What Hans Fallada's "Little Man - What Now?" teaches us

Johannes Pinneberg is in love with his pregnant girlfriend Emma.

What Hans Fallada's "Little Man - What Now?" teaches us

Johannes Pinneberg is in love with his pregnant girlfriend Emma. Unfortunately, he has little money and soon no longer has a job. Both are difficult to obtain in Germany in the early 1930s. The global economic crisis has the citizens firmly in its grip. In his 1932 novel “Little Man – What Now?”, Hans Fallada describes what life was like back then. A life on the edge of what is necessary, in constant fear of being fired and for the preservation of the family.

Many Germans associate the final phase of the Weimar Republic with mass unemployment and inflation, which paved the way for the Nazis. The former is correct. But in fact there was very high negative inflation at the time - a so-called deflation. Prices didn't go up, they went down. Because people didn't have jobs and didn't buy anything.

Currency appreciation was the specter of the early 1930s. In his novel, a late New Objectivity classic, Fallada describes how fear for money can wear you down. When the clothing salesman Johannes Pinneberg suddenly has to meet a monthly sales quota, it robs him of his sleep. The work pressure is so great that he falls into a depression. Eventually, his nerves burn out with him: he pressures a customer so much that he is fired. Even back then, burnout and stress that made you ill were a big topic. The writer himself struggled with mental health issues. Fallada, born in Greifswald in 1893, remained a bestselling author even during the Nazi regime, but was heavily addicted to alcohol. He died in February 1947 as a result of years of morphine addiction.

If you read his observations of society from the Weimar period, the Pinnebergs' money worries seem surprisingly familiar (again): "We're left with 22.40 marks - then we won't have anything for firing. And nothing for gas. And nothing for light and nothing for clothes. Yes, and you also want to go to the cinema.”

Heating and electricity costs are again the number one topic today. Taxes and insurance premiums have also remained reliably high. Emma's budget list says: Eggs: four marks, vegetables: eight marks, meat: twelve marks, sausage and cheese: five marks, bread: ten marks, fish: three marks and fruit: five marks. Taxes and insurance 31.75 marks.

Some things are unimaginable today: After the birth of their son, the Pinnebergs have to wait a scandalously long time for the maternity allowance to be paid out by the health insurance company. When Johannes finally receives unemployment benefits, he has to use expensive tickets to drive from their gazebo on the outskirts to the city center. Until at some point, neglected and with holes in his clothes, he is scared away and humiliated by a police officer. Broken, he flees home to his wife Emma. Because that remains the bright spot in the whole story. And so we can learn two things from Fallada. First: do not panic about inflation, fear deflation! And second: In the end, the most important thing is that the light goes on at home.

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