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Ernst Jünger is still working at 102

By Consul B. John Zavrel


Writer against spelling reform - Confidence in today's youth - Wife Liselotte is his good spirit

"I work only three or four hours a day," says the 102-year old Ernst Jünger. On March 29, he will celebrate his birthday with his wife Liselotte in Wilflingen, his residence since 1950. She is his "good spirit", intelligent confidante, and guardian of his valuable time. "I am now working on my diaries," said Jünger a few days before his birthday. Volume V of "Seventy Years Gone By" will be published next by Klett-Cotta in Stuttgart.

That he will again receive birthday wishes from all over the world is quite normal. On his 100th birthday yet, French President Francois Mitterrand, who has since passed away, wrote a homage to the "great German". Among the guests at Jünger's lodge in the Swabian mountains were Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Finance Minister Theo Weigel. They, too, were impressed with the obvious vitality of the upright man with the light blue eyes and the handsome head of a Roman emperor.

His fame was not planned, says the man of letters and knight of the Alexander Order for Art and Science. Discipline, order, and work laid the foundation for his situation today. His fascination with words prompted him to become a writer. It comes as no surprise that Jünger considers the present controversy over spelling reform in Germany to be superfluous, "because it does not make anything easier; rather, it obscures the origin of words." He thinks more highly of the younger generation in Germany. "They are better that their reputation," he says. To the question, after living a full and eventful life, of what advice he has to give to young people on the subject of personal involvement and the fulfillment of duty, the master responds: "Absolutely nothing, for they won't listen to it!"

This must also have been true for the parents of Ernst Jünger, born on March 29, 1885 in Heidelberg. At the age of six, he smoked his first cigarette, Jünger recalls very clearly today. And even now, he does not deny himself this pleasure: "I like to smoke." Moreover, the 102-year old allows himself yet another luxury. He doesn't get up until 9 a.m. At one time, he was up with the birds, says the enthusiastic beetle collector.

To an even greater extent than Gerhart Hauptmann, former recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature, Jünger is already a legend in his own time: highly esteemed even as a young man, but also much criticized. "The hate of one's enemies heightens the myth," says Jünger to console himself, as in 1982 he accepts the Goethe Prize under public protest in the city of Frankfurt. The fact that Jünger had enlisted voluntarily in World War I and acquired early renown with his epic of war caused a great stir. He is now the only living recipient of the "Pour le merite" Medal for Bravery. After 1945, the number of his readers and admirers increased in Japan and the United States as well. In Germany, the author of ImStahlgewitter (In Storms of Steel) was considered by many to be a glorifier of war and a forerunner of the National Socialists. "Anyone who has lived to old age has experienced much, and also vice versa," said Jünger in an interview.

While still in high school, Jünger joined the Wandervogel youth movement. Before his graduation, he ran off to join the Foreign Legion. His father hauled him back, but on the day World War I broke out, the 19-year old enlisted. He was soon fighting as a raid leader on the Western front. In a diary entitled In Storms of Steel, published in 1920, he described the action he saw as a bloody experience, far removed from the boredom of daily bourgeois life, an intoxicating challenge. Eight times he was wounded. The 23-year-old officer was in the hospital when the war ended. With his first book, Jünger had already found the central theme of his life's work: Only in extreme situations is man fully alive.

In the years that followed, Jünger studied zoology and philosophy, started a family, and as a free-lance writer, published right-wing articles. The zenith of his "heroic nihilism" came in 1932 with the piece entitled "The Worker - Rule and Form". As the meaning of his existence on the treshold of a new age, Jünger propagated work in itself: "The task of total mobilization is the transformation of life into energy as it is revealed in the turning of the wheels of economics, technology and trade, and on the battlefield in firing and action."

Jünger spoke later of his "alarming mistake". To reject the whole of his work on the basis of these early writings would be doing him an injustice, said author Wolf Jobst Siddler at the awarding of the Goethe Prize.

Despite lows, he remains optimistic

The National Socialists courted Jünger, but he turned down a seat in the Reichstag. In 1933 he moved from Berlin to the Bodensee. The Socialist Ernst Niekisch, for whose periodical Jünger wrote, believed that it had been primarily the "spirit of vulgarity" that had put him off. Jünger expressed his aversion in the 1939 novel Auf den Marmorklippen (On the Marble Cliffs) in which an ancient pastoral folk, under the leadership of the "head forester", conquer and destroy the highly advanced culture of the neighboring country.

During World War II, Jünger served, with Hitler's approval, as a reserve officer in occupied Paris, until he was discharged on July 20, 1944 as "unfit for service". At the time, his work Peace was in circulation, in which he promotes European cooperation. It is dedicated to his son Ernst, who fell as a German soldier in Italy.

Today, looking back on his life, Jünger hopes that the democratic form of government can solve the problems of society. In spite of all the highs and lows in his life, he remains an optimist, says Jünger. For him, the following holds true: "In all cases, hope takes us further than fear."



Have you read any books by Ernst Jünger? See what is available below!

Eumeswil, by Ernst Jünger

Castle to Castle, by Louis-Ferdinand Celine

Aladdin's Problem, by Ernst Jünger

Primer for Those Who Would Govern, by Hermann Oberth

Arno Breker: His Art and Life, by B. J. Zavrel



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PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.