German Science Fiction up to 1945
Germany has an extensive history of science fiction.
In the first of two articles,
Elmar Podlasly provides a summary
review of some of Germany's landmark SF
up to the end of World War II.
Quick links to below sections:-
1. 1871 – 1918 Germany under the Kaiser
2. Dime novel culture under the Kaiser’s rule
3. 1918 – 1933 Weimar times
4. 1933 – 1945 Nazi Germany
1. 1871 – 1918 Germany under the Kaiser
1871 marks the beginning of a new era began for Germany. The war against France was won and Kaiser Wilhelm I became Kaiser. Otto von Bismarck, who was one of the most important driving forces behind the creation of the new realm and had also been involved in writing the new constitution, became the first chancellor of the new German Reich.
In 1873 the massive economic upswing in the mid-19th century was over when the Vienna stock market crashed (Gründerkrise). This was followed by twenty years of economic stagnation.¹ Due to that Bismarck was afraid of the radical new ideas of the time, such as socialism, a fear shared by many of his peers. A law was passed, designed to suppress Socialists, the so-called Sozialistengesetz (a law against the public danger of Social Democratic endeavours).² It is not surprising that among the many Zukunftsromane ['futuristic novels'] of the time, there are supposed to have been lot of anti-socialist utopias, but only very few socialist utopias.
On the other hand (and in retrospective this is what makes Bismarck’sgovernment look so ambivalent) laws and regulations were introduced that actually embraced liberal ideas, whilst at the same time Bismarck’s policies were designed to strengthen the monarchist state. Examples for such liberal policies were the health and accident insurance bills (1883-4) and the Old Age and Disability Insurance Bill (1889).³ Policies like this were referred to as State Socialism.4 It was a time of extreme changes in German society. The second industrial revolution5 started and finally in 1914 the First World War broke out and subsequently the rule of the Kaiser ended in 1918. It is no coincidence that this period in German history brought upon a wide variety of art and literature. Industrialisation and urbanisation during the course of the 19th century resulted in a literacy rate in Germany of almost a hundred percent at the beginning of the 20th century.6
Through industrialization and capitalism, a new modern society emerged. While 'light' fiction was not a new phenomena, it was now possible for it to become a truly mass market phenomena. In other words because a lot more people were able to read, there was a huge demand for literature to satisfy their desires and the means to do so, and so an industry arose and mass literature was born: in difficult times people want to be distracted.
Censorship was rigid at that time in Germany and, although it was now a popular pastime, reading was officially frowned upon, being seen as a bad influence that kept people distracted from work and, even worse, putting radical ideas in their heads. It was thought to be especially dangerous to children.
It was during this time that Jules Verne’s books first were translated into German (for example Voyage au Centre de la Terre [Journey to the Centre of the Earth] (first german translation in 1873) as well as Les Enfants du Capitaine Grant [The Children of Captain Grant] (first German translation in 1875).For many years it was falsely believed among German scholars that Verne's influence was more towards England and America than continental Europe, and only in form of light entertainment literature was there a European continental focus. Especially in German-speaking countries, the vast amount of works that were spawned by Jules Vernes influence – not only using some of the stereotypes he invented but also utilizing a similar style and literally technique – have long been forgotten. Only in recent years have some studies7 shown that the early 20th century has been what one might call the heyday of German fantastic literature. The problem for a casual article like this one is that many of the titles are hard to come by. As such one cannot praise enough the efforts of Dieter von Reeken who has re-issued many of these studies in what can only be described as a labour of love.
Those later studies7 suggest that there might be hundreds of yet to be rediscovered utopian novels of the Kaiserzeit. If all them are worth the trouble is another question. A few interesting examples are described below. We start with one exception to the rule, an author who is not forgotten and is generally accepted as the true pioneer of German science fiction…
Kurd Laßwitz (1848-1910)Sometimes cited as Kurd Lasswitz
He is often cited as the father of German science fiction. He studied mathematics, physics and later received a PhD in philosophy. He became a Grammar School teacher and had a teaching career. He wrote numerous books about a variety of subjects from physics to philosophy. He was not only a philosopher and theoretical scientist, but also a humanist with a lot of optimism towards the future. He was influenced by German liberalism and the heritage of German Classicism and Idealism, but first and foremost by his idol, German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804), whose morals can clearly be traced in Laßwitz´ work.
