Günter Grass was born in Danzig (now Gdask, Poland) on October 16, 1927. His parents owned a grocery store in the suburb Langfuhr. His father’s family included workers and carpenters; his mother’s family was Kaschubian. Biographical elements from his working-class youth appear throughout his literary works, especially in the Danziger Trilogie (1980; Danzig Trilogy, 1987). Grass attended the Conradinum gymnasium in Danzig. As a teenager, he served in an antiaircraft battery during World War II, was wounded, and became an American captive. Subsequently, he worked his way from Bavaria to Düsseldorf, where he became an apprentice stonecutter (1946-1947) in order to earn money for art school. He studied both graphic design and sculpture in Düsseldorf (1948-1952) and sculpture in Berlin under Karl Hartung (1953-1956).
During these years, Grass also began to write; his initial efforts were in the area of lyric poetry. He resided in Paris from 1956 to 1959. He first read before the literary group Gruppe 47 in 1955, winning the group’s prize in 1958 for excerpts from his novel The Tin Drum, which catapulted him to fame after its publication in 1959. Grass participated in Gruppe 47 until its last meeting in 1967.
In the elections of 1961, Grass actively took up the cause of the Social Democrats and campaigned intensively for Willy Brandt, former mayor of West Berlin and chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. Grass has drawn frequent criticism from both extreme left and right political groups. He openly criticized the East German government at the East Berlin Writers’ Congress and wrote an open letter to the East German writer Anna Seghers after the construction of the Berlin Wall on August 13, 1961. Grass has always been a focal point of political criticism in Germany. He unfailingly reminded post-World War II Germans of their ignoble past, he argued against German reunification, and he angered many Germans with his outspoken critique of German politics in the 1990’s, including German treatment of foreigners, West German treatment of East Germans, and human rights in general.
The early phase of Grass’s literary career, during the mid-1950’s, includes poetry, shorter prose fiction, and absurdist dramas, although it was also during these early years that he wrote The Tin Drum. His first collection of poetry, Die Vorzüge der Windhühner, appeared in 1956. He also won third prize in a poetry contest sponsored by the South German Radio in 1954. In 1956 he first exhibited his drawings in Stuttgart; in 1957 his sculpture and drawings were exhibited in Berlin. In 1957 Flood had its premiere in Frankfurt, and a ballet, Stoffreste, also enjoyed its first performance, in Essen. Further absurdist dramatic works appeared in rapid succession: Mister, Mister in 1958 in Cologne, and in 1959 two plays (Only Ten Minutes to Buffalo and Zweiunddreissig Zähne), a ballet (Fünf Köche), and a farce (Rocking Back and Forth, in Frankfurt and Hamburg). A poetry collection. Gleisdreieck, with illustrations by the author, appeared in 1960. With the publication in 1961 of Katz und Maus (Cat and Mouse, 1963) and in 1963 of Hundejahre (Dog Years, 1965)—which together with The Tin Drum constitute the Danzig Trilogy—Grass firmly established himself as the leading German novelist since World War II. In 1961 the drama The Wicked Cooks premiered, while another drama Goldmäulchen was first performed as a radio play in 1963, premiered as a stage work in 1964 in Munich, and received a second run in 1968 in Berlin. Grass also revised Mister, Mister during these early 1960’s before its publication in 1965.
Grass’s engagement with the theater continued into the...
(The entire section is 1592 words.)