‘It just has so often a yearning within –
but then you go back with broken wings
and life goes on,
as if you’d never been there.’
– Karoline in Kasimir und Karoline by Ödön von Horváth (1932)
Born in Fiume in Hungary (now Croatia and known as Rijeka since 1945) on 9th December 1901, Edmund Josef Horvát was the son of Dr Edmund Josef Horvát, a Hungarian diplomat, and his Hungarian-German wife, Mary Hermione Prehnal. The following year, the family moved to Belgrade and another son, Lajos, arrived in 1903. In 1908, they moved again to Budapest, where Edmund and Lajos were schooled in Hungarian. As a reward for his diplomatic service, Dr Horvát was ennobled and sent to Munich. The Horvát children remained at school in Hungary, but changed their name to reflect their father’s new-found status; this meant the addition of ‘von’ in German and another ‘h’ added to their surname in Hungarian.
A year before the outbreak of the First World War, Edmund and his brother moved to Munich, before going to live in Bratislava, and then with an uncle in Vienna. The frequent relocations of his childhood would leave von Horváth without a fixed sense of national identity as he later revealed, ‘If you ask me what is my native country, I answer: I was born in Fiume, grew up in Belgrade, Budapest, Pressburg, Vienna and Munich, and I have a Hungarian passport, but I have no fatherland. I am a very typical mix of old Austria-Hungary: at once Magyar, Croatian, German and Czech; my country is Hungary; my mother tongue is German.’ In fact, von Horváth only learnt his ‘mother tongue’ during his teens in Munich, but it was the only language he wrote in thereafter.
Enrolling as a student at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich in 1919, von Horváth studied German literature and drama, which prompted him to begin writing his own plays; early titles included Das Buch der Tänze (1920). After abandoning his studies in 1922, he divided his time between Berlin and Salzburg and began calling himself Ödön, the Hungarian spelling of his name. From 1924, he was also a frequent visitor to his parents’ new home in Murnau, Upper Bavaria. Continue reading