Gunter Grass, the Nobel prize-winning author, passed away earlier this year and with him probably went an era. A sometimes controversial figure, he maintained close contact with the city of his birth and will be missed.
Gunter Grass was born on October 16, 1927 the son of a German grocer, Wilhelm Grass and a Kashubian mother Helena Knoff, in the hospital now known as Kliniczna. Grass’ background was not uncommon in a city where Germans, Poles and the local Kashubian population regularly intermarried and his own story can be viewed as a pocket history of the city in the first half of the 20th century. The mix of cultures in which Grass grew up is also a theme that regularly appears in his work and is particularly evident in Grass’ ‘The Tin Drum’ where the main character Oskar has a Kashubian mother, and two presumptive fathers - the German Alfred Matzerath, his mother’s husband and the Pole Jan Bronski, his mother’s lover. Because Grass uses real places set against an historical background in his fictionalised work, he creates a window into the Danzig of the 1930s and 1940s and the lives of those who lived here during this period.
Many of the locations where the action is set in his novels are real places where Gunter Grass spent time during this period and with many having survived the devastation suffered by the main city of Gdansk/ Danzig during World War II, it is possible to walk the streets of Gunter Grass’ childhood and at the same time realise the setting of his stories.
The best place to start is his parents’ home close to the Wrzeszcz railway station and bus terminus. The row of buildings on ul. Lendziona (German - Kastanienweg) look much like they did when Grass was born and at 5a you’ll see the entrance to the courtyard where the Grasses lived.
Although his father was an Evangelical Protestant, Gunter Grass was christened a Catholic like his mother in the nearby Sacred Heart of Jesus church on ul. ks. Jozefa Zator Przytockiego 3 (Schwarzerweg). His parents moved to the nearby ul. Joachima Lelewela (Labesweg), where his father, a grocer, also had a shop. Grass attended the primary school on ul. Pestalozziego (Pestalozzistrasse) before continuing his studies in the Conradinum on ul. Piramowicza (Kruzestrasse).