His first story to be published in a Silesian newspaper was Bis zum Nullpunkt des Seins [To the Zero Point of Existence, 1871] . In it he tackled some of the themes he would continue to return in later works, including ethical conflicts in a slightly futuristic but high-technology society.
During his lifetime Laßwitz remained mostly unknown to a wider audience, but after the First World War his posthumous popularity boomed and his most important novel Auf zwei Planeten [On Two Planets,1897, first English publication in 1948] became a bestseller (70,000 copies sold at the time).8 His ambition was to become a university-professor, which he never achieved. Nonetheless his non-fiction book Geschichte der Atomistik vom Mittelalter bis Newton [History of Atomism from the Middle Ages till Newton, 1890], became a standard scientific work.
Since 1980 a “Kurd Laßwitz Prize“ is awarded once a year for achievements in the field of German speaking science fiction.
Auf zwei Planeten [On Two Planets, 1897] concerns three German explorers attempting a balloon expedition to the North Pole. Upon reaching the Pole they find that they are not the first people there. Shortly after the balloon gets caught up in some kind of force field that belongs to a Martian outpost, situated some 6,000 kilometres above the pole. The explorers are rescued by the Martians, who call themselves Nume, and are brought into a space station. After the explorers recover from their injuries, they get to know the Martian civilization; which they realize is superior to the human one in every way. The Nume live by a moral code (Numenheit), which could have been written by Immanuel Kant himself. As a result, Mars is a flourishing social and technological utopia. Their cities have vast skyscrapers, moving sidewalks and they communicate via light beams. They have devices that allows them to look into the past, as well as those with the capability to convert energy from sunlight and also are able to manufacture synthetic food.
A conflict arises inevitably because of the inferiority of the human morals. The Nume intend to utilize Earth’s commodities, but the people of Mars are still torn between two ways of how to deal with humanity: is humankind worth enough to be left alone with their culture, or do they have to be civilized, forced to abide by the Martian code of morals which would include the colonization of Earth? After a human act of aggression, the 'anti-human' part of Martian society gains the upper hand and humankind is forced to abide Martian law. In reaction, a human resistance forms that seeks to adopt the Martian moral code, as they realize it is a better way of life, but they oppose occupation. The human resistance now tries to raise the human moral standard in order to gain autonomy, this implies abandoning Earth's militaristic national states. The plan works and the humans achieve their goal of moral and cultural elevation. The Nume realise that their plans of colonization now conflict with their own moral code and so abandon Earth. World peace results.
The message of this novel is very much against the general hiatus of its time, which in general was very militaristic, and indulged in what was described as Hurra-Patriotismus (rah-rah patriotism).
The pacifistic and cosmopolitan ideals described in the book later lead to it being banned by the Nazis. Ironically most versions of the book published after the World War II cut the cautionary aspects of the book to concentrate on the adventure and fantasy elements. (This might also apply to the three English editions of the book, 1948, 1969 and 1971, all of which are incomplete9).
It is thought but not proven that H. G. Wells knew of Auf zwei Planeten, it is also very likely to have been admired by Wernher von Braun and other German rocket pioneers. What is obvious is that H.G. Wells War of the Worlds (1898) and Auf zwei Planeten (1897)were published almost at the same time and have a similar new theme, i.e. Mars invading Earth (prior to these books usually German Mars stories were told the other way around, humans travelling to Mars) but resulting in two completely different storylines. In Wells' book a love story between a human and a Martian would seem highly unlikely, but in Laßwitz book there is one! Although Laßwitz intends to educate his reader by his books – after all he was a teacher – they are not told in a highbrow fashion but with a lot of humour instead, and this makes his books very accessible to today’s reader. In fact, Auf zwei Planeten is a lot of fun and is not at all old-fashioned.
