Why is magical realism so valued?

The secret avant-garde from Bremen

Friedo Lampe was a medium-sized, rather heavy man with red cheeks, a soft mouth and a melancholy look. Something remained awkward from childhood tuberculosis, which in the memory of the writer Joachim Maass gave him the appearance of a strolling man

Friedo Lampe was a medium-sized, rather heavy man with red cheeks, a soft mouth and a melancholy look. Something remained awkward from childhood tuberculosis that, in the memory of the writer Joachim Maass, gave him the appearance of a walking closet. But the hands, which mostly held a fat Brazilian cigar, were delicate, and the prose of the Bremen merchant's son was also graceful. His lively and floating books, attributed to magical realism, did not bring him success or happiness; however, they were highly valued by colleagues such as Hesse, Koeppen and Andersch, and since Lampe's death his work has been rediscovered every few decades. It recently found an advocate in Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt.

It only comprises three narrow volumes: two small novels, plus a collection of stories, reflections, and poetry. These short texts, which are now available in their entirety for the first time, have different weights. For us today, they weigh lightly where they want to be heavy and shape mythological things such as the Kalidonian boar hunt or the robbery of the Europa: in a meaningful tone that seems a bit plastered to us. The other stories and the two novels, however, are flawless. Through the intensity and differentiation of perception, which is translated into genuine linguistic music, they bring a reading pleasure, as we experience with the Danish impressionist Herman Bang, in the Baltic novels of Eduard von Keyserling, with Georg Hermann and, of course, with the early Thomas Mann; the line can be continued up to Hermann Lenz.

Triple book bad luck

Moritz Christian Friedrich Lampe's life lasted only 45 years and spanned three ages of German history: The poet grew up in the old Bremen harbor district during the German Empire, studied literature, art history and philosophy in Heidelberg, Munich and Freiburg during the Weimar Republic and worked in the storm from National Socialism and World War I as a librarian and lecturer in Stettin, Hamburg and Berlin. He avoided all relations with the regime and nevertheless remained in Germany as a writer, where he settled down with precarious reservations.

His first work, the novel “On the Edge of the Night”, was published in 1933 and was immediately banned by the Nazis because of its description of a homosexual affair in the showroom environment. The second novel, «Septembergewitter», was censored in 1937, but remained virtually unnoticed by critics and readers. Finally, the volume “From Door to Door”, which, in addition to the “Stories and Capriccios” by the Jünger-Admirer, once again brought a slightly different version of the “September thunderstorm” (with Danish instead of English place and person names), was set in 1943, in the chaos of war but only printed at the end of 1944 and no longer delivered. Lampe did not live to see a second issue in 1946: in the last days of the war he was stopped and shot in the street by soldiers of the Red Army, who took him for an SS man. It was his undoing that he no longer looked like his passport photo.

With the means of the film

It is thanks to the Wallstein publishing house in Göttingen that his work is now being talked about again (after one-volume Rowohlt editions 1955 and 1986). He has been re-editing Lampes' books since 1999: in textual (not mutilated as before) versions, in beautifully placed individual volumes with excellent afterwords. The publishing act, which also includes a small album with bio-bibliographical material, enables us to meet again with an author who is at the same time distant from us and almost eerily close.

Luster's books are told quickly - as far as they can be told. “On the Edge of the Night” takes place in the Bremen harbor area for a few hours. A series of little stories is loosely linked: girls and boys play at the moat, couples dance in a variety theater, two students board a ship to Rotterdam. Then the threads interweave: in a girl's dream, rats tear apart the swans on the moat, on the stage of the Variété theater an aging wrestler takes brutal revenge on a youthful opponent who has spurned him as a lover, on the steamer the two students meet a stewart, who is bullied by the captain and in return kills his dog. A panopticon of figures and profound passions opens up before us. The real theme of the gripping novel, however, is the night that holds all these stories together.

In «Septembergewitter» sometime before the First World War, a balloon with English travelers rises in the air near Osnabrück and glides towards Dover. The passengers observe what is happening on earth through binoculars passed back and forth - especially in a city (again Bremen is meant), over which they stop because of an approaching thunderstorm. You see a grieving widow, children flying a kite, a girl abandoned by his loved one, a murderer who has been caught, a boy who has passed a test of courage. Here, too, the stories interweave, and like the night before, the real theme is the thunderstorm, which is threatening and clearing at the same time.

The secret of Lampe's two novels and their narrative counterparts is their unmistakable language. It is unpretentious and artistic at the same time, ancient, even almost fussy at times - and extremely modern. The modern is shown in a technique related to film, in the rapid change of perspective, which the cinema freak Lampe uses very deliberately: We see counter cuts and dissolves, zooms, camera pans and movements: techniques with which simultaneity can be represented in the passage of time. The ancient can be seen in the twists and turns from the depths of German literary history. The book collector Lampe, who provided texts by Kleist, Hauff, Grillparzer and Eichendorff with afterwords for Diederichs' "Deutsche Reihe", draws from the wealth of tradition - and he draws from the colloquial language of his North German homeland, as the unsurpassable small dialogues show in particular. Tüdellüdellüt, sloppy, grassy, ​​Bangebüx, Muffpott: we encounter such words here, the sky arches high, and often there is black bread with thick milk. We move in an atmosphere that has nothing artificial or stressful, but in which everything weaves, flickers and breathes. The numerous figures and scenes are captured in brief, precise words and are immediately memorized.

Nothing is irrelevant in this wondrous prose. We move in it like in a dream. That is why we let ourselves be guided so without resistance - far beyond the margins of everyday life, into the magic of Lampe's linguistic world. "Not an extensive oeuvre, but an important, accomplished, noble, as yet untapped oeuvre", Wolfgang Koeppen rightly noted.

Friedo Lampe: On the edge of the night. 200 pages, Fr.33.10. September thunderstorm. 152 pages, Fr. 35.40, Door to Door. 240 pages, Fr.38.10. All Wallstein-Verlag, Göttingen 2000-2002.