Lothar-Günther Buchheim

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Lothar-Günther Buchheim
Lothar-Günther Buchheim.png
Born (1918-02-06)February 6, 1918
Weimar, Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, German Empire
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Starnberg, Bavaria, Germany
Occupation Author, artist
Period 1941–2000
Notable works Das Boot

Lothar-Günther Buchheim (Audio file "De-Lothar-Günther Buchheim.ogg" not found) (February 6, 1918 – February 22, 2007) was a German author and painter. He is best known for his novel Das Boot (1973), which became an international bestseller and was adapted in 1981 as an Oscar-nominated film.

Early life

Buchheim was born in Weimar, in the Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (present-day Thuringia), the second son of artist Charlotte Buchheim. She was unmarried, and he was raised by his mother and her parents. They lived in Weimar until 1924, then Rochlitz until 1932, and finally Chemnitz. He began contributing to newspapers in his teens and put on an exhibition of his drawings in 1933, aged just 15.

He travelled to the Baltic Sea with his brother, and canoed along the Danube to the Black Sea. He spent time in Italy after taking his Abitur in 1937, where he wrote his first book, Tage und Nächte steigen aus dem Strom. Eine Donaufahrt. ("Days and nights rise from the river. A travel on the Danube."), published in 1941. He studied art in Dresden and Munich in 1939, and volunteered for the Kriegsmarine in 1940.

Second World War

Buchheim was an officer in a propaganda unit of the Kriegsmarine in the Second World War, writing as a war correspondent about his experiences on minesweepers, destroyers and submarines. He also made drawings and took photographs.

As a Leutnant zur See in the autumn of 1941, Buchheim joined Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Lehmann-Willenbrock and the crew of U-96 on her seventh patrol in the Battle of the Atlantic. His orders were to photograph and describe the U-boat in action. From his experiences, he wrote a short story, Die Eichenlaubfahrt (The Oak-Leaves Patrol) - Lehmann-Willenbrock had been awarded the Knight's Cross with oak leaves. Buchheim ended the war as an Oberleutnant zur See.

Post-war career

After the war, Buchheim worked as an artist, art collector, gallery owner, art auctioneer and art publisher. Through the 1950s and 1960s, he established an art publishing house, and he wrote books on Georges Braque, Max Beckmann, Otto Mueller and Pablo Picasso. He collected works by French and German Expressionist artists, from groups including Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter, such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Max Pechstein, Emil Nolde, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Franz Marc, Gabriele Münter, Alexej von Jawlensky, and Max Beckmann. These works had been derided as "degenerate" during the Nazi period, and he was able to buy them cheaply after the War.

Buchheim is best known from the 1973 novel based on his wartime experiences, Das Boot ("The Boat"). Das Boot was a fictionalised autobiographical account, narrated by a "Leutnant Werner". It is said to be the best-selling German account of the Second World War, and was quickly translated into an English edition.

His novel was followed by a non-fiction work, U-Boot-Krieg (U-Boat War) in 1976, which became the first part of a trilogy, together with U-Boot-Fahrer (U-Boat Sailors, 1985), and Zu Tode Gesiegt (Victory in the face of Death), published in 1988. The trilogy includes over 5,000 photographs taken during World War II. He is also the author of the novels Die Festung (1995) (The Fortress), based on travels home across France in 1944, and Der Abschied (2000) (The Parting), about the nuclear-powered cargo vessel NS Otto Hahn.

Das Boot was turned into a film in 1981, featuring Jürgen Prochnow as the captain and the debut of Herbert Grönemeyer as "Leutnant Werner". Director Wolfgang Petersen and Buchheim fell out after the author was not allowed to write the script. (Buchheim was always noted for his short temper – he was later nicknamed the "Starnberg volcano".) The film was the most expensive German film ever made. It was nominated for six Oscars.

Even though impressed by the technological accuracy of the film's set-design and port construction buildings, Buchheim expressed great disappointment with Petersen's adaptation in a film review[1] published in 1981, especially with Petersen's aesthetic vision for the film and the way the plot and the effects are, according to him, overdone and clichéd by the adaptation. He also criticised the hysterical overacting of the cast, which he called highly unrealistic, while acknowledging the cast's acting talent in general. Buchheim, after several attempts for an American adaptation had failed, had provided a script detailing his own narrative, cinematographical and photographical ideas as soon as Petersen was chosen as new director. It would have amounted in full to a complete six-hour epic; however, Petersen turned him down because at the time the producers were aiming for a 90-minute feature for international release. However, today's Director's Cut of Das Boot amounts to over 200 minutes, and the complete TV version of the film is 282 minutes long.

Buchheim, himself a U-boat correspondent, attacked specifically what he called Petersen's sacrificing of both realism and suspense in dialogue, narration, and photography for the sake of cheap dramatic thrills and action effects (for example, in reality one single exploding bolt of the boat's pressure hull would have been enough for the whole crew to worry about the U-boat being crushed by water pressure, while Petersen has several bolts loosening in various scenes). Buchheim also criticized depictions of the crew's loud behaviour during patrols as unrealistic and celebrations after achieving a torpedo hit or surviving a bombing as unprofessional. Furthermore, an officer—even an outsider like Lt. Werner—would have commanded special respect and that throwing an oil-drenched towel into his face would not have been tolerated.

Uttering concerns about the end result, Buchheim felt that unlike his clearly anti-war novel the adaptation was "another re-glorification and re-mystification"[1] of the German World War II U-boat war, German heroism and nationalism. He called the film a cross between a "cheap, shallow American action flick"[1] and a "contemporary German propaganda newsreel from World War II".[1]

Later life

In later life, Bucheim sought a location to house his art collection, including curiosities ranging from nutcrackers and Thai shadow puppets to mannequins and carousel animals in addition to his important collection of German Expressionist paintings and graphics. A building was constructed in Duisburg, but he considered it unfit, and he turned down offers from Weimar, Munich and Berlin. He was refused permission to house his collection in his home in Feldafing in Bavaria.

The Museum der Phantasie opened in Bernried on the shore of Lake Starnberg in 2001, funded by the government of Bavaria. The entire collection has been estimated to be worth up to $300 million.

He later wore a patch after an eye operation, and became known as "the pirate". He died of heart failure in Starnberg in Bavaria. He was survived by his wife, Diethild, and a son and a daughter.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Lothar-Günter Buchheim (1981). Kommentar - Die Wahrheit blieb auf Tauchstation ("Commentary: The truth remained hidden under the sea"), Geo, no. 10, 1981
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