‘Castle Gripsholm’ by Kurt Tucholsky – An Idyllic Summer Vacation in Sweden


‘Castle Gripsholm’ by Kurt Tucholsky   (1931) – 127 pages         Translated from the German by Michael Hoffman

The New York Review Books Classics series has done a remarkable job of rescuing neglected wonderful fiction from the past. Whenever I get fed up with the over-hyped novels of today, I read one of these classics in order to restore my faith in fiction. ‘Castle Gripsholm’ is another fine novel by a writer I had never heard of before.

I probably should have heard of Kurt Tucholsky before. There are two literary prizes, one in Sweden and one in Germany, named after him. He was perhaps Germany’s finest journalist in the 1920s but his work was banned, declared un-German, and burned in bonfires when the Nazis came to power in 1933. He left for Sweden then. ‘Castle Gripsholm’ was his only novel.

‘Castle Gripsholm’ is a fictional playful, lighthearted account of a five-week vacation trip to Sweden.

Our narrator Kurt travels by train with his girlfriend Lydia (called the Princess) from Berlin to Copenhagen, then up to Sweden by ship. They stay in the Swedish countryside near a lake at an annex to the Castle Gripsholm. There the two have a restful vacation.

Swimming in the lake; lying naked on the shore, in a sheltered spot; soaking in the sun so you rolled home at noon, wonderfully dozy, and drunk on the light, the air and the water; quiet; eating; drinking; sleeping; resting – holiday.”

Later Kurt’s good friend Karlchen arrives and stays a few days. The Princess and Karlchen immediately hit it off well, and Kurt is happy to have his two great friends there.

To have someone to trust! To be with someone for a change who doesn’t eye you suspiciously when you use a phrase that might perhaps offend his vanity, someone who isn’t prepared at any moment to lower his visor and do battle to you to the death…Friendship is like one’s homeland. We never talked about it, and whenever there was any slight surge of emotion unless it happened in a serious late-night talk – it would be quenched in a bucketful of colorful abuse. It was marvelous.”

After Karlchen leaves, a friend of the Princess, Billie, arrives for a few days, and the idyll continues.

Much of the fun of ‘Castle Gripsholm’ is in the playful witty repartee between these friends. However there are also the quiet times.

How wonderful it is to be silent with someone.”

Of course even a charming novel must have some dramatic tension to sustain interest, so there is a side story about a young girl Ada who they discover is being terribly abused by the cruel headmistress of a children’s home, Frau Adriani.

I have always tried to maintain certain balances in my reading between male and female writers, between authors from various parts of the world, and between new novels and the classic old novels. The New York Review Books Classics series helps me maintain all these balances. The one constant is that I look for novels that are meaningful and that I will enjoy.


Grade:    A



5 responses to this post.

  1. This does sound good. Have you been able to work out what was un-German about it?

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      The un-German epithet came about because of Kurt Tucholsky’s jounalistic writings which were very anti-Fascist and anti-Nazi. Tucholsky was mainly a journalist who was extremely popular during the Weimar Republic years. ‘Castle Gripsholm’ was his only novel which wasn’t very political. Tucholsky was forced out of Germany and went to Sweden in 1933 when the Nazis took over, and he committed suicide in 1935.



  2. I agree with Lisa: this sounds inviting. NYRB are reviving some fascinating fiction, especially these lesser known writers in German, between the wars



    • Hi Tredynas Days,

      Speaking of German authors published by NYRB, but this one is not before the war, ‘All for Nothing’ by Walter Kempowski is probably my favorite read for the entire year. ‘All for Nothing’ is a much heavier read than ‘Castle Gripsholm’ but I found it extremely moving.



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