Dog Years Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Günter Grass

First published: Hundejahre, 1963 (English translation, 1965)

Genre: Novel

Locale: Danzig and West Germany

Plot: Social realism

Time: The mid-1920's to the late 1940's

Walter Matern (VAHL-tehr MAH-tehrn), the stocky son of a miller. Walter, known as the “grinder” for constantly grinding his teeth, is the protector, friend, and blood brother to Eddi Amsel. Their lives, along with the changes in Germany, are traced from their boyhood in the mid-1920's through the early post-World War II period. Walter is expelled from the Young Prussia Athletic Club for distributing Communist leaflets, and his career as an aspiring actor is cut short by his excessive drinking. He joins the brown-shirted Nazi Sturm Abteilung (SA) on the urging of Amsel, who wants a source of uniforms for scarecrows. Walter, however, eventually reports Amsel for making animated SA dummies. In times of exasperation or anger, Walter reviles his friend as “sheeny.” He and his fellow thugs beat Amsel, and Walter personally knocks out all of Amsel's teeth. Walter is later kicked out of the SA and joins the army to escape punishment for his political opinions. He commands an antiaircraft unit in which Harry Liebenau serves, but eventually he is condemned to a penal battalion for anti-Nazi statements. Released from an English prison camp as an anti-Fascist, he eventually becomes a radio star because of the dynamism of his voice. Subjected to a brutal and accusatory review of his life on a live radio program directed by Harry, Walter in disgust decides to leave the capitalistic West. In Berlin, however, he meets Amsel, whom he does not at first recognize, and is taken on a tour of his fantastic scarecrow production center.

Eddi Amsel, a short and corpulent boy with reddish-blond hair and an ample supply of freckles. Amsel, from a village near Danzig, has a marvelous voice, is a talented artist, and has an especially creative talent for making scarecrows. The son of a wealthy Jewish merchant and a German peasant, he inherits their money, much of which he invests in Switzerland. After the beating by the SA, Amsel is transformed as he lies in the snow: As it melts, his corpulence shrinks away. Thin and toothless, he leaves for Berlin, where he purchases gold replacements for his lost teeth. After the arrest of Jenny Brunies' stepfather, Amsel, now known as Hermann Haseloff, returns to Danzig and takes his beloved Jenny back to Berlin, where she becomes the star of his ballet company. After the war, going by the name Goldmouth, he becomes a rich speculator and businessman. As Brauxel or Brauchsel, he purchases a mine, which is transformed into a production center for elaborate scarecrows, which embody the mechanical and spiritless character of West German society.

Anton Matern, Walter's father, the miller, whose right ear was flattened as a result of carrying sacks of flour on his shoulder. The ear, deaf to ordinary sounds, is capable of hearing predictions of the future from mealworms in flour sacks. As a refugee in West Germany after World War II, he works for Goldmouth. The miller keeps him informed of future financial trends, and he hires out the miller's services as a financial adviser to a wide clientele of important German industrial and financial figures.

Harry Liebenau (LEE-beh-now), a historian and writer of radio plays. Though younger than Amsel and Matern, he knows them and is hired by Brauxel to write the memories of his childhood in Danzig. Liebenau does this in the form of love letters to his cousin, Tulla Pokriefke, whose family lived in the building owned by his father, a carpenter.

Jenny Brunies (BREW-neez), a foundling originally named Estersweh. After she was deserted by a gypsy, Bidandengero, she was adopted by the bachelor Oswald Brunies, who gave her the name Jenny. She was grotesquely fat but musically talented. She studied piano with Herr Felsner-Imbs, who had moved into the Liebenau building, and took ballet lessons. Encased in a snowman by Tulla, Jenny shrinks with the melting of the snowman and is transformed into a cold and detached but thin and graceful person. Although she later professes to love Harry, she is devoid of emotional intensity. As Jenny Angustri, she becomes a noted ballerina in Haseloff's company, but she loses her toes in an Allied bombing raid. She then becomes the proprietor of a small bar financed by Goldmouth.

Dr. Oswald Brunies, the boys'amiable middle-aged teacher. Brunies' round face is creased with wrinkles caused by his frequent laughter and continuous grinning. He collects rocks and is addicted to cough drops that he concocted himself. An opponent of Adolf Hitler, he refuses to fly the Nazi flag from his apartment. When he eats vitamin pills intended for his students, he is sent to a concentration camp, where he dies.

Ursula “Tulla” Pokriefke (TEWL-lah pohk-REEF-keh), Harry's sexually active cousin, baptized Ursula but called Tulla for Thula, a Koshnavian water nymph. Tulla is a thin, pale bundle of motion and energy. Her nostrils are the biggest feature on her face, but in her frequent bouts of anger she rolls her small and deep-set eyes until only bloodshot white is visible. The odor of bone glue, brought home by her father, who mixes it in Liebenau's carpenter shop, clings to everything she touches. Tulla has a cruel streak and enjoys tormenting other people, including Harry, whose love for her is not reciprocated.

Inge Sawatzki (SVAHTS-kee), the wife of Jochen Sawatzki, Walter Matern's SA group leader, who had Matern expelled for stealing SA funds. After the war, Matern wanders around Germany avenging himself against people who had wronged him by sleeping with their wives or daughters. Jochen Sawatzki welcomes him into his house and allows Inge, who falls in love with Matern, to become his mistress. Matern fathers Inge's daughter, Walli.

Senta, Harras, and Prinz, the dogs. Pawel, who worked for the miller, Matern, had brought a dog named Perkun with him from Lithuania. He claims that Perkun had been sired by a half-wolf. Perkun sires the miller's dog Senta, who whelps Harras. The Danzig carpenter, Friedrich Liebenau, buys Harras, who sires Prinz. Amsel is fascinated with Harras and paints his portrait, but Walter, who regards the pitch-black dog as a symbol of evil, poisons it. Prinz, an exact likeness of Harras, is given to Hitler and becomes his favorite dog. Prinz, however, deserts Hitler on the Führer's birthday during the Battle of Berlin. The dog heads west and eventually finds Walter in an English prison camp. Prinz attaches himself to the released Walter, who renames him Pluto.

Categories: Characters