Peter Altenberg


How I became a “Writer”


How I came to be:


In the thirty-fourth year of my impious life-a daily newspaper can't possibly give the particular- I was sitting in thc Cafe Central, Vienna, Herrengasse, in a room with golden embossed English wallpaper. I had in front me the Express with the photograph of a fifteen-year-old girl who disappeared forever on the way to a piano lesson. Her name was Johanna W. Consequently, deeply moved, I was writing my sketch "Local Chronicle" on quarto paper. In came Arthur Schnitzler, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Felix Salten, Richard Beer-Hofmann, and Hermann Bahr. Arthur Schnitzler said to me:

"I had no idea that you wrote! And on quarto paper, a portrait in front of you- now that is suspicious!" And he took my sketch "Local Chronicle" for himself. The next Sunday Richard Beer-Hofmann arranged a "literary supper" and for dessert read aloud my sketch Three days later Hermann Bahr wrote to me: "I heard your sketch about a missing fifteen-year-old girl read at Herr Richard Beer-Hofmann's. Urgently request contributions from you for my newly founded weekly, Time!" Later on Karl Kraus, also known as Torch-Kraus because he flings the torch of his brilliant and droll wrath at the corrupt world in order to scorch it or at least "purity it by fire," sent a package of my sketches to my present publisher, S Fischer, Berlin W., Bülowstrasse 90, with the recommendation that I am an original, a genius, somebody different, a nebbish. S. Fischer printed me and so I came to be! Just think of the coincidences on which a person's destinv depends! Isn't it so? Had I that time in the Cafe Central written out a bill for all the coffee I hadn't paid for in months, Arthur Schnitzler might not have taken an interest in me, Richard Beer-Hoffmann might not have given a literary soiree, and Hermann Bahr might not have written to me. At all events, Karl Krauss might indeed have sent my package of sketches to S. Fischer, since he is "his own man," an "uninfluenceable." All together, however, "made" me. And what did I become? A sponger!


"So wurde ich," 1913. Original text in Semmering 1912, 5th and 6th enlarged ed. (Berlin: S. Fischer Verlag, 1919), 35-36.


How I became a “Writer”


In the summer of 1894, while in Gmunden, two adorable girls, nine and eleven years old, attached themselves to me with a passion. The end of September the family returned to Vienna. On the night of the tearful departure of Alice and Auguste I wrote the first sketch of my life, at the age of thirty-five, under the title: "Nine and Eleven." This became the first sketch in my book As I See It. In the seventeenth year of her life the older one, Alice, suffered cerebral apoplexy while strolling on Kärtnerstrasse. She passed away immediately and painlessly. As we were riding back from the funeral to the family's apartment, the mother said to me: "Perhaps we paid too little attention to her great affection for our poet!"

"Don't start getting eccentric again, Betty!" said the father, "One shouldn't even think of such things; I would please ask you to keep that in mind!"


"Wie ich 'Schriftsteller' wurde,” 1919. Original text in Mein Lebensabend, 1st-8th ed. (Berlin: S. Fischer Verlag, 1919), 9.