Other genre works of Kurd Laßwitz that have never been translated include Aspira (1906) and Sternentau [Star Dew, 1909].
Most of Kurd's works can be read online (as part of the German Gutenberg-Project) http://gutenberg.spiegel.de.
M. G. Conrad(1846 – 1927)
Michael Georg Conrad was a teacher, like so many of his contemporaries mentioned in this article. He studied pedagogies, philosophy and philology and received a PhD in 1868. He then worked as a teacher and tutor in several European countries, including France, Switzerland and Italy. In 1883 he moved to Munich and soon after became one of the central figures in the literary movement of naturalism.10
He worked as a publicist, critic and was the editor of the first naturalistic periodical called Die Gesellschaft [The Society] which was highly influential. He later became a member of the Reichstag for the democratic people’s party11
In purpurner Finsterniß [In Purple Darkness, 1895] the protagonist, Grege, flees with his lover Jala from the fictional realm Teuta, one of two futuristic societies described in the book. Teuta is a society living in an artificially built underground labyrinth of caves with a controlled environment. Nothing natural remains; even the temperature is regulated by machines. Men and women are not living together, only at special occasions they are allowed to meet for procreation. Individual style of clothing or hair is not allowed, as everybody has to be the same. Teuta is governed by a high council which spends its time discussing feeble administrative acts as everybody seems generally satisfied with the way things are, as there is neither hunger nor death nor sadness. When the two lovers escape Teuta they encounter a zone of dead cities buried in sand, when they become separated. Grege is captured by the Angelos , a post-apocalyptic version of Englishmen, but escapes and ends up in Nordika, a country which is in many ways the opposite of Teuta, as people here live above ground in harmony with nature, and where men and women live together as equals.
Conrad's book mocks not only the Kaiser Reich, but also pokes fun at Nietzsche. Unfortunately it has never been translated nor reissued. Other works by Conrad (non-SF) can be read online (as part of the German Gutenberg-Project) at http://gutenberg.spiegel.de
Albert Daiber (1857 – 1928)
Dr. Albert Daiber was a pharmacologist as well as an author of fiction. He grew up as a son of a school director in Stuttgart. He later went to Zurich to study pharmacy and went on to get a PhD. He later became a professor at Zurich University, where at the age of 40 (!) he began studying medicine and became a doctor. After the turn of the century he travelled to Australia and the South Seas. He wrote about his travel exploits in a number of stories. In 1909 he and his second wife left Europe for good to live in Chile, where he worked as a medical doctor until he died in 1928. Other than his travel books and a number of scientific works on microscopy he also wrote a number of juvenile novels, all published between 1902 and 1910.
One of his most telling novels was Anno 2222 - Ein Zukunftstraum [Year 2222 – A Dream of the Future, 1905]. In April 2222 a seemingly unimportant diplomatic engagement leads the American president (called 'Jingo X.') to put pressure on the United States of Europe. In another plot thread the Moon is about to fall onto the Earth. The characters of the novel are allegoric and representative of persons of interest of its time of authorship. In the end all is well, at least from a European point of view.
As Albert Daiber was known as a scientist and was a popular author of youth-literature, the public, as well as contemporary critics, failed to accept his satiric approach. It was not the kind of book that was expected of him. Basically it is an allegory of the political world-situation of the early 1900´s, especially Roosevelt’s imperialistic foreign policy as well as hesitant German politics of the time. A reprint is available as a book on demand from [http://www.dieter-von-reeken.de - Dieter von Reeken].
Friedrich Wilhelm Mader (1866 – 1945)
Ernst Friedrich Wilhelm Mader was a German author of futuristic and adventure novels. He also wrote theatre plays, fairy tales, poems and songs. Because of his affiliation with his home-region of Swabia, to which he dedicated many poems and songs, he is still fondly remembered as the 'Swabian Karl May' (Karl May was, and is, Germany's all-time favourite author of western and adventure novels). This label fits, as the better part of his work consists of popular adventure stories, many of which are set are set in dark Africa, the Sahara desert and other exotic settings. After the First World War, which had a devastating effect on him personally, he started to concentrate more on writing fairy tales and Swabian songs.
