Gottfried Benn Chronology

1886           Born 2 May in Mansfeld (West Prussia), the son of the pastor Gustav Benn (1857–1939) and his Swiss-French wife Caroline, née Jequier (1858–1912).

1887           Benn family moves to Sellin, in the Neumark (now in Poland).

1897–1903 Attends the “Königliches Friedrichs-Gymnasium” in Frankfurt an der Oder.

1903           Enrols at the University of Marburg to study philology and theology.

1904           Continues his studies at the Friedrich-Wilhelm University in Berlin.

1905           Transfers to the Kaiser Wilhelm Academy for Military-Medical Instruction (otherwise known as the ‘Pépinière) in Berlin to train as a medical officer in the Army.

1910           Graduates from the Kaiser Wilhelm Academy and is awarded the Gold Medal of the Medical Faculty for his essay, “The Aetiology of Pubertal Epilepsy”. Publishes “A Conversation”, which establishes an anti-Romantic basis for his later writings. Acts a junior doctor with the 64th Infantry Regiment, Spandau.

1911           Employed in the “Charité” hospital, Berlin. Passes the medical “Staatsexamen” and receives his “Approbation” (license to practice medicine).

1912           Receives his doctor’s degree with the dissertation “The Incidence of Diabetes mellitus in the Army”. Benn begins service as a military doctor with the Third Pioneer Battalion in Spandau. In March, the Morgue cycle appears. In April, his mother dies from cancer. Begins relationship with Else Lasker-Schüler.

1913           Benn is discharged from the army on account of a medical complaint. Poems appear in Die Aktion and Pan. Sons, his second book of poetry, is published in October. Relationship with Else Lasker-Schüler ends.

1914           Benn is a ship’s doctor on the “Graf Waldersee” travelling from Hamburg to New York. In June, he acts as a locum in a sanatorium for tuberculosis in Bischofsgrün, Bavaria. Benn marries Edith Osterloh in Munich. Returns to regiment on outbreak of World War One, and takes part in the offensive on Antwerp (he is awarded Iron Cross II). Transferred to Brussels.

1915–1916 Works at Saint Gilles hospital in Brussels, treating German soldiers for sexually transmitted diseases. Daughter Nele is born.

1917           The volume Flesh appears by “Die Aktion”. Benn is discharged from the army. In November, he opens a medical surgery as a ‘Specialist for skin and bowel disorders’ (sexually transmitted complaints) at 12 Belle-Alliance-Straße, Berlin.

1918           The autobiographical stories “Diesterweg” and “Sectional View” are published.

1919           Benn’s poems are represented in Kurt Pinthus’ anthology of Expressionist poetry, Twilight of Humanity: a Symphony of the Newest Poetry.

1920           Writes the essay, “The Modern Self”, in which he expresses a Spenglerian philosophy of cultural decline.

1921           Publishes the autobiographical prose work, “Epilogue”. The poem “The late Self” appears.

1922           In November, Benn’s wife, Edith, dies. Benn begins relationship with Danish soprano, Ellen Overgaard.

1923           In January, Benn’s Collected Writings finally appears after legal difficulties. His daughter, Nele, goes to live in Denmark as the adoptive child of Ellen Overgaard and her husband, Christen.

1924           The poetry cycle Rubble is published.

1925           In September the cycle Anaesthesia, and in November the collection Division, are published by A.R. Meyer.

1926           The essay “The Crisis in Medicine”, in which Benn condemns the commercial aims of modern medicine, is published in the Querschnitt. The autobiographical “Summa summarum” is published in June in the Weltbühne. Benn turns forty. Resumes friendship with Thea Sternheim.

1927           Collected Poems appear. Benn gives his first poetry reading on the radio.

1928           Becomes member of PEN Club. Publishes essay on Edith Cavell. Gives a funeral ovation to Klabund who died in August.

1929           In February, his girlfriend, Lili Breda, commits suicide. Benn begins relationship with Elinor Büller. He debates with J. R. Becher and E. E. Kisch on the political role of literature. Publication of “Primal Vision”.

1930           In March, he gives radio talk “Can Writers Change the World?”. Benn becomes acquainted with Klaus Mann, and begins relationship with Tilly Wedekind.

