Lothar-Guenther Buchheim, German author of 'Das Boot,' dies from heart failure at age 89
By Melissa Eddy
8:08 a.m. February 23, 2007
BERLIN – Lothar-Guenther Buchheim, the German author and art collector best known for his autobiographical novel, “Das Boot,” has died at the age of 89, his museum and the office of the governor of Bavaria said.
Buchheim died late Thursday from heart failure.
Bavarian Gov. Edmund Stoiber praised Buchheim for his contribution to the southern German state, including the museum that houses his collection of art from the Bruecke group of expressionists, including works by Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein and Otto Mueller.
The Buchheim Museum also houses sculpture, ceramics, textiles and glass from Asia, South America and Europe and folk art from Africa and the Pacific.
Buchheim was acclaimed for his works of fiction and nonfiction, including several about his World War II patrol aboard the German submarine U-96 in the Atlantic Ocean in 1941. He crafted that experience into the novel “Das Boot,” or “The Boat,” which was published in 1973 and carried an underlying anti-war message.
In 1981, the book was turned into an acclaimed German film starring Juergen Prochnow that detailed the hopelessness of war and its effect on sailors living in the cramped confines of their submarine.
The son of a painter, Buchheim studied at the Academies of Art in Dresden and Munich before joining the German navy as a reporter during World War II. During that time, he took part in submarine operations in the Atlantic and Straits of Gibraltar, documenting his time aboard the U-96.
He photographed and wrote about his experience for propaganda purposes but later wrote a short story, “Die Eichenlaubfahrt,” or “The Oak Leaves Patrol,” as well as “Das Boot.”
He also wrote a three-volume nonfiction work, “U-Boat Krieg” or “U-Boat War,” that featured more than 5,000 photos he took aboard the U-96.
His other works included “The Fortress” and “The Parting,” but it was “Das Boot” that seared itself into the German consciousness and gained worldwide fame.
The U-96 was commissioned in September 1940 and went on 11 patrols in the Atlantic Ocean before it was sunk in March 1945 during a U.S. bombing raid on the port city of Wilhelmshaven.
According to German naval records, the boat was a rarity among the submarine fleet because it suffered no casualties during its 11 wartime patrols.
Buchheim is survived by his wife, Diethild, and two grown children, Yves-Bruno and Niña. A private burial was planned, but no date was given.