Of special interest to science fiction readers is his futuristic novel Wunderwelten [Worlds of Wonder, 1911].
Wunderwelten is an example of an early German space travel novel. The protagonist Lord Flitmore, and his wife Mietje together with their crew which also includes two monkeys, travel to the planets of our solar system: When they encounter a comet, they are dawn by it to the neighbouring solar system Alpha Centauri. On Mars as well as on Alpha Centauri they peacefully encounter intelligent alien life forms. The author tries to convey to the reader respect and admiration for nature through science, especially astronomy, and respectful behaviour. There is a religious undertone to the book with humans and aliens considered both as part of all God's creation and a positive view on God and religion is also expressed in several dialogues. The book conveys very well how people of the early 1900´s imagined other worlds. It is very likely that Mader was influenced by Jules Verne. The book still is a pleasant reading experience. Editions after the Second World War were often abridged. Religious and cautionary elements were omitted in favour of a faster paced adventure. More recent editions (such as from Heyne-Verlag, 1987) are complete again.
Another title of interest is his two part novel Die Tote Stadt [The Dead City, 1923] and Der Letzte Atlantide [The Last Atlantide, 1923], which can be considered science fiction: they certainly are techno-fiction. It is an adventure story set on the South Pole, where strange frozen dinosaurs are discovered embedded in the ice.
Paul Scheerbart (1863 – 1915)
Paul Scheerbart studied philosophy and art history in Leipzig, Halle, Munich und Vienna. From 1887, at the age of just 24, he lived as a poet in Berlin. In 1892 he founded the 'Verlag Deutscher Phantasten' ['Publishing House of German Fantasists'] which made him better known, but did not greatly improve his poor financial situation, a problem for which he was renowned. He wrote pieces for the expressionist paper Der Sturm [The Storm] and his first published novel was Tarub, Bagdads Berühmte Köchin [Tarub, the Famous Cook of Baghdad, 1896]. His novel Die Große Revolution [The Great Revolution, 1902], gained him a good reputation in literary circles but failed to sell well. Ernst Rowohlt, founder of the famous publishing house that still exists today, issued as one of his first volumes a book with bizarre poems by Scheerbart in 1909.
Among his drinking-partners was Erich Mühsam, famed German Jewish poet and anarchist. Although he was well connected with many artists from different artistic movements of the time (naturalism, expressionism, surrealism) he can not be solely attached to any of them and he considered himself an outsider. Among the many colourful individuals of German literature and art of the early 20th century, he certainly is one of the most interesting ones. Philosopher Walter Benjamin was an admirer of Scheerbart's work. Scheerbart wrote an essay on glass-architecture that is supposed to have had an influence on Weimar-period architect Bruno Taut. Scheerbart's other works include a series of bizarre drawings. Walter Mehring, an important satiric author of the Weimar Republic, claimed Scheerbart died because he was on a hunger strike as a protest against the war, as he was a pacifist. That is probably not true. Certainly Scheerbart was extremely poor when he died.
The novel Die Grosse Revolution [The Great Revolution, 1902]
was Scheerbart's first critical success. Its plot takes place entirely on the Moon and surprisingly it features not a single human character. The Lunar people are described as grotesque beings, whose body is globular shaped, with a carrot-shaped head on top. The Lunar people are divided by conflict into two groups: one group is bent on watching and observing the Earth, while the other group wants to explore the universe for other worlds. The Moon's inhabitants are concerned about Earth’s armies and see them as 'mass murderers in costumes'. It is decided to send an ultimatum for humanity – they have got to disarm within 50 years. The setting is used to have a look at Earth from the outside and the pacifist views of the author are clearly expressed.
