Günter Grass was born in Danzig (now Gdansk) in 1927. He served on an anti-aircraft battery and as a tank gunner towards the end of the Second World War, eventually being wounded and captured by the U.S. Army. After his release he trained as a stonemason before studying Graphic Art and Sculpture in Düsseldorf and Berlin, writing poetry and plays.
In 1955 he won a prize in a regional poetry competition. This success earned him his first reading for the Gruppe 47, an influential group of writers, and the publication of his first book of poems, prose and illustrations entitled ‘Die Vorzüge der Windhühner’ in 1956. In 1958 he was awarded the literary prize of the Gruppe 47 for the novel ‘The Tin Drum’, which was published in 1959 and established Grass on the global literary scene. This first volume of his so-called ‘Danzig Trilogy’ of novels was followed by ‘Cat and Mouse’ (1961) and ‘Dog Years’ (1963). Although Grass also wrote dramas and poems, it was his prose with its autobiographical figures and narrators that drew the most attention. His works are distinguished by the link between realism and absurd fantasy, a profound enjoyment of language games, jargon, and grotesque imagery.
The 60’s saw Grass assuming an active role in politics, supporting the German Social Democrats on election campaigns and founding the Social Democratic Voters’ Initiative. He continues to regularly express his critical views on political issues, most recently on the Iraq war in the spring of 2003. His writing also “lets the citizen in the writer have his say”, giving a political moralist’s perspective on the history of Germany – whether the East Berlin worker’s rebellion on June 17, 1953 in his drama ‘The Plebeians Rehearse the Uprising’ (1966), German reunification in the novel ‘Too Far Afield’ (1995) or the sinking of the ‘Wilhelm Gustloff’, a ‘Kraft durch Freude’ cruise liner, in January 1945, in his novella ‘Crabwalk’ (2002). Shortly before the publication of his memoirs ‘Beim Häuten der Zwiebel’ (2006; t: Peeling the Onion), it became public that the author at age 17 had briefly been a member of the Nazi “Waffen-SS”, he became the subject of a heavy public debate in Germany.
After receiving countless literary distinctions and honorary titles, Grass was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1999 for his life’s work. He was cited in the official declaration as a writer “whose frolicsome black fables portray the forgotten face of history”.
In 2015 Günter Grass died in Lübeck.
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