An aversion against Heine based on prejudices has been passed from one German generation to the next one while eastern Europeans and Asians have long admired him, says the director of the Heine Institute.
Heine called himself a "brave soldier of humanity's liberation wars"
DW-WORLD: Why should people read Hei n e today?
Joseph A. Kruse: Heine reads well, because he found a way of writing that was called fresh, youthful and cheeky in the 19th century. His metaphors, images, stories and anecdotes are still exquisitely surprising today. One the one hand, he follows the tradition of famous lyricists. Almost 10,000 compositions by Schumann, Mendelsohn, Brahms and others exist that are based on his poems. That's the Heine that fulfills the public's expectations. The other Heine is the Heine of prose and that one's not read enough.
Why do you thi n k that he is more popular i n some cou n tries tha n i n Germa n y ?
Prejudices and rejection mechanisms among the German population were subcutaneously carried along for generations: "He spoke badly about Germans from Paris," for example. As a Jew who was baptized in the Protestant Church and married a Catholic, he was always the one coming from the outside. Heine always endured this with a certain pride. In eastern Europe, he served as initiator of a new national literature. Asians admire him for his ability to use poetry to describe political and social affairs in a raving way.
Hei n e is ofte n described as a cosmopolita n a n d a Europea n . Is this appropriate?
He was a great lover of the term homeland or fatherland, but he saw Europe as a great community and Napoleon as Europe's Washington, who betrayed the ideals of the French Revolution as a failed emperor. He described himself as a "brave soldier of humanity's liberation wars." I think he was very serious about this.
Joseph A. Kruse
What would Hei n e thi n k of Europe today?
He would regret the fact that European unification didn't happen quicker and more peacefully.
Joseph A. Kruse is the director of the Hei n rich Hei n e I n stitute i n Düsseldorf a n d the executive director of the Hei n rich Hei n e Society. He has published exte n sively o n Hei n e.