June 29, 2011

Joachim Ringelnaatz

Joachim Ringelnatz [Hans Bötticher] [Germany]

Born as Hans Hans Bötticher on August 7, 1883 in Wuzen, Saxony, the author took on the pen name Ringelnatz, a dialect expression for a "grass snake."

Running away from school before graduation, he spent much of his youth as a sailor, and was inducted into the Navy in World War I, where he served on a minesweeper.

After the war he worked at various jobs from newsboy, window-dresser, cigarette-vendor to bar-poet, librarian and even a tourist guide, but finally became well known as a Kabarettist, a Cabaret performer, creating some of the wry poems for which he his known. Using heavy word-play and clever rhyming, some of the poems bordered on nonsense poetry, and associated him for time with the Dadaists. One of his most popular characters was Kuddel Daddeldu, a drunken sailor with a disdain for all authority.

In the early 1920s, however, Ringelnatz turned to visual art, painting and drawing vast amounts of work, much of which was lost in World War II, but with 200 works remaining. Some of that work was shown, along with contemporaries Otto Dix and George Grosz at the Akademie der Künste. Ringelnatz also wrote fiction, and illustrated his famous 1923 ...liner Roma..., the title of which truncated the German Berliner Roman (Berlin Novel).

Until 1933 Ringelnatz lived in Munich, moving to Berlin in 1934, the year of his death. In the last two years of his life, the artists was declared by the Nazi government to be a "degenerate."


Gedichte (1910); Die Schnupftabakdose. Stumpfsinn in Versen und Bildern von Hans Bötticher und Richard Seewald (1912); Kuttel Daddeldu (digital reconstruction: Kuttel Daddeldu.); Neue Gedichte der erweiterten Ausgabe (Münich: K. Wolff, 1923); Turngedichte (1920/1923); Kuttel Daddeldu oder das schlüpfrige Leid (1920); Reisebriefe eines Artisten (Berlin: E. Rowohlt, 1927); Gedichte dreier Jahre (1932); Die Flasche und mit ihr auf Reisen (Berlin: Rowohlt, 1932); 103 Gedichte (Berlin: Rowohlt, 1933); Gedichte. Gedichte von einstmals und heute (Berlin: Rowohlt, 1934); Kasperle-Verse (Berlin: K. H. Henssel, 1939); Sämtliche Gedichte (Zurich: Diogenes, 1997)


Two poems in Michael Hamburger and Christopher Middleton, eds. and trans., Modern German Poetry: 1910-1960 (New York: Grove Press, 1962)

The Postage Stamp

A macho postage stamp once tasted
The pangs of love while being pasted.
A pretty princess licked it damp,
Arousing passion in the stamp.

It hankered to return her kiss
But since its trip precluded this
Its love, alas, was unrequited.
Ah me! How often life is blighted!

(from Die Schnupftabakdose, 1912)

—Translated from the German by David Cram

The Ants

Two ants from Central London planned
A visit to Van Diemen's Land,
But n their way down Oxford Street
They both got blisters on their feet,
And so they wisely thought they'd skip
The last leg of their walking trip.

(from Die Schnupftabakdose, 1912)

—Translated from the German by David Cram

Cassel (Carps at Wilhelmstrasse 15)

In the shop they've been put
Into a tank, so intimate.
To swim in this is their privilege.
A bit frazzled outside—not much edge—
Inside they're
Altogether livelier.
Mumbling spells like wizards is part of their demeanor,
As if this made the water cleaner.
Dumbly in their probosces mayonnaise they munch,
And dream of being shaved against the grain,
Of being gutted, killed, warmed, or, again,
Garnished on a silver plate for lunch.
Inside tycoons they end,
Their funniest bone they send
The wrong way down the larynx.
And picturing their souls one thinks
Of wood lice
Doing knee-bends for exercise.
In Cassel there wasn't, let me confess,
Much else besides to captivate or depress.

(from Reisebriefe eines Artisten, 1927)

—Translated from the German by Christopher Middleton


I used to scratch medals, when I was a lad,
On my tin soldiers with a knife.
Except for the two that everyone had,
I go no other honors myself in all my life.

That is not to say that to me it is all the same.
In fact, my Ideal is
That after my death (cum grano salis)
A little street should be given my name,
A narrow twisty street with lowdown doors,
Steep stairways and cheap little whores,
Shadows and sloping roof-windows I want.

It would be my haunt.

(from Gedichte dreier Jahre, 1932)

—Translated from the German by Christopher Middleton

For a video of a Ringelnatz poem, please click below:


"The Postage Stamp" and "The Ants" English language translations copyright ©2000 by David Cram.
"Cassel" and "Ambition" English language translations copyright by Christopher Middleton, 1962.

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