Monday, June 22, 2020


August Stramm (1874-1915) was born in Munster,Westphalia. In 1896-97, he fulfilled his year of compulsory military service in the German army.  It was this prior military service that resulted in Stramm being conscripted as an officer into the German army in August,1914 although he was nearly forty years old.

                                                                AUGUST STRAMM (1915)

Stramm had begun writing both poetry and plays in 1902. His writing style became more experimental and in 1913 several of his expressionistic poems were published in Der Strum (The Storm) an avant-garde journal founded in 1910 by Herwarth Walden (1879-1941).

It was during Stramm’s military service that he wrote the one-act play Awakening (1914). Throughout World War I, Stramm’s poems did not reflect patriotism as did the work of many other German poets.  Instead he expressed his hatred of the war and “this great awareness of the terrible.” Stramm’s truest feelings about the war were expressed in some of his letters to his wife, Else Krafft (1877-1947) who was a journalist and novelist, as well as to his editor and friend Herwarth Walden.  Awakening does not express the realities of war as did Stramm’s poems.

Awakening is set in a hotel room furnished with two single beds side by side. Valises and articles of clothing are scattered over chairs and bed-side tables. On the wall opposite the beds are double doors. HE and SHE are the guests, SHE is awake. They are lovers. SHE is distraught but when HE awakens, SHE will not explain why. Part of the scenery collapses about HE as he rages at SHE.

There is knocking on the door. The door quickly gives way to the blows from the people trying to gain access to the room. The MANAGER bursts into the room. Everything is in a state of chaos. The situation outside the window quickly supersedes the dispute between the MANAGER and HE. A storm has created a torrent of river water that is starting to flood the city. A crowd rushes into this hotel room. SHE is recognized as the wife of a local businessman. Chaos takes over the situation with the crowd both against SHE as well as fearful of the flooding river.

This short play contains threats, a craving for money, sudden death as well as a confrontation between a male and female. Suddenly as the city is about to be destroyed, HE solves the problem by telling the people to “Let the water in! Open the dam.” The city is saved from destruction and HE tells the crowd “Rebuild!” Everyone rushes away, except GIRL, who is left in the room with HE. GIRL is SHE’s younger sister. HE is proclaimed by the returning crowd as “Our master builder.” HE and GIRL proclaim their love for each other. “THE STAR (a scenic element) flares up brilliantly.” It announces a new future to be created by HE as the couple embrace.

Awakening was published in Strum’s book series number 5, November/December 1915. This play was written in an evolving style of Expressionist drama. Stramm had previously written lyrical plays as well as one that was naturalism. Awakening was a totally new approach for Stramm. The most unusual aspect of Awakening was the stylized use of language. There are numerous one, two, or three-word sentences plus exclamations. It reminded people of the style of writing used in telegrams—short and to the point with a staccato effect. Perhaps this occurred to the public since Stramm’s commenced his long career in 1893 with the German Post Office administration. His new style of writing associated with Awakening is labelled Telegrammstil. Language had become one of the main elements used in experimental ways and this new telegram style fit with the other elements of drama that became labelled as Expressionism.

Awakening incorporates another new feature labelled “New Man.” This visionary character would later become used exclusively in expressionistic drama. In Awakening, HE is the savior of this town and his vision will create its future. THE STAR proclaims that promise.

HE also has a new life ahead of him with his true love. GIRL in one English translation that I read is named IT.   GIRL neither incurs the wrath of the local citizenry nor does she inflame their bourgeois values. Thus, there is a sense that a new level of morality has been reached among this town’s population. Awakening moves from chaos and discontentment to a brighter future. It is possibly Stramm’s vision for when the war concluded.

Another expressionist trait Stramm employed in Awakening is labelling his characters instead of giving each one a Christian name. This element became exclusively identified with theatrical expressionism. 

Stramm, was awarded the Iron Cross for his bravery on the French Front in January 1915. He was soon transferred to the Russian Front where he died in combat on September 15,1915.

 Stramm’s legacy was that his poetry and drama influenced writers for the following two decades.  The poetry appears to be the best remembered of his writings currently, but his plays are also of significance. His 1914 one-act play titled Sancta Susanna was the basis for the 1921opera by the same titled composed by Paul Hindemith (1895-1963).  Awakening was of importance to later German Expressionist playwrights since it introduced and refined several signature elements that further defined the style.

Two Resources for more consideration of this playwright and his work:
1.      Wasserman, Martin.  Poets of Crisis: August Stramm and Maria Berl-Lee. Xlibris, 2020.
    (This book includes some of Stramm’s thoughts regarding the war and many of
      his poems.)

2.      Richie, J.M. & Garten, H.F. Seven Expressionist Plays. London: Calder and Boyars, 1968.

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