Die Reise nach Tilsit

  • Country in which the text is set
    East Prussia, Germany
  • Featured locations
    Tilsit (now Sovetsk, Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia) and the Neman River delta, Rombynus
    Tilžė, Rambynas
  • Impact
    Die Reise nach Tilsit (A Trip to Tilsit) appears to one of the very few texts from the comprehensive oeuvre of the once best-selling author Hermann Sudermann that has survived him—an “enduring masterpiece of German literature”, as Franz Werfel wrote in 1927. The story was written in 1917 when Sudermann was sixty and was published the same year in the collection Litauische Geschichten (Lithuanian Stories) together with three other stories (Miks Bumbulis,Jons und Erdme, Die Magd). When Sudermann died in 1928, 100,000 copies of Litauischen Geschichten had been printed. Die Reise nach Tilsit has gone through repeated reprints (most recently: Munich 1971, 1989 and Frankfurt am Main 1978) and has been filmed several times (1927, 1939, 1969, 1981, among them F. W. Murnau's Sunrise. American silent film with George O'Brien and Janet Gaynor).
  • Balticness

    At the end of the eighth chapter of his Bilderbuch meiner Jugend (Picture Book of my Youth), the author writes that the story’s subject matter was not invented but taken from a real episode he owed to his friend Koch, the former director of the Tilsit secondary school. Looking back over his life, Sudermann writes that he did not have to search for the “great subjects” of poetry and prose in distant places but instead found a “well of poetic procreation” in “Lithuanian East Prussia”: “Hosts of models swarmed around me every day, demanding that I give their images colour and outline…” (chapter 14). “We are always living in fairy tales, but we only seldom realize it.”

    To write down the story, Sudermann retreated from turbulent Berlin to Memelland (now the Klaipėda Region in Lithuania), where he had grown up. The result was a picture of Lithuanian life on the eastern reaches of the German Empire that is not only ‘colourfully’ and ‘mythically’ balladic and exotic but also—particularly in terms of the landscape and language—realistic and true to detail. The perspective of his Lithuanian figures, which the narrator adopts, is after all an attempt to bridge the Lithuanian-German divide, and can be considered a valuable addition to the series of predominantly critical descriptions of German-Lithuanian coexistence in the Baltic region by authors ranging from Ernst Wichert (Litauische Geschichten, 1872-1896) to Arnold Zweig and Johannes Bobrowski.

    Hans Peter Neureuter

  • Bibliographic information
    Hermann Sudermann: Die Reise nach Tilsit und andere Litauische Geschichten, München/Wien: Langen Müller, 1989, S. 9-50
  • Translations
    Language Year Translator
    English 1930 Lewis Galantiere
    Latvian 1938 Elza Egle
    Lithuanian 1960 Adomas Druktenis
    Swedish 1918 Gösta Gideon Molin
  • Year of first publication
  • Place of first publication
    Stuttgart & Berlin: Cotta

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