Else Lasker-Schüler came from a well-to-do family in Elberfield, in the Rhineland. From her father Aaron Schüler, who was a banker and builder, she inherited a passion for toys and play. She attributed her poetic inspiration to her mother, who loved literature.
The New Generation
Hebrew Ballads (1913)
Land of the Hebrews (1937)
Double Talent: Drawings
In 1894, Else Schüler married the physician Berthold Lasker, and moved with him to Berlin. There they settled into a comfortable middle class existence. For Else, as well as for many other young and aspiring artists, Berlin was a Mecca of artistic exchange and inspiration. She immersed herself in the city’s abundant cultural life, attending meetings of artists’ groups and societies. She was soon a part of the vibrant and often incestuous Berlin art world.
But Lasker-Schüler soon became dissatisfied with her marriage and her bourgeois existence. Divorcing Berthold Lasker in 1899, she embraced the bohemian lifestyle that characterized the rest of her life. After her divorce, she married the talented critic and editor Georg Lewin, who established the famous expressionist art journal, Der Sturm. (She named both the journal and its editor, giving Lewin the name Herworth Walden, which he used for the rest of his professional life). Her first book of poetry, Styx, was published in 1902, and she published prolifically in Der Sturm, as well as the many other avant garde Berlin art journals. She also wrote a play calleds “die Wupper” (completed in 1909), named after the river by that name that runs through her home town.
Divorcing again in 1911, Lasker-Schüler’s life became increasingly unstable and poverty stricken. She spent much of her time in the cafes, which were a second home to many young Berlin artists and intellectuals, most of them younger than her forty-plus years. It was in the cafes that she wrote the expressionist poems that would be published as My Wonder (Meine Wunder) and met many of the great expressionist artists of the period, including Georg Trakl, Franz Marc, Karl Kraus, Oscar Kokoschka, George Grosz, and Franz Werfel. In 1913, she published Hebrew Ballads (Hebraische Balladen), a collection of poems based on the figures of the Bible.
The later years of Lasker Schüler’s life were to be characterized by tragedy, loss, and ultimately, a feeling of betrayal and alienation from her fellow Jews. Her beloved son Paul died of tuberculosis in 1927, which led her to intense introspection and reflection upon the Jewish tradition, and especially Jewish mysticism and the Kabbalah. In 1932 she received the prestigious Kleist Prize for literature. Several months later a group of Nazis beat her with an iron rod. Without so much as returning to her room, she left Germany forever.
Homesickness – “I do not know the speech of this cool land…
Yearning for the Holy Land
From her refuge in Switzerland, she visited Palestine several times, and eventually moved to Jerusalem. The reality of Palestine’s social and political turmoil, however, disillusioned the poet. While she had glorified and romanticized the land in her earlier poetry (and in the utopian prose work called The Land of the Hebrews which she wrote during one of her visits from Switzerland), she was never to feel at home living there.
Lasker-Schüler lived the rest of her life a pauper, partially through her own mismanagement of the support given to her by friends and admirers. In Israel, she was viewed mainly as an eccentric, dressed dramatically in long dresses, jewelry and hats, her rooms decorated only with toys and dolls.
Else Lasker Schüer died on January 22, 1945 and was buried at the foot of the Mount of Olives.