-law, Edith Schrella), Johanna has sought refuge in a mental hospital. There, in her “bewitched castle,” she has been...

(The entire section is 402 words.)


(Great Characters in Literature)

Bernhard, Hans Joachim. Die Romane Heinrich Bölls, 1970.

Conard, Robert C. “Novels of Conquering the Past,” in Heinrich Böll, 1981.

Reid, James Henderson. “The Family Novels of the 1950’s,” in Heinrich Böll, 1973.

Ryan, Judith. “The Bewitched Castle: Heinrich Böll’s Billiards at Half-Past Nine,” in The Uncompleted Past, 1983.

Vogt, Jochen. “...nach funfundvierzig der Aufbau nach den alten Planen,” in Heinrich Böll, 1978.