Werner Bergengruen


Werner Bergengruen (Werner Max Oskar Paul Bergengruen, 16 September 1892 – 4 September 1964) was a German prose writer and poet who sometimes used the Baltic subject matter in his creation.

He was born in Riga and attended school in Riga and Lübeck, started studies of theology at the University of Marburg, later studied Germanistics and art history. During World War I, he served in the Baltische Landeswehr. After the war, he settled in Germany where he became a journalist and writer. During World War II, he went to Tirol and from there to Zürich and Rome. From 1958, he lived in Baden-Baden where he also died. He is buried in the Hauptfriedhof of Baden-Baden.

He began to write prose in the 1920s. Historical subject matter, metaphysical and religious themes prevail in his creation. As Nazis rose to power, political themes became more frequent in his books. The novel Der Grosstyrann und das Gericht (‘The Grand Tyrant and the Judgment’, 1935), which is considered his main work, concentrates on the problems of power and justice in Renaissance Italy, although it was read as an allegory of the contemporary situation in Nazi Germany.

Bergrengruen’s novel Im Himmel wie auf Erden (‘On Earth as it is in Heaven’, 1940) was published in Estonian translation in 2013. The action of this humanist historical novel takes place in 16th-century Berlin, among other events, it describes the demise of the Western Slavic Wendic people under Germans’ oppression. The Baltic themes are used in Bergengruen’s collection of stories Der Tod von Reval (‘Death in Tallinn’, 1939, Estonian translation Surm Tallinnas, 1966) which to some extent can be classified as horror fiction and which entwines death, bizarre and less bizarre situations and black humour. The action of the story collection Poplavkin ja teised jutud (‘Poplavkin and Other Stories’, 2019) is set in the Russian Empire in the 19th century.

A. K. (Translated by I. A.)

Books in Estonian

Nii taevas kui ka maa peal. Tõlkinud Mati Sirkel. Tallinn: Argo, 2013, 550 lk.

Short prose
Surm Tallinnas: kurioosseid lugusid ühest vanast linnast. Tõlkinud Rein Sepp. Loomingu Raamatukogu nr 35. Tallinn: Perioodika, 1966, 60 lk.
Surm Tallinnas: novellid. Tõlkinud Rein Sepp ja Mati Sirkel. Tallinn: Varrak, 1999, 197 lk. [2. trükk: 2021.]
Poplavkin ja teised jutud. Tõlkinud Mati Sirkel. Loomingu Raamatukogu nr 16. Tallinn: Kultuurileht, 2019, 51 lk.

Books in German

Short stories
Der Tod von Reval: kuriose Geschichten aus einer alten Stadt. Mit 16 Federzeichnungen von R. v. Hoerschelmann. Hamburg: Hanseatische Verlagsanstalt, 1939, 177 pp. [Next eds: 1957, 1958, 1965, 1974, 1995, 2003, 2006, 2009.]