Hermann Sudermann—bearded wonder

 This is unusual, but perhaps not for its time. Back in 1906, when this postcard was sent from Berlin to a certain Seigfried Keiller, who was living in the Jewish ghetto of Gartenstrasse, Breslau, it would seem that celebs trusted the postal service to deliver signed photos of themselves safely. Not a likely prospect today!

Hermann Sudermann (1857 – 1928), a hugely successful novelist and dramatist in his day, was that celebrity, as one can see from the bottom of the card, where his scrawl of a signature appears just above his printed surname. We don’t know exactly when the card was printed, but he looks to be around his mid or late forties.  At the time Sudermann was at the height of his popularity. A German nationalist and an admirer of Nietzsche, his plays and novels found a ready audience, not only in his native land, but also in Japan and Britain, where, for instance, the English version of his drama Heimat, which played with the notion that the artist should be able to lead a freer moral life than the bourgeoisie, attracted actresses like Sarah Berhardt and Mrs Patrick Campbell. His plays also formed the basis of more than thirty films worldwide.

Sudermann died in 1928, but as someone who promoted nationalism and romanticized ideas of ethnicity, his popularity lasted right up the Second World War. However, with the defeat of Hitler and the cultural re-evaluation that accompanied the rebuilding of Germany, his work became distinctly unfashionable and today he is an almost totally forgotten figure.
Incidentally, it is interesting to speculate why Sudermann came to send a signed photo of himself. It is possible that Keiller attended a performance of one of his plays in the presence of the dramatist and that he approached him for an autograph. Sudermann may then have promised to do better than supply a signature and afterwards dispatched the signed postcard. Such a scenario seems more likely than the notion of Keiller looking up Sudermann’s address and number in the Berlin phone directory. But you never know!


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