Another of his famous novels is Lesabéndio (1913)
Lesabéndio is an inhabitant of the oddly-shaped planetoid Pallas, who tries to build a Tower (like the biblical Babylon), in order to connect Pallas -- which consists of two interlinked funnels -- with a mysterious 'head system' that is obscured by a giant cloud. By doing so, Lesabéndio wants to be able to get in touch with outer space. Lesabéndio, like Die Grosse Revolution, is a novel without any human protagonists. The theme of the novel is the aspiration towards higher meanings and the interactions between aesthetics, technology and religion. In true expressionistic fashion he invents creatures 'reminiscent of the creations of later writer Olaf Stapledon9.
All of Paul Scheerbart's work has been reissued in Germany and it can also be read online at www.scheerbart.de.
2. Dime novel culture under the Kaiser’s rule
The new market and the newfound demand for entertainment of the masses spawned a rich pulp culture and so the 'Groschenroman', which are also known as Groschenheft or Heftroman (equivalent to 'penny dreadfuls' in Britain or 'dime novels' in N. America) were born. They were also referred to as 'Eisenbahnliteratur' ['Railway literature'] and their publishers themselves called them 'Conversations- und Reiseliteratur' ['Conversation and travel literature']. The years between 1905 and 1914 saw the height of this form of literature, and never before or since have so many different series of these books been published. At their peak, hundreds of different series were produced by just a handful of publishers who dominated the market that in turn quickly became a lucrative multi-million Reichsmark business. Popular genre-figures included pirates, knights, western heroes, gangsters, youthful pranksters, detectives etc. but there were also stories about impressionable young ladies who were taken advantage of in a den of vice, or the adventures of a righteous woodsman chasing the poacher in the black forest and lots of other Heimat stories. But there was also science fiction!
Among the most famous of the SF series was Der Luftpirat und sein Lenkbares Luftschiff [The Air Pirate and His Steerable Airship].
Der Luftpirat… is considered to be one of the World’s first SF penny dreadful/dime novel series and was first published in 1908. Its protagonist was Kapitän Mors, a masked avenger whose real identity remains a secret. His background was that his family was murdered, and in the first story he seeks revenge. The airship of the title is reminiscent of Jules Verne’s Robur, and Mors, who wears a blue uniform, also has shades of Verne's Captain Nemo. Unlike those famous anti-heroes, Mors' revenge is restricted to the killers of his family, and in his further adventures he is more a Robin Hood of the sky: more superhero than villain. He not only has the airship but also a secret island base. Indeed, later in the series he creates the 'Weltenschiff', an early version of a spaceship, called 'Meteor', which enabled him to travel through the solar system for further adventures on strange planets. And so he encountered Martians, Venusians, crystal-robots as well; as the occasional monster.
Der Luftpirat was popular and some 165 issues were produced. There might have been several succeeding series using the same characters, although some say that these were reprints of previously published material.
The identity of the Air Pirate's creator remains a mystery on which there has been a lot of speculation: it might well have been a collective of writers.
Heftromane despite their popularity were never held in high esteem by schools, libraries, national archives or other state and church institutions. In fact these institutions did everything they could to ban, burn or at the very least detract the material. The paper used to print them was of poor quality and as a result not a lot of the original issues survive today.
The First World War for a while put a stop to the first penny dreadful culture when, in 1916, 135 series were banned by the military censor. However the reason for this was not because of their content but a paper shortage.
Luckily in recent years some fan-based projects have invested a lot of time and care in saving the Luftpirat and a selection of novels is available as a book on demand, complete with annotations and original contemporary artwork: See http://www.dieter-von-reeken.de/galle/luftpirat.htm. Indeed, Marianne Sydow-Ehrig and her late husband have made an incredible effort in locating almost all of the original 165 issues and reprint them (on demand) for fans: see within www.villa-galactica.de.
