Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Walter Rheiner - Cocain


 Conrad Felixmüller, Death of the Poet Walter Rheiner, 1925

Walter Rheiner (1895-1925) was born in Cologne. He began a training as a businessman in Liege, Paris and London which gave but little success. Already at the age of sixteen, he was active as a writer. When Rheiner was called up for military service in 1914, he admitted to take drugs, thus trying to escape the draft. Despite this, he was sent with the start of World War I to the Russian front. After a rehabilitation failed and his earlier deception attempt came to light, he was suspended from duty in 1917 and moved to Berlin. There, constantly plagued by money worries, Rheine lived like a literary nomad staying with friends or seeking shelter in cheap flophouses. He spent much time begging in the legendary Romanischen Café where he met with well-known artists such as Claire and Ivan Goll, Else Lasker-Schüler, Ludwig Meidner and Theodor Däubler.


 Heinrich-Maria Davringhausen, The Poet Däubler, 1917

 Theodor Däubler, Giganten (1919, First Stanza)

Träume fassen langsam meine Hand
Oder nehmen etwas flugleicht von den Schläfen.
Sie geben mir den Teppichschritt zu andern Häfen.
Durch das Geträume hüpft, verknüpft sich blau ein Band.
 

Some of Rheiner's lyric works were illustrated by his friend Conrad Felixmüller. He also wrote some articles for Franz Pfemfert's radical magazin Die Aktion. His addiction to cocaine and morphine worsened, and, temporarily declared incapacitated, he was sent to a closed mental institution in Bonn. At this point, his wife left him, his artistic creativity was dwindling, and, impoverished and isolated, he spent his final years in a nomadic existence. In 1925 Rheiner committed suicide in a flophouse in Berlin's Kantstraße by taking an overdose of morphine. His friend Conrad Felixmüller later dedicated to him his famous painting "The Death of the Poet Walter Rheiner" (shown above).


Frieda Riess, Gottfried Benn, 1924

 Gottfried Benn, Kokain (1917)

Den Ich-zerfall, den süßen, tiefersehnten,
Den gibst Du mir: schon ist die Kehle rauh,
Schon ist der fremde Klang an unerwähnten
Gebilden meines Ichs am Unterbau.

Nicht mehr am Schwerte, das der Mutter Scheide
Entsprang, um da und dort ein Werk zu tun
Und stählern schlägt --: gesunken in die Heide,
Wo Hügel kaum enthüllter Formen ruhn!

Ein laues Glatt, ein kleines Etwas, eben -
Und nun entsteigt für Hauche eines Wehns
Das Ur, geballt, Nicht-seine beben
Hirnschauer mürbesten Vorübergehns.

Zersprengtes Ich - o aufgetrunkene Schwäre -
Verwehte Fieber - süß zerborstene Wehr -:
Verströme, o verströme Du - gebäre
Blutbäuchig das Entformte her.



Rheiner's only work ever reprinted is the 1918 short novel "Cocain". In this insightful study of a cocaine psychosis he described the misery of a drug addict, his life of hallucinations, and the increasingly strong urge for injections. In the end, the protagonist sees no way out of his misery and commits suicide. "Cocain" has recently been published as an eBook (in German language only); you can download it free of charge here. 

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