8.2.09

'As The Wind Takes Me': Beckett in Hamburg, 1936

A retrospective of Beckett's travels in Germany
Photograph of a young Samuel Beckett.
'Beckett had already planned his own departure. By 19 September, he could write that 'The prospect of getting away is a great relief', although he had no specific plans except to travel to Germany and then 'selon le vent' (as the wind takes me).'


James Knowlson, 'Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett'.
One of the things that distinguishes James Knowlson's biography of Samuel Beckett from its predecessors is the unprecedented access it had to the writer's so-called 'lost years'. And they were lost in more ways than one: it was a period of wandering and of solitude for Beckett, as he toured the art galleries and cultural sights of the major European cities. It was also a period 'lost' in the sense that no documentation appeared to remain from this time in his life. Knowlson's biography was written and published upon the discovery of a series of notebooks, previously hidden away from view, that Beckett wrote while traveling.

Often referred to by Beckett scholars as 'The Unknown Diaries', the notebooks detail the author's experience of Germany between 1936 and 1937, shortly before he finally settled permanently in Paris. The diaries offer a snapshot not just of the development of a great writer, but of Europe at a time of tumultuous political struggle, artistic censorship and the inexorable rise of National Socialism.

Samuel Beckett's Hamburg Diaries, 1936

There is a website online that offers readers a glimpse at Samuel Beckett's diaries during this period, and publishes highlights from his nine-week stay in Hamburg in 1936. The website originates from 'the research done by Roswitha Quadflieg around the Hamburg chapter of Samuel Beckett's German Diaries [and] was first shown in the winter of 2003 at the Freie Akademie der K√ľnste in Hamburg [...] as an homage on occasion of Samuel Beckett's 100th birthday.'

The online exhibition of Beckett in Hamburg 1936 comes complete with a partial transcription of the writer's diaries over the entire period of his stay, and an interactive calendar with quotes, photographs and explanatory notes. It's beautifully designed and fun to browse. Available in German or English translation, you can see it for yourself by clicking here.