- Die Netzwerke des Hans Weigel by Wolfgang Straub
What was known about Hans Weigel before his personal papers became available some twenty years ago was primarily threefold: he was a cultural critic and author of lesser renown, he was an ardent and often strident Cold Warrior who helped organize the Brecht boycott on Viennese stages in the 1950s, and he saw himself as the “discoverer” of young writers, such as Ingeborg Bachmann, Ilse Aichinger, and many others. There has never been a dearth of publications that mention Weigel, if only because he was something of an institution in postwar Austrian culture. More recently, however, there has been a mini-boom in studies of Weigel and his work that have drawn on his extensive Nachlass to reveal a multifaceted writer, theater critic, translator, cabaretist, literary agent and, for a short time, actor (in a Brecht play—Mahagonny, no less!—in 1932). The publication in 2008 of Weigel’s autobiography of the years 1906 to 1938 (In die weite Welt hinein: [End Page 133] Erinnerungen eines kritischen Patrioten) traces his entry into the world of Vienna’s Kleinkunsttheater, including his work with Jura Soyfer and other notables in the years before the Anschluss. Then, in 2015, an authorized popular biography of the author appeared (Ich war einmal . . . Eine Biographie); it gave a comprehensive overview of Weigel’s life, work, and reception, albeit with limited citations.
Wolfgang Straub’s study provides the first scholarly and well-documented portrayal of how Hans Weigel became an “institution” through the networks of individuals who helped shape him and his career paths. This focus on Weigel’s contacts, friends, and business acquaintances at the same time highlights many aspects of the cultural landscape of Vienna from the 1930s to his death in 1991. But Weigel’s networks were not just in Vienna; they included groups in Innsbruck around Lilly Sauter, in Berlin around Hilde Spiel, and in Salzburg around Ilse Leitenberger. The most influential individuals with whom he interacted were, of course, those in Vienna. Many of these figures met at the apartment of Hilde Polsterer, a set designer at the Theater in der Josefstadt whose cultural salon attracted many of the important, if not well-known figures of the time, such as the journalist Inge Morath, the publicist Zeno Liebl and his wife, the publicist and journalist Elizabeth “Bobbie” Löcker, through whom Weigel gained access to many publications, such as Der Turm, Film, Der Optimist, Die Europäische Rundschau, and many others.
While emphasizing the help that Weigel received in establishing himself in Vienna, the author conversely downplays Weigel’s role as a mentor of young writers, arguing that they were more independent in furthering their own careers than has been recognized up to now. He goes a bit far, however, in saying that Weigel was not the “discoverer” of most of the young writers but rather that they came to him. To be sure, there were many other mentors of young writers in Vienna then, such as Hermann Hakel, Rudolf Felmayer, and Hans Löwe. But in the end, most of the young writers gravitated to Weigel, not least because of his perceived effectiveness in finding publishing opportunities for them. The author also cites Jeannie Ebner’s role as editor of the later volumes of the anthology Stimmen der Gegenwart as support for his claim that she, rather than Weigel, largely shaped these volumes. However, Ebner was Weigel’s personal secretary for a few years, beginning in 1952 and thus it is unsurprising that she corresponded with young writers chosen to be in the anthology. In fact, Straub undercuts his own argument somewhat by pointing out how the next generation of writers in the 1960s and 1970s recognized and [End Page 134] emulated his efforts. Gerhard Rühm, for example, a member of Weigel’s circle of young authors in the Café Raimund, published a collection of texts by the young authors of the Wiener Gruppe in 1967, while the Forum Stadtpark (1960) and Rauriser Literaturtage (1971) both invited him to speak about changes in the literary landscape...