Places: The Clown

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: Ansichten eines Clowns, 1963 (English translation, 1965)

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1945-1960

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*West Germany

*West Clown, TheGermany. Federal Republic of Germany, created when Germany was partitioned after World War II. Out of the rubble of the war, West Germany has become a modern industrial state with a vibrant industrial base. A new landscape has been created, one that papers over the tortured past of the Nazi Third Reich and the war. The novel’s flashbacks to the Germany that was under the control of the Nazis expose how readily the German state could change from its embrace of Adolf Hitler to its embrace of democracy. Over the years, Hans Schnier’s father becomes rich by extracting coal from German soil. The family remains seemingly unaffected by the political and economic turmoil that consumes the country because of this exploitation of the land.


*Bonn. New capital of West Germany that is the hometown of the clown Hans Schnier, who returns there a broken man. To Schnier, Bonn becomes the symbol for all that is corrupt with the new West Germany. He became a successful clown outside Bonn; he returns there disillusioned and takes up residence in the apartment that he previously shared with the love of his life, Marie Derkum. Schnier has not performed in his hometown. He had always ventured to other German cities such as Cologne and Hannover to make his livelihood as a clown. He is thus out of place in this city. By the end of the novel, he is reduced to begging for money at a train station, while hoping that Marie will come back to him.


Apartment. Schnier’s home in Bonn. From there he converses on the telephone with the outside world–his parents, other family members, his agent, and childhood friends. Most of the novel is set in this terra-cotta apartment, which in the past Schnier normally lived in only three or four times a year. In his traveling days, he usually feels more at home in hotels than in his own apartment. The isolation of the apartment speaks to the separateness that Schnier feels toward the whole country.

Railway station

Railway station. At the end of the novel, Schnier puts a thick layer of makeup on his face and carries his guitar to the Bonn train station, where he begs for money and waits for Marie to return from Rome with her new husband. He is determined to wait for Marie in the hope that she will save him from the destitute existence into which he has spiraled. He is most definitely at the crossroads of his life. For Schnier, the past, the present, and the uncertain future will converge at the train station.


*Rome. Capital of Italy to which Marie and her new husband, the prelate Heribert Züpfner, go to celebrate their Roman Catholic faith and their marriage at the center of the Catholic world. They may even hope to have an audience with the pope. When Züpfner takes Marie away from Schnier, he persuades her to rekindle her Catholic faith. Schnier also has visions of himself in Rome asking to see the pope. Rome is a symbol for the religious establishment that creates a wall between Schnier and the woman he loves.

*East Germany

*East Germany. Democratic Republic of Germany, created when Germany was partitioned after World War II. East Germany is depicted as a puppet state of the Soviet Union in which no one is allowed to express views that differ from the Communist Party line. On a visit to East Germany, Schnier cannot bring himself to conform by performing sketches that are critical of capitalism. To do so would run counter to his integrity as an artist.

BibliographyBeck, Evelyn T. “A Feminist Critique of Böll’s Ansichten eines Clowns.” University of Dayton Review 12 (Spring, 1976): 19-24. Beck analyzes Hans Schnier as a negative person who exploited Marie. Beck asserts that with Marie, Böll depicted a victim of male domination.Böll, Heinrich. What’s to Become of the Boy? Or, Something to Do with Books. Translated by Leila Vennewitz. New York: Knopf, 1984. Written just before his death, this is Böll’s longest autobiographical work. In it, he reveals connections between his life and his novels.Conard, Robert C. Heinrich Böll. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1981. A good introduction to Böll’s life and works.Conard, Robert C. Understanding Heinrich Böll. Columbia: University of South Carolina Presses, 1992. Includes a brief biography, a chronology, and a bibliography. In one chapter, Conard analyzes Böll’s major novels, among them The Clown.Reid, James Henderson. Heinrich Böll: A German for His Time. Oxford, England: Oswald Wolff, 1988. Reid’s book explores the connections among Böll’s fiction, his life, and his times.
Categories: Places