"Schloß Gripsholm" by Kurt Tucholsky is many things at once: a cheerful summer vacation, a love story told with a twinkle in the eye, a satire on man and his absurd actions and, last but not least, a persiflage of the author on himself. No wonder that many consider it Tuchosky's best work.
Published by Manesse, Bibliothek der Weltliteratur, 2006
"I'm thinking of a little story, not too extensive, around 15-16 sheets, tender in tone, paperback, slightly ironic and with a colourful cover. The content can be anything you want." That is how Kurt Tucholsky's publisher Ernst Rowolt imagined the next book of the author to be - at least in this fictional letter, which precedes the main text of "Castle Gripsholm" (1931).
Tucholsky then presents the story of the protagonist Kurt, the woman with the amazing alto-voice called Lydia, and their three-week vacation in Sweden. They spend their time in an attachment to the Castle Gripsholm near Mariefred. Soon several visitors start coming. First, they are visited by Kurt's friend Karlchen and later on Lydia's friend Billie stops by, which results in a very interesting evening among the three of them. But their summer in the castle is not just filled with the two lovers' happiness. There is a children's home close by. The superintendent of the home, Ms. Adriani and her methods of teaching seem outrageous to Lydia and Kurt, especially when dealing with a little girl called Ada. They decide to act and try to get in contact with Ada's mother in order to help the girl.
"Castle Gripsholm. A Summer Story" is one of the most well-known works by the journalist Kurt Tucholsky (1890-1935), who is perceived to be one of the most significant writers of the Weimar Republic. His stinging satires on humans and their absurd actions have not lost any of their currency. Anyone reading the texts today will notice that not much has changed with regards to the gender stereotypes and political wrongdoings he addresses. Tucholsky was a master in cleverly making his readers aware of their own - mostly cliché - behaviour.
This quality is also prevalent in "Castle Gripsholm". Tucholsky uses himself as a literary character in the book and thus plays with the reader's expectations. By making "Kurt" the centre of his love story, he presents himself as the cliché lover and even more so as the cliché writer. This first-person-perspective enables him to create a very credible character, but at the same time humorously show that love stories are all really the same in the end. At the same time, he satirises himself as an author. Consequently, while many of Tucholsky's texts reflect on humans as political beings, this text takes a look at humans as lovers and authors.
There is an interesting contrast between this humoristic and satirical portrait and the serious, melancholic subplot, revolving around little Ada. She suffers a lot under the other kids' attacks, especially since the death of her brother, and Kurt and Lydia finally manage to free Ada from the children's home. "Castle Gripsholm" thus reminds its readers that the pure, kitsch kind of happiness does not actually exist and also that a light little satire is not enough. Words are not enough - people also need to do something, just like Kurt and Lydia do in the story.
Unfortunately, "Castle Gripsholm" was Tucholsky's last major work. When the National Socialists came, he left Germany and spent the rest of his life in Sweden. He was actually buried in the close vicinity of the Castle Gripsholm, the site of his last charming and melancholic summer story - which is just as worth reading as all of Kurt Tucholsky's texts.