Heinrich Theodor Böll (buhl) was one of the most significant German writers of the postwar era. He was born in Cologne on December 21, 1917, to Victor and Marie Hermanns Böll, the eighth of eight children. He was educated in Catholic elementary and secondary schools.
The years of Böll’s youth coincided with some of the grimmest years in modern German history—the inflated economy of the mid-1920’s, the Great Depression of the early 1930’s, the rise to power of the Nazis, and the early years of the Third Reich. Victor Böll lost his business in the Great Depression. The family’s subsequent loss of middle-class status without clearly identifying with the working class caused an identity crisis that remained with Heinrich Böll and influenced his writing.
In 1937 Böll completed his secondary education and became an apprentice to a book dealer in Bonn. He was required to perform compulsory labor service during 1938 and 1939, after which he enrolled at the University of Cologne to study German and classical philology and literature. In 1939 he was drafted into the German Army, and he served as an infantryman until taken prisoner by the Americans in 1945.
Böll returned to his native Cologne in November, 1945, together with his wife, Annemarie Cech, whom he had married in 1942. Their first son, Christoph, died shortly after birth during the harsh winter of 1945. Upon his return to Cologne, Böll began to write short stories. In an interview during the early 1960’s, he admitted that he had always wanted to be a writer....
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