Read an essay about Leppin's work here
More about Leppin here (in German)
Two short films based
on Leppin's writing:
Paul Leppin was born in Prague on November 27, 1878, the second son of Josef Leppin and Pauline Scharsach.
Both were from Friedland, in Moravia, and had come to Prague just before their marriage, hoping to be able to
improve their social situation in the city through the many opportunities not available in the provinces. She
was a teacher, he a clockmaker, a profession he had to abandon to clerk in a law office while his wife cared
for their two sons. Forced by the economic difficulties of his family to forgo a university education, Leppin
entered the civil service soon after graduating from Gymnasium, working as an accountant for the Telegraph and
Postal Service until he retired for health reasons. It was here that he witnessed firsthand the life-numbing
existence of his contemporaries, a theme that consistently made its way into his writing.
Beginning with the appearance of the novella The Doors of Life in 1901, Leppins poetry, prose, and essays
appeared regularly in Prague and Germany over the next four decades. In contrast to his staid professional life,
Leppin's literary career was marked by a desire to "shock the bourgeois," which earned him the unofficial title
"king of Prague bohemians." Famous for his mischievous songs, his love of parties, his organizational talent as well
as his decadent lifestyle, he became the leading figure of a young generation of Prague German artists during the
first decade of the 20th century. Known as Jung-Prag [Young Prague], they congregated around the two literary
publications Leppin edited, Fruhling [Spring] and Wir [We], and sought to combat the city's cultural
provincialism typified by the conservative Concordia group.
While Leppin's name was becoming known outside of Prague, he was often subject to attacks at home. His novel Daniel Jesus
was hailed by the Expressionists in Berlin, yet condemned as pornography in Prague. His railing at the city's literary
establishment in the pages of Wir eventually damaged his own future career and the publication had to fold after
only two issues. Indeed, Wir was the last attempt by the group to gain an audience, and most associated with it
would eventually leave Prague. Leppin was one of the few to stay. He married Henriette Bogner in 1907, and her wish to
move to the chic metropolis of Vienna was unable to break the hold Leppin's native city had on him. The Vinohrady
district — Prag-Weinberge as he knew it growing up — remained their home.
Leppin once commented that he hoped the revolutionary gestures of his group and the rejection they had endured would at
least benefit a younger generation of writers now coalescing around Franz Kafka and Max Brod, who considered him
"the chosen bard of the painfully disappearing old Prague." In Leppin's own words, he was "a monument to times past,"
the last representative of an era. He continued to write novels, plays (performed at the Neues Deutsches Theater),
stories, and poems — Prague always forming a strong influence — and he became secretary of the Union of
German Writers in Czechoslovakia, which had been founded by Oskar Baum and Johannes Urzidil.
Leppin, in fact, was one of the few German writers to have close contacts with contemporary Czech artists and writers.
He translated Czech poetry and wrote articles on Czech literature and art for German periodicals, and had his own work
published in Moderni revue, the main organ of Czech Decadence. Serving as a mediator between the cultures, he
"set an example as poet and as citizen that a fruitful and peaceful coexistence of both nationalities (Czech and German)
is possible in one state without having to give up one's national identity," as Otto Pick remarked in an address given on
Leppin's 50th birthday. His contribution to the city's literature and culture was recognized both in 1934, when he was
awarded the Schiller Memorial Prize, and in 1938, when on his 60th birthday he received an Honorary Recognition for Writers
from the Czechoslovak Ministry of Culture. In the same year, two volumes of his Prager Rhapsodie appeared
(a collection of poetry and short prose illustrated by Hugo Steiner-Prag), marking the end of his publishing activity.
The remaining years of Leppin's life were a living hell. After the German occupation of Prague in March 1939, he was
temporarily detained and interrogated by the Gestapo. He never learned the reason for it, but most likely he had been
denounced as a Jew. Some literary historians did indeed consider him a Jewish writer, and his scandalous books and his
good relations with both Czech and Jewish artists provided additional proof that he belonged to a group that undermined
Aryan values. Another reason might have been the refusal by the Union of German Writers in Czechoslovakia under his
leadership to join the Nazi sponsored Literary Society of Germany. Whatever the case, his poor physical and psychological
state, caused by syphilis and a stroke suffered shortly after his release from Pankrac Prison, rapidly deteriorated amd left
him utterly helpless in the years to come. The Union was dissolved by the Nazi authorities, and Leppin made a futile attempt
to obtain a party membership card in order to receive medical care. He sat in a wheelchair most of the day being looked after
by his wife and waiting for the visits of Marianne von Hoop, a young friend who brought him medication to relieve his pain
(her husband was a physician). She also understood how to get his mind off his suffering and was able to motivate him to
write again: a cycle of poems, Der Gefangene [The Prisoner], and a novella, Monika. Dreizehn Kapitel Liebe aus der Holle
[Monika: Thirteen Chapters a Love from Hell], which he completed at the end of 1944. These were his last works.
Leppin died, virtually forgotten, just before midnight on April 10, 1945. He is buried in Prague's Vinohrady Cemetery.
published by TSP:
into the Dark