poet, writer, and artist Else Lasker-Schüler was an influential
member of the Berlin artistic community that emerged in the first
years of the 20th century. Sometimes referred to as the "Berlin
Moderns" because of their important contribution to the new modernist
style, members of this community included some of the greatest
writers, poets, artists, critics and editors of the 20th century.
was one of many sophisticated, cosmopolitan Jews who took part
in and helped give birth to this artistic innovation. Creating
and fostering innovative and experimental poetry, literature,
theatre, and art, these Jews and their cultural sensibilities
would later be attacked by German national socialism, and some
would be dispersed to all corners of the world, others perishing
in the Nazi genocide.
(1869-1945) came from a well-to-do family in Elberfield, in the Rhineland.
From her father Aaron Schüler, who was a banker and builder,
she inherited a passion
for toys and play. She attributed her poetic inspiration to her mother,
who loved literature.
In 1894, Else Schüler
married the physician Berthold Lasker, and moved with him to Berlin.
There they settled into a comfortable middle class existence. For Else,
as well as for many other young and aspiring artists, Berlin was a Mecca
of artistic exchange and inspiration. She immersed herself in the city's
abundant cultural life, attending meetings of artists' groups and societies.
She was soon a part of the vibrant and often incestuous Berlin art world.
soon became dissatisfied with her marriage and her bourgeois existence.
Divorcing Berthold Lasker in 1899, she embraced the bohemian lifestyle
that characterized the rest of her life. After her divorce, she married
the talented critic and editor Georg Lewin, who established the famous
expressionist art journal, Der Sturm. (She named both the journal
and its editor, giving Lewin the name Herworth Walden, which he used
for the rest of his professional life). Her first book of poetry, Styx,
was published in 1902, and she published prolifically in Der Sturm,
as well as the many other avant garde Berlin art journals. She also
wrote a play calleds "die Wupper" (completed in 1909), named
after the river by that name that runs through her home town.
in 1911, Lasker-Schüler's life became increasingly unstable and
poverty stricken. She spent much of her time in the cafes, which were
a second home to many young Berlin artists
and intellectuals, most of them younger than her forty-plus years.
It was in the cafes that she wrote the expressionist poems that would
be published as My Wonder (Meine Wunder) and met many
of the great expressionist artists of the period, including Georg Trakl,
Franz Marc, Karl Kraus, Oscar Kokoschka, George Grosz, and Franz Werfel.
In 1913, she published Hebrew Ballads
(Hebraische Balladen), a collection of poems based on the figures
of the Bible.
The later years
of Lasker Schüler's life were to be characterized by tragedy, loss,
and ultimately, a feeling of betrayal and alienation from her fellow
Jews. Her beloved son Paul died of tuberculosis in 1927, which led her
to intense introspection and reflection upon the Jewish tradition, and
especially Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah. In 1932 she received the
prestigious Kleist Prize for literature. Several months later a group
of Nazis beat her with an iron rod. Without so much as returning to
her room, she left Germany forever.
From her refuge
in Switzerland, she visited Palestine several times, and eventually
moved to Jerusalem. The reality of Palestine's
social and political turmoil, however, disillusioned the poet. While
she had glorified and romanticized the land in her earlier poetry (and
in the utopian prose work called The Land
of the Hebrews which she wrote during one of her visits from
Switzerland), she was never to feel at home living there.
lived the rest of her life a pauper, partially through her own mismanagement
of the support given to her by friends and admirers. In Israel, she
was viewed mainly as an eccentric, dressed dramatically in long dresses,
jewelry and hats, her rooms decorated only with toys and dolls.
Else Lasker Schüer
died on January 22, 1945 and was buried
at the foot of the Mount of Olives.
Audri and Jeanette Litman-Demeestére. Hebrew Ballads and Other
Poems (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1980).
Sigrid. "The Berlin Moderns: Else Lasker-Schüler and
Café Culture" in Berlin Metropolis: Jews and the
New Culture 1890-1918 (Berkeley: University of California