Johannes R. Becher(Hans, Johannes Robert, Johann Sebastian,)

Johannes R. Becher, 1941
Johannes R. Becher, 1941
Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Johannes-R.-Becher-Archiv, P 017

Johannes R. Becher(Hans, Johannes Robert, Johann Sebastian,)

Sie haben einen Grund noch, einen festen, / Und dennoch hält der Grund sie allzu fest. / Sie flüchten vor dem Wind mit allen Ästen / Und halten fest, hinauf bis zum Geäst. […] Die Bäume scheinen sich noch zu verrenken, / Wenn Meer und Himmel atmen wieder Stille / Sie sind noch in der Stille auf der Flucht. 

[They still have strong roots in the ground / And yet the ground holds them fast. / They flee from the wind with all their branches / And remain steadfast, up to their very tips. [...] The trees appear to contort themselves, / When the sea and sky breathe silence / They are still silently on the run. (ed. trans.)]

Johannes R. Becher, Windflüchter. Bäume im Darß (Ahrenshoop), around 1950

Bornon 22 May 1891 in Munich, Germany
Diedon 11 October 1958 in Berlin, German Democratic Republic
ExileFrance, Soviet Union
RemigrationGerman Democratic Republic
ProfessionPoet, Dramatist, Writer

The sonnet Windflüchter by the poet Johannes R. Becher not only describes the storm-battered trees on the coast of the Baltic Sea, it also reveals something of the life of the poet and emigrant in a turbulent story.

Harry Graf Kessler, an early supporter of the Expressionists, describes Becher's appearance in a diary entry: "Very kind, fine, delicate face, strikingly large and attractive eyes, sea-green, with a moist lustre which suddenly disappears on occasion."

Becher was born the son of a district judge in Munich; he rebelled against the authoritarian generation of his father. He began to study philosophy and medicine, although he soon turned to literature, the literary life and politics. He joined the Communist Party, and in 1928 became chairman of the Bund Proletarisch-Revolutionärer Schriftsteller (Union of Proletarian-Revolutionary Authors) and edited its magazine Die Linkskurve.

In 1933 he went into exile: first to Paris, then to Moscow. He gathered left-leaning writers around him. Together with André Gide and others, he organised the first International Congress of Writers in Defence of Culture in Paris in 1935. In exile in the USSR, Becher was editor-in-chief of the German edition of the Moscow-published Internationale Literaturjournal.

In June 1945 he returned to Berlin, assumed numerous political-cultural positions in the Soviet zone and the GDR. He established the Kulturbund (cultural association), the Aufbau publishing house, the weekly newspaper Sonntag and the journal Sinn und Form. From 1953 to 1956 he was President of the Deutsche Akademie der Künste (German Academy of the Arts). He wrote the words to the national anthem of the GDR and was appointed its first Minister of Culture in 1954. Becher was one of the few emigrants who left accounts of Stalin's terror; his 1956 memoirs were published posthumously in Selbstzensur in 1988. 

Major works:
Verfall und Triumph (poems, 1914)
Der Glücksucher und die sieben Lasten (poems, 1938)
Abschied (novel, 1940)
Selbstzensur (memoir, 1956)
Hundert Gedichte (2008)

Further reading:
Dwars, Jens-Fietje: Abgrund des Widerspruchs. Das Leben des Johannes R. Becher. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag 1998.