Christian Johann Heinrich Heine (born Chaim Harry Heine December 13, 1797 – February 17, 1856) was one of the most significant German poets. The Walhalla temple in Bavaria plans to add Heine's bust to their collection in 2009.
Heine was born into an acculturated Jewish family in Düsseldorf, Germany, which was a part of Prussia at the time. His father was a tradesman, who, during the French occupation, found new prospects opening up for Jews. When his father's business failed, Heine was sent to Hamburg, where his rich banker uncle Salomon encouraged him to undertake a commercial career. After Heine's business career failed he turned to the study of law at the universities of Göttingen, Bonn and Berlin, but found that he was more interested in literature than law, although he eventually took a degree in law in 1825, at the same time he had decided to convert from Judaism to Protestantism. This was necessary because of the severe restrictions on Jews in many of the German states; in many cases, they were forbidden to enter certain professions. These included university lecturing, which was a particular ambition for Heine. As Heine said in self-justification, his conversion was "the ticket of admission into European culture", although it proved to be nothing of the sort - and many others, for example his cousin and benefactor the composer Giacomo Meyerbeer, found no need to convert to enjoy such benefits. For much of the rest of his life Heine wrestled over the incompatible elements of his German and his Jewish identities.
Heine is best known for his lyric poetry, much of which (especially from his earlier works) was set to music by lieder composers, most notably by Robert Schumann. Other composers who have set Heine include Franz Schubert, Felix Mendelssohn, Fanny Mendelssohn, Brahms, Hugo Wolf, Richard Strauss, and even Richard Wagner; and in the 20th century Hans Werner Henze and Lord Berners.
As a poet Heine made his debut with Gedichte ("Poems") in 1821. Heine's one-sided infatuation with his cousins Amalie and Therese later inspired him to write some of his loveliest lyrics; Buch der Lieder ("Book of Songs", 1827) was Heine's first comprehensive collection of verse.
Heine left Germany for Paris, France in 1831. There he associated with utopian socialists, including the followers of Count Saint-Simon, who preached an egalitarian classless paradise based on meritocracy.
He remained in Paris, with the exception of a visit in 1843 to Germany, for the rest of his life. German authorities banned his works and those of others who were considered to be associated with the Young Germany movement in 1835.
His poetry modulates continually between a romantic-conservative and a radical, satiric stress. Politics and personal mood made him a commuter in Europe.
Heine continued, however, to comment on German politics and society from a distance. Heine wrote Deutschland. Ein Wintermärchen (Germany. A Winter's Tale), an account of his visit to Germany the previous year and the political climate there, in 1844; his friend, Karl Marx, published it in his newspaper Vorwärts ("Forward") in 1844. Heine also satirized the utopian politics of those opponents of the regime still in Germany in Atta Troll: Ein Sommernachtstraum ("Atta Troll: A Midsummer Night's Dream") in 1847.
Heine wrote movingly of the experience of exile in his poem In der Fremde ("Abroad"):
Heine suffered from ailments that kept him bedridden for the last eight years of his life (some have suggested he suffered from multiple sclerosis or syphilis). He died in Paris and is interred in the Cimetière de Montmartre.
Among the books known to have been burned on Berlin's Opernplatz in 1933, after the Nazi raid on the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft, were the works of Heine - as a result, one of his most famous lines, "Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings too" (Almansor, 1821), is now engraved on the ground at the site.
Though these lines are often quoted, it is only rarely mentioned that Heine originally wrote them in reference to the burning of the Koran by the Spanish Inquisition, in an effort to eradicate Islam in the Iberian Peninsula which had been a major center of Medieval Islamic culture.
In Israel, the attitude to Heine has long been the subject of debate between secularists, who number him among the most prominent figures of Jewish history, and the religious who consider his conversion to Christiantity to be an unforgivable act of betrayal. Due to such debates, the city of Tel-Aviv was very late in naming a street for Heine, and the street finally chosen to bear his name is located in a rather desolate industrial zone rather than in the vicinity of Tel-Aviv University. A sarcastic comment in Ha'ir (a left-leaning local Tel-Aviv magazine) suggested that "The Exiling of Heine Street" symbolically re-enacted the course of Heine's own life.