3. 1918 – 1933 Weimar times
The war was lost, the Kaiser gone and Germany's first democratic republic founded. The rigid censorship laws of the Kaiserzeit were repealed. Once more penny dreadful / dime novels began to flourish, but by now they had a powerful enemy: cinema. Though rivals in the field of light entertainment, clever publishers soon started to cash in by producing tie-ins or using images of film stars on the covers. Furthermore, film producers advertised in dime novels a lot. Still the authorities were more than ever convinced that this kind of literature was evil incarnate. In 1926 the Berlin Reichstag passed the so-called Schund- und Schmutzgesetz [tripe and filth law] with the effect that several inspection authorities made sure kept the dime novels in check: certain series were only available for over-eighteen year olds, while others landed on 'the Index', a precursor on how censorship is still being practiced today in Germany. In those days however, if you mentioned that a woman’s legs were visible whilst describing a love scene, it made certain you ended up blacklisted. The Weimar times were hectic, confused and full of uncertainties. People were frightened and not sure what to do with the new democratic freedom, whilst unemployment went through the roof and radical groups were aiming for power.
This period saw the rise of a certain specifically German type of science fiction novel, the 'wissenschaftlich-technische Zukunftsroman' ['technological scientific utopian novel']. The champion of this genre was Hans Dominik (see immediately below). It gave expression to a widely held believe that all of humanities problems could be solved by technology. The typical protagonist of this kind of story was a German engineer who is described as being superior to his counterparts from other countries.
Hans Dominik (1872-1945)
Hans Dominik was the son of a journalist and publisher. Interestingly one of his school teachers was the afore-mentioned SF-pioneer Kurd Laßwitz, who taught mathematics and physics. After school Dominik studied to become an electrical engineer, although he took several breaks from that to work for the industry. He went to America several times during his studies. He also worked in public relations for Siemens. Later he started to write about popular science and mechanics for several newspapers and went on to become a freelance writer and reporter, writing about technological sensations as well as disasters. His real ambition was to become a novelist. After the war his first utopian novel Die Macht der Drei [The Power of the Three] (1922).
Dominik's utopian novels are always technology oriented and electricity holds a special significance for him. His heroes are always German engineers who are highly idealized. From the 1920´s to the 1940´s his books sold more than 2 million copies. He remains one the most well-known German Science Fiction authors even today, although he is controversially received. Many modern readers dislike the way he describes foreigners, especially Arabs, Asians and Africans in a very racist fashion. Some have gone so far as to describe Dominik as a technological fascist. True is that his books are clichéd and not without anti-Semitism, are clearly racist and they are very anti-American as well, all which greatly mar the reading experience for a modern reader. Furthermore (and this seems to increase with the onset of the third Reich) Dominik adds mysticism and occultism to his stories, often derived from Germanic and Nordic myths and legends. Furthermore his utopian novels always follow the same basic simple story principles. On one hand you have daring and ingenious German engineers, inventors or fighter pilots, while on the other side you have 'evil' foreigners (they may be French, British, American, Chinese or even Soviet communists). A conflict ensues and in the end the Germans win thanks to some terrific technological invention. The white race and especially the Germans are described as superior in every way above everybody else.
It seems that if you look at other representatives of this genre after 1918, a lot of them were right-wing or at least extremely conservative, and had little or no problems with Germany's then transition to the Nazi regime.
Hans Dominik's books (he wrote more than 20 genre books) never really were out of print, but many editions after 1945 are abridged and censored, sometimes very heavily, in order to fit into different post-war formats of publishing.12
Other representatives of the genre included: Rudolf Daumann, Stanislaw Bialkowski, Karl August von Laffert and Hans Richter, among others.
Of these other popular authors of the Weimar times that have to be mentioned there are: Thea von Harbou, wife of Fritz Lang, who wrote novelized versions of the films Metropolis and Die Frau im Mond [The Woman in the Moon]; Kurt (later Curt) Siodmak who later emigrated to the US; and Norbert Jaques; who invented the sinister Dr.Mabuse in the early twenties. All of them are still well known today, mainly because of the films made of their books.
4. 1933 – 1945 Nazi Germany
Once the Nazis came to power in 1933, they immediately started to take control of all parts of life. They influenced and manipulated everybody and everything in order to bring things into line with their ideology. This is what is meant by the term 'Gleichschaltung' ['political equalization'].
For the literary scene this had many serious consequences. Jewish professors were removed from their posts at the academies, as well as those who were known for socialist or pacifist views. In case of the preußische Akademie der Künste [Prussian Academy of the Arts] it meant their teaching staff was cut by half.
