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Bahnwärter Thiel

Sprecher: Johannes Steck
Spieldauer: 1 Std. und 22 Min.
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Mit der Novelle "Bahnwärter Thiel" verfasste Gerhart Hauptmann 1887 eines der Hauptwerke des Naturalismus. In eindringlicher Sprache schildert der Autor darin das fatale Schicksal von Bahnwärter Thiel: einem Mann, der innerlich hin- und hergerissen ist. Erinnerungen an seine tote Ehefrau Minna und das jetzige, harsche Leben mit seiner zweiten Frau Lene zermürben Thiel. Nur Tobias, sein Sohn aus der Ehe mit Minna, gibt ihm Halt. Doch eines Tages geschieht bei einem Ausflug zum Arbeitsplatz des Bahnwärters ein schrecklicher Unfall...
©gemeinfrei (P)2017 Audiobuch Verlag OHG

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Bahnwärter Thiel: a German naturalistic novel

In literary theory ‘naturalism’ follows ‘realism’. Where authors as Lev Tolstoj or Gustave Flaubert are generally considered as realistis because of there aim to describe reality as adequate as possible in their novels; the naturalistic authors are to be distinguished from realists mainly by their focus on ‘ugliness’, more explicit descriptions of sexual behaviour and violence.
Naturalism has its origins in France, when Émile Zola started writing his Rougon Macquart series (20 novels, published between 1870 and 1893). Slowly naturalism found its way through Europe, also to German literarature, apparently.
Because this short novel by Gerhart Hauptmann is fully naturalistic. Which means you need a strong stomach for reading it. Zola considered himself to be an ‘apostle of truth’, and truth always appears to be ugly for the naturalists. And therefore for Hauptmann, or at least for his main character: Bahnwärter Thiel.


At the start of the novel the waiter loses his wife. The signalman stays alone with his son Tobias. But soon, and there the drama begins, Thiel decides to remarry - unless the doubt of the pastor; by the way, mainly because he needs someone to take care of his son. Later in the story, this fact will appear to be ironically tragic. But, I won’t spoil much more.
During his second marriage Thiel is haunted by memories and dreams of his first wife. He starts to dedicate his working place to her and tries to keep it free from influences from his second wife. After a while she becomes pregnant and Thiel gets a second son.

At the end of the novel all relational tension that intensifies slowly during the story, finds its way in some typical naturalistic scenes of violence.

The main difference berween realism and naturalism is the question they try to answer. Realism is occupied with the question: what is man? For the naturalists this question changed into: how did man became what he is?
This might be concerned as a possible hint, a guiding question, for a naturalistic reading of this story: How did Bahnwärter Thiel became what he is at the end of the novel?