Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Hammerstein or Idiosyncrasy - A German story

(German title: Hammerstein oder Der Eigensinn)
ca. 375 pages
Hans Magnus Enzensberger
Foto: Hans Magnus Enzensberger
© Jürgen Bauer

» […] one of Germany's leading public intellectualsLondon Review of Books

Hans Magnus Enzensberger was born in Kaufbeuren in 1929. As a poet, essayist, writer, publisher and translator, he is one of the world’s most influential and internationally renowned German intellectuals.

Awards (selection):
Sonningprisen 2010
Premio d’Annunzio 2006
Premio Principe de Asturias 2002
Heinrich-Heine-Preis 1998
Erich-Maria-Remarque-Friedenspreis 1993
Heinrich Böll-Preis 1985
Büchner-Preis 1963
Deutscher Kritikerpreis 1962

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A grand opus on the most fatal period of German history and an outstanding figure until now not the subject of a biography. The results of Hans Magnus Enzensberger's research into the life of General Kurt von Hammerstein are presented in the genre the writer so peerlessly masters: that of literary biography.

He follows the tracks of Hammerstein and his family in literature and in the documents they left behind. In archives in Berlin and Moscow, Munich and Toronto he tracked down unpublished source materials. As in earlier biographical accounts by the trained historian Enzensberger, he relies on the poetic licence afforded by literature, does not give the documents the last word. This diversely faceted work once again combines historical research with the writer's freedom to use fiction as a route of accessing historical reality.

Kurt von Hammerstein who until February 1933 was Chief of Staff of the German Army retired when Hitler announced his plans for the Second World War. He – the unflinching opponent of the Nazis, the courageous ditherer, the grand seigneur, the expert on Russia – became a witness of the decline of his own caste, the German military aristocracy. The biographies of his seven children are also strongly marked by the catastrophes of the 20th century, by betrayal, illegality, resistance and the family's liability for his »crimes«. Two of his daughters, with Jewish Communist bedfellows, spied for the Komintern, two of his sons took part in Stauffenberg's attempted assassination of Hitler. The biography brings into focus not least the people forced to lead a dangerous double-life: from the last Reichskanzler of the Weimar Republic over German Communist Party agents to the owner of a chemist's shop in Berlin who gave refuge to deserters and Jews.


»Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord was commander-in-chief of the German army. The general depicted in Hans-Magnus Enzensberger's new book is more: a man on the flanks of the 'weltgeist'. ... The eminently historical material excavated by Enzensberger is placed in the service of the most refined literary technique. Fresh and compelling evidence of Enzensberger's legendary nose for a story.« Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»It is an astonishing story of betrayal and uprightness, of the possibility of resisting in the most different ways. ... A book without heroes, but with heroic moments and small gestures of resistance. By an author who does not claim to know the true story, but in his resolute pursuit of truth has written an incredibly gripping book.« Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung

»A book impossible to escape from. Enzensberger pulls off a coup with this literary family biography.« Frankfurter Rundschau

»Enzensberger presents us with an uncommonly gripping book in which the whole age of extremes flares into light in almost improbably concentrated form.« Die Zeit

»Enzensberger shows that the apparently rigid frontlines of last century's world civil war were far more diffuse and confusing than the retrospective view suggests. Opponents, not only within families, nevertheless became close as human beings; in many cases, little separated the extremes; people would swap sides. No previous depiction has provided more vivid illustration than veteran author Enzensberger's account of the period.« taz

Other publications

Überlebenskünstler/Survival Artists (2018)

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Immer das Geld!/Nothing but Money! (2015)

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Tumult/Tumult (2014)

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Verschwunden!/Gone! (2014)

Rights available

Herrn Zetts Betrachtungen, oder Brosamen, die er fallen ließ, aufgelesen von seinen Zuhörern/Mr. Zed’s Considerations or Crumbs That He Let Fall, Gleaned From His Listeners (2013)

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Enzensbergers Panoptikum/Enzensberger’s Panoptikum (2012)

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Sanftes Monster Brüssel oder Die Entmündigung Europas/Tender Monster Brussels or the Disenfranchisement of Europe (2011)

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Album/Album (2010)

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Meine Lieblings-Flops, gefolgt von einem Ideen-Magazin/My Favourite Flops, followed by a wealth of ideas (2010)

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Fortuna und Kalkül/Fortuna and Probability (2009)

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Im Irrgarten der Intelligenz/The Labyrinth of Intelligence (2007)

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Schreckens Männer/Terror's Men (2006)

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Josefine und ich/Josefine and I (2006)

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Die Geschichte der Wolken/The History of the Clouds (2003)

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Die Elixiere der Wissenschaft/The Elixirs of Science (2002)

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Zickzack/Zigzag (1999)

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