On the other hand, propaganda minister Goebbels tried to win popular German authors of the time (like Thomas Mann and Stefan George) for the movement in order to give the German literary scene of the third Reich a somewhat dignified touch. People faithful to the party line filled the now-vacant positions at the academies. Furthermore, the responsibilities of the academies were reduced considerably. Immediately after the takeover (Machtergreifung [takeover]) literature was utilized heavily as a propaganda tool. The first public book burnings soon followed, as well as a 'cleanup' of libraries and bookshops, which in the process had to lose large parts of their stock. A famous science fiction author who made the black list was Britain's H.G.Wells: all his works were banned!13
There were four main ways literature was controlled during the Third Reich14: through supervision of authors; direction of publishing houses; control over book trade; and control over libraries. The result was that almost the entire book market consisted of literature that was in line with the Nazi party policies. In 1936 a law was introduced which practically forbid any serious form of literary criticism, the so called 'Kritikverbot' [ban on criticism]. A book review could now only consist of a synopsis and a brief commendation if the work met the 'right' conviction. The ministry of propaganda also frequently published lists with recommended literature as well as awarding several literary prizes. This system of control suffered from a problem which is typical for the command structure of the third Reich, mainly that there were two different institutions, Goebbels propaganda ministry and the 'Amt Rosenberg' [Rosenberg Agency] a government agency under chief-ideologist Alfred Rosenberg, entrusted by the Führer with supervision and education in all questions regarding ideology and worldview of the Third Reich, that more often than not worked against each other. Rosenberg viewed literature as way to educate and indoctrinate, while to do that Goebbels preferred film and radio. He saw literature as light entertainment and wanted prominent authors to entertain and represent Nazi views. These policies resulted in a flood of historical novels being published, since hardly anyone dare to write about the present anymore. Authors of so-called serious fiction were certainly much more targeted than those of light literature. Before the war there were numerous penny dreadful / dime novel series ranging from adventure to western that featured English or American heroes. With the coming of the World War II, a lot of them were banned: the explanation for this was that they not only featured British/American heroes, but also celebrated their lifestyle and even advocated democratic, liberal or even pacifistic ideas. True or not, technological futuristic novels such as that written by Hans Dominik almost never had any problems like that. It still seems as if the vast market of light literature had more freedom than is usually attributed to it. The reason for that is fairly simple. Goebbels wanted to allow people a certain amount of escapism. Popular culture in the Third Reich was for the most part free of obvious propaganda messages. Goebbels understood that popular culture that is not entertaining is not popular culture. Even works that could be interpreted as opposed to the regime were tolerated to a certain degree.
You can propagate films and books all you want, if they do not entertain people, the people will not consume them. Hardcore propaganda films were never as successful at the box office as were musical comedies or thrillers.
So, what was science fiction literature like in Nazi-Germany? That is not an easy question to answer as there has not a lot been written about the subject. Texts about German SF usually end in 1933 and start again 1945. It seems the topic is still somewhat taboo, but equally might stem from the fact that the books are not widely available anymore.
From what little I can gather, a few characteristics can be identified.
The Zukunftsroman from Weimar times continues. Some of the books of Hans Dominik (in reprints as well as some of his later works) become bestsellers. In general, there are no books about meeting aliens from outer space, but there are lots of books about high technology, ranging from slightly exaggerated but already existing things (an even faster fighter plane!) to 'Wunderwaffen' ['wonder weapons'] such as heat-rays or gigantic rockets. It was more the continuation of the technological futuristic novel already popular before 1933.
A couple of years earlier came Hans Heycks (1891 – 1972) novel Deutschland ohne Deutsche [Germany Without Germans, 1929] in which evil Jews have taken over Germany. But at the end of the day the Fatherland is saved by the ingenuity of a German engineer.
