Writer and activist, Günter Grass was born in Gdansk, Poland, formerly Danzig, Germany. Like the young character of his famous novel Die Blechtrommel or The Tin Drum (1959), Grass' father was a grocer. In the 1930s, Grass became part of the Hitler Youth and was drafted at age 16 to fight in the Second World War. He was wounded in 1945 and interned in an American POW camp near Marienbad, Czechoslavakia. These politically charged early years of Grass' life and his work immediately after the war helped shape his art and writing. Between 1946 and 1956, he worked at manual labour on farms and in a potash mine. He became a stonemason's apprentice and studied the arts in Düsseldorf and Berlin, where he also began writing poetry. Grass read his poetry with Gruppe 47, an influential German literary circle that was formed to teach post-war Germany about democracy. Grass composes lyrics, plays, novels, short fiction, and creates etchings, lithographs, and sculptures. Even Grass's early writing benefits from the attention he paid to contours and physical form.
After the publication of Die Blechtrommel, Grass made his home in Berlin. His novel was a worldwide success, although it received mixed reviews in Germany for its controversial depiction of the war years, a theme that reappeared in his next two prose works, Katz und Maus (1961) and Hundejahre (1963). Detailed realism, fantasy, harsh satire, and ambiguity are characteristic of these works, which have come to form part of what some call the voice of his generation in Germany. Die Blechtrommel was adapted to film in 1979 by Volker Schlöndorff and starred David Bennent (Oskar), Mario Adorf (Alfred Matzerath), Angela Winkler (Agnes Matzerath), Daniel Olbrychski, Katherina Thalbach, and Mariella Oliveri. Set in early twentieth century Danzig, a peasant girl and a grocer have a son, who eventually refuses to continue growing when faced with the loss of his mother and the fascist occupation of Danzig. Along with Katz und Maus and Hundejahre, Die Blechtrommel was meant to be part of a trilogy that focused on Nazi war crimes and the postwar acceptance of former Nazis, but Grass later regarded Hundejahre as a false start on the third part.
After rising to fame through the trilogy, Grass became increasingly involved in contemporary politics, which began to show up in his writing from the late 1960s, when he worked closely with Willy Brandt, leader of the Social Democrats and Chancellor (1969-1974). During the 1970s and 1980s, Grass themes from feminism and ecology, as well as the art of cooking. He traveled to India for the first time in 1975 to return again in 1986/87, when he got involved in the peace movement.
Grass has never stopped boldly tackling controversial and sensitive subject matter. In 1889/90, Grass argued for continued German separation, fearing that, once unified, Germany would return to its role of belligerence. Eventually, he abandoned this gradualist approach, employing a philosophy of direct action. His Ein Weites Feld (1995) was the first major fictional work to deal with the issue of Germany's reunification after the fall of the Berlin Wall. More recently, Im Krebsgang or Crabwalk (2002) retells the story of an overloaded Nazi cruise ship turned refugee carrier that sank, killing 9,000 people. It's title echoes the themes of moving to and fro, as well as looking backward, not just at the beach, but at history.