Professor Unrat visits the Blue Angel Club

“Professor Unrat” by Heinrich Mann (1905) – 255 pages

 I’ve read and admired several of Thomas Mann’s novels, but up until now I had never read any of the novels of his older brother Heinrich Mann.  I read that the Nazis had burned both Thomas and Heinrich Mann’s books as “contrary to the German spirit” during their book burning of May 10, 1933 instigated by Joseph Goebbels.  What could be a higher recommendation for Heinrich Mann than that?  Heinrich Mann had already left Germany for California by that time leaving as soon as Adolf Hitler took over.   I decided to read his most famous novel “Professor Unrat” which was made into the movie “The Blue Angel” starring Emil Jannings and Marlene Dietrich.   

 Professor Raath has been teaching his high school class in the same small German town for over 25 years.  From the beginning, there were some unruly students who, when they thought he wasn’t listening, called him “Professor Unrat” which means in English “Professor Filth”.  Even now there are students that call him “Professor Unrat”, and the Professor is out to punish them.  When he finds out that three of his biggest troublemakers are sneaking into a club called the Blue Angel after school, he goes there to track them down.  At the Blue Angel, he meets dancer Rosa Froelich, and the rest is history.

 To prepare for this entry, I also watched the 1930 movie “The Blue Angel” directed by Josef Von Sternberg. It is a fine old musical movie, but as so often happens, the movie simplified the novel leaving out much of the story.  “The movie “The Blue Angel” is solely a cautionary tale about what can happen when a respectable man starts going to a nightclub to visit a scantily clad dancer.  The novel is much more complex, and the life of Professor Unrat after visiting the Blue Angel is much more ambiguous and three dimensional.   

Both the novel and the movie capture the grubby ambience of the Blue Angel, this working man’s club.  The magician and the dancers see themselves as show performers putting on an act for the men, but they know they are really there to sell more beer and drinks before moving on to the next town.   

Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel

How does Heinrich Mann’s “Professor Unrat” compare with Thomas Mann’s novels?  First, it is not in the same league as a novel as “Buddenbrooks” or “The Magic Mountain”.  Those two novels are  masterpieces that can change your life.  “Professor Unrat” is a down-to-earth earthy story that held my interest throughout, but  is by no means transcendent.

6 responses to this post.

  1. I loved, really loved The Blue Angel, and I had no idea it was based on a book. I will definitely look into this one!


  2. Hi Teresa,
    I believe that the only English translation of ‘Professor Unrat’ was made in 1905 when it was first published. It was called ‘Small Town Tyrant’. I read that version, but used the book name ‘Professor Unrat’ in this article, because that name seemed better to me.


  3. Posted by Offenbach on January 7, 2012 at 9:14 PM

    There is an implication that only in Nazi Germany were books burned. That is misleading. Many books are currently banned (i.e., “burned”) in the Federal Republic of Germany. Among them, Dr. Arthur R. Butz’s “The Hoax of the Twentieth Century,” which is an excellent overview of “The Holocaust.” Among the interesting points of this book are that Jewish organizational interests and publicists had claimed up to 6 million Jews had been casualties after World War ONE! This book is very well researched and should be read by anyone with an interest in the topic. I can’t help but wonder if Heinrich Mann would have been as willing to challenge the status quo in today’s Germany as he was of the Kaiser’s. Unlike today, he did not, as far as I am aware, face a possible prison sentence for writing “Small Town Tyrant.”


    • Hi Offenbach,
      It is understandable that Holocaust denial books are banned in Germany today given all the proof that the Holocaust actually did happen. Do you think all the films from the camps were staged? What about all the eyewitness accounts of all the soldiers who went into the camps and saw what was going on? There is an overwelming amount of evidence which can not all be denied. To say the Holocaust did not happen makes about as much sense as saying Hitler never existed.
      “Snall Town Tyrant” is not a political book as far as I can tell. Certainly the Nazis came up with plenty of reasons to dislike the Manns, calling this book decadent, etc. I’m sure the Manns left Germany in 1933 because they feared prison or worse. I see Thomas Mann as a towering figure in Twentieth century literature, while Heinrich Mann is more just an interesting sidenote.


  4. Heinrich Mann´s ” Small Town Tyrant ” was labelled ” Professor Unrat ” in the German original. That title is therefore more suitable to use as well as ethical, since that was exactly coincidental to the author´s intentions.


    • Hi Aroop Mitra,
      Yes, I don’t see how anyone came up with ‘Small Town Tyrant’. If it was originally called “Professor Unrat”, then like you say that would be the more suitable name. I believe that in the United States there have been versions of the novel entitled “The Blue Angel” which is entirely unsuitable.


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