I have tried finding for a utopian novel from a Nazi point-of-view. But there seems not have been a lot of these. One can argue that the whole Nazi ideology had (from its perspective) utopian elements, with their racial views and their plans of World domination. Heinrich Himmler, leader of the SS, who was an occultist, believed the 'Arian race' stemmed directly from the people of Atlantis and went to great length in trying to prove that: in those days there were a lot of real-life, mad scientists about as well who indulged Himmler…
I did find one example for a true Nazi-utopia described by Franz Rottensteiner in Werkführer durch die Utopisch-Phantastische Literatur[Guide To Utopian-fantastic Literature] published by Meitingen: Corian, Loseblattausgabe ,in 1989).
E. Schmid (? - ?) Im Jahre 2000 im Dritten Reich – Eine Schau in die Zukunft
[In theYyear 2000 of the Third Reich – A Look into the Future] (1933)
The little-known author of this book, who clearly is a fanatic Nazi, writes about how he thinks the World will change from the present of 1933 up to the year 2000 under the Nazis. The book is written as a monologue by its protagonist König [King], which seems to be a name as well as a title, who is Hitler's successor in the year 2000. In this monologue König, who is preparing to celebrate his 100th birthday, looks back on how the movement started and how he got to know Hitler, gained his trust and eventually became his successor. He describes how the face of Europe has completely changed, the Soviet-Union has gone and Switzerland is now a part of Germany. There are also new huge German colonies in Africa, whose people are happy to be ruled by the Germans as they are so much nicer than the British. König has a kind of 'personal assistant' (equerry), a young blonde woman named Hildegard, who cannot have children,as she has been sterilized because her mother has had relations with a Jew before she married another man, who is Hildegard’s father. So bad is the influence of the Jew that one of Hildegard’s brothers turned out Jewish, even though he was conceived by Arian parents (!). König is disgusted by the idea of an evil Jew corrupting a beautiful Arian woman. The author than describes how the young Hildegard lays down naked next to the hundred year old König, but only to keep him warm, obviously. At the birthday ceremony the highest representatives of state and society come to praise König, and each explains his function at length. It is the author's way of explaining the new society, as he imagines it will be once everything has been brought into line according to Nazi ideology, whilst putting a special significance on new 'race-laws' which have lead the society to become 'healthy'. The ideological goals of the Third Reich have been achieved without violence, as everybody is quickly convinced by the ideals.
The book is an insight into the twisted mind of a fanatic Nazi. Nevertheless, he must have gone to far even by 1933 standards, as the book was quickly withdrawn. It seems that the Nazi-officials did not like any other prophet than Adolf Hitler!
In an upcoming second part of this article we will have a look at the genre in post-war Germany.
Quick links to above sections:-
1. 1871 – 1918 Germany under the Kaiser
2. Dime novel culture under the Kaiser’s rule
3. 1918 – 1933 Weimar times
4. 1933 – 1945 Nazi Germany
This article leads into Dirk van den Boom's article on German SF after 1945 as well as one on the first 60 years of the Science Fiction Club Deutschland.
7. Most notably Roland Innerhofer (2000) Deutsche Science Fiction 1870 - 1914. Rekonstruktion und Analyse der Anfänge einer Gattung [German Science Fiction 1870 – 1914. Reconstruction and Analysis of the Beginning of the Genre] Böhlau Verlag, Vienna
And Nessun Sapra (aka Claus Geus) (2005) Lexikon der Deutschen Science Fiction und Fantasy 1870 – 1918 [Lexicon of German Science Fiction and Fantasy 1870 – 1918]..Utopica Verlag, Vienna.
8. www.kurdlasswitz.de. (This website seems  to have depricated. For general information see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurd_Lasswitz.)
9. John Clute & Peter Nicholls (1993) The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (page 484). Orbit, London.
12. Holger Miehlke, editor of the 2000 edition of Hans Dominik complete works at Heyne Verlag, Munich.
14. As identified by Dietrich Strothmann (1960) Nationalsozialistische Literaturpolitik [National-Socialist Literary Policies], Bouvier, Bonn.
Elmar Podlasly is a lifelong fan of the fantastic genres, living and working as a filmmaker in Hamburg, Germany.
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