1931           In November, the first performance of Hindemith’s oratorio The Never-Ending (with text by Benn) takes place. In March, he gives his “Talk for Heinrich Mann”.

1932           Benn becomes a Fellow of the Prussian Academy of Arts (Literary Section). Begins his correspondence with the Bremen businessman, F.W. Oelze. The essay “After Nihilism”, which confirms his sympathy for the radical conservative camp, is published.

1933           Benn becomes Secretary of the Literary Section of the Academy. Gives radio talks, “The New State and the Intellectuals”, and “Answer to the Literary Emigrants”. The poet is attacked on account of his Expressionist past in print by Börries von Münchhausen. “Belief in Expressionism”, in which he argues for the relevance of modernist art to the new state, is published in November.

1934           The essay “Literature requires Inner Space” appears in January. Benn is increasingly alienated from the culture and politics of the Third Reich. In November, the Berlin medical authorities refuse to grant him a licence to practice. Benn decides to re-enter the army.

1935           Benn becomes a senior military doctor in a Reserve Division, based in Hanover. His period of inner emigration begins.

1936           Selected Poems is published in March. It is heavily condemned by the Nazi press. Begins writing Weinhaus Wolf.

1937           In July, he takes up his new duties as a senior doctor with the III Army Division (Department Provisions and Claims for Compensation). The Nazi art critic, Wolfgang Willrich, attacks Benn in his Cleansing the Temple of Art: A Culturally Political Critical Publication for the Purging of German Art through Nordic Means. In December, he moves into 20 Bozener Straße.

1938           In January, Benn marries Herta von Wedemeyer. In March, he is excluded from the “Reichsschrifttumskammer”, and is prohibited from future publication in Nazi Germany.

1939           Death of Benn’s father at the age of eighty-two. Benn attends the funeral in Mohrin.

1939           In September, Benn is transferred to German High Command as an assessor for claims for medical insurance and pension payments.

1940           Writes a study on suicide, arguing that the will to self-destruction is not abnormal.

1941           In February, Benn’s half-brother, Hans-Christoph, is killed in fighting near Moscow. The poem “Monologue”, a biting satire on Hitler, is written in April. In August, he is moved to a position in the Command Headquarters of the III Army. Clandestine publication of the Biographical Poems.

1942           Twenty-Two Poems is published for private circulation.

1943           In August, his unit is transferred to Landsberg an der Warthe, one hundred and thirty kilometres east of Berlin.

1944           Starts writing Novel of a Phenotype and begins to assemble a new collection of verse, Static Poems.

1945           In January, Benn and his wife return to Berlin. Herta leaves for Neuhaus (on the Elbe). She commits suicide in July in the wake of the advancing Russians.

1946           In August, Benn writes the poem, “The Death of Orpheus”. In October, he meets Ilse Kaul. They are married in December.

1947           Benn writes The Ptolemaist, although he remains a prohibited author for the Allies.

1948           In October, Static Poems appears in Switzerland with the Arche Verlag.

1949           In March, the first complete edition of Static Poems is published by the Limes Verlag in Wiesbaden, along with two collections of his poetry and prose, World of Expression and Drunken Flood.

1950           In March, Benn publishes his autobiography, A Double Life.

1951           The poetry volume Fragments is published. “Phase II”, in which Benn employs an urbane and more contemporary idiom in his verse, begins. Receives the Georg Büchner Prize. First letter from Astrid Claes, who is writing a doctoral study The Lyrical Language of the Poems of Gottfried Benn.

1952           Gives talk on Else Lasker-Schüler at the British Centre in Berlin. In September, as the German representative, Benn attends the international literary congress in Knokke, Belgium. In December, he is awarded for his literary achievements the “Bundesverdienstkreuz” of the Federal Republic.

1953           Gives up his medical practice. Distillations is published.

1954           In January, Benn resumes contact with Astrid Claes. In August, he starts relationship with Ursula Ziebarth.

1955           Benn’s final collection of poetry, Aprèslude, is published.

1956           In January, a serious illness is diagnosed. On 2 May, Benn celebrates his seventieth birthday. In June, he visits a spa in Schlangenbad. On 7 July, Gottfried Benn dies and is buried in Berlin-Dahlem cemetery.


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