Today in Yiddishkayt… August 10
Birthday of Alfred Döblin, German writer
Alfred Döblin was born on August 10, 1878 to a Jewish family in the Pomeranian port city of Stettin (today Szczecin, Poland). After his father left the family when Döblin was ten, his mother moved the family to Berlin. Döblin developed an early passion for writing and reading and completed his first novel, Jagende Rosse (Rushing Steeds), before graduating high school.
In 1900, Döblin attended university to study medicine. While still a university student in Berlin, Döblin wrote his second novel. He began writing frequently in the Expressionist journal Der Sturm and joined the Expressionist circle of artists and intellectuals in Berlin. After getting his degree, he initially worked in psychiatric institutions before becoming an internist and he opened his own practice in Berlin in 1911. In 1913, he published his third novel, Die drei Sprünge des Wang-lun (The Three Leaps of Wang Lun), a political novel set in 18th century China. This proved a breakthrough for Döblin, earning him public recognition and the prestigious Fontane Prize.
Döblin enlisted as a doctor in December 1914 and was posted in Lorraine. Before and during the war he grew ever more political, writing polemical essays under the pseudonym “linke Poot” (Left Paw). In 1920 Döblin joined the Association of German Writers and in 1924 he became its president. In 1925 he joined Gruppe 1925, a discussion circle of progressive and communist intellectuals. The anti-Jewish riots in Berlin in 1923 drew Döblin’s attention to the plight of war-ravaged Eastern European Jewry and he embarked on an extensive trip through Poland. His description of his travels, especially of Jewish life in Eastern Europe in Warsaw, Wilno, Lwów, and Krakow, among other cities, was published in November 1925 under the title Reise in Polen (Journey to Poland).
In October 1929, he published his masterwork, Berlin Alexanderplatz, which earned him international fame. In 1931 he helped with the film adaptation of that novel. Throughout the 1930s, he busied himself with lectures, readings, and contributed to the intellectual resistance to Nazism. Just after Hitler’s ascension to power, Döblin left Germany for Paris.
Here is a clip from Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1980 (15-hour) film adaptation Berlin Alexanderplatz:
In 1940, with the German invasion of France, Döblin spent several weeks in a refugee camp before emigrating to the United States. He arrived in Los Angeles in October 1940 and lived in Hollywood, working briefly for MGM as a screenwriter. In 1945 Döblin returned to Germany, settling in Baden-Baden where he worked for the French military government. Döblin’s health declined as he struggled with Parkinson’s disease. He died on June 26, 1957.