I had high hopes for doing in-depth analyses of the European pulps, by genre and by country. But I quickly realized that any analysis or breakdown would be irretrievably flawed by virtue of this one fact: we don’t have reliable publication data. For nearly every European country, we don’t have an authoritative, reliable list of the pulps published, of how many, of how long the pulps were published for, of how many issues each pulp had, and of what was in those pulps. We have fragments of that information, and in some cases (like Italy) we have the majority of the information, but for nearly every European country we don’t have enough information to make any analysis useful.
1906-1910. The Golden Age of German Pulps. (1910 is when the initial pulp craze ended in Europe and Russia). Owned by Mysteries, with Westerns coming in at half Mysteries’ numbers. Germany’s always been very enthusiastic about Westerns, dating back to the 1840s, and while Mysteries were popular in Germany in the 19th century—Germany had a flourishing home-grown set of mystery authors who were nearly entirely uninfluenced by British or American authors up until around 1890—it was nowhere near as popular as the Western and frontier fiction in general. And certainly 1906, when the Germans started translating Buffalo Bill and Jesse James into German, was owned by Westerns. But the translation of Nick Carter and the appearance of Nat Pinkerton (a Nick Carter lift forgotten today but monstrously popular in his time—without exaggeration, Nat Pinkerton was the Harry Potter of 1906-1914) changed all that.
Historical novels were one of the mainstays of German popular publishing in the 19th century, and it seems clear that the 1906-1910 period was an attempt by German pulp publishers to try to duplicate the success of historical novels in the pulp format. It didn’t work, obviously—half of all Historical issues were published in that five year period.
1911-1913. Adventure edges out Mystery, with Westerns a distant third. War pulps start to become popular, while the publishers make a concerted effort to change the morals of the reading public via Moral pulps, a genre that was never a financial success (2.1% of the total titles, .85% of the total issues—the Moral pulps didn’t sell) but which the government and publishers continued to try.1914-1918. As might be expected, War makes a good showing here. Mysteries do not, relatively speaking. The domestic audience in Germany certainly wanted escapist reading, but they wanted adventure stories a lot more than they wanted mysteries. The audience also wanted humor—over a third of all Humor issues were published during World War One. That Romance pulp was the aforementioned Krieg und Liebe, which we can assume was more popular for the war stories than for the romances.
1919-1925. The Silver Age of German pulps—lots of great variety in plot and character, lots of smart writing, the writers and publishers were happy to experiment with plot and form. Mysteries the dominant genre, Adventure a comfortable second. Humor retained its popularity from WW1—over a third of all Humor issues were published in this time frame. (One would have thought Germany would have an even greater need for humor in the 1930s, but the Nazis disapproved of it). This is the high point of the German Science Fiction pulps as far as quality is concerned.
1926-1933. The Bronze Age of German pulps. (I’m rather happy I thought to apply the comics terminology here, it fits quite well). Mysteries continue to be the top choice; there was an obvious drop in 1926 and 1927, following the Gesetz zur Bewahrung der Jugend vor Schund- und Schmutzschriften, but Mysteries were the first genre to rebound—the publishers were willing to push boundaries in Mysteries first as a way to make money. Oddly, Westerns were hurt the most by the anti-schund und schmutz movement, and didn’t recover until 1930—I say “oddly” because German Westerns were even more conservative (morally and politically) than their American counterparts. Science Fiction was almost as badly hurt; of the three sf pulps to debut during this time period, not lasted longer than 10 issues. The numbers for Historical are even worse than they appear; half of all the Historical issues can from one magazine, Frauen der Liebe, which published fiction about notable historical (and historic) women. General was a motley group, but 1933 did bring the debut of Jede Woche ein Roman, the greatest of the German General pulps and the rough equivalent to the American Short Stories.
1934-1939. The Dark Age of German pulps. The pressure on publishers from the government increased virtually every year. It affected output: bye bye, Romance, bye bye, Moral (which was replaced by a few short-lived Propaganda pulps). It affected content--if a story wasn’t pro-German and pro-Nazi, the government didn’t like it. There were a few exceptions, but for the most part the pulps had have a pro-fascist content. Most pulp publishers knuckled under. Those that didn’t were forced to follow the example of the mystery Der Detektiv. Der Detektiv was the home for consulting detective Harald Harst, one of the two or three greatest German pulp heroes. Der Detektiv ran from 1919 to 1934, and Harst was in every issue. In 1934 the German government ordered the publishers of Der Detektiv to make Harst a Nazi. The publishers refused. The government then ordered Harst’s death Or Else. So, quite abruptly, Harst dies, drowned in the Baltic Sea while fighting a criminal mastermind.
Most other German pulps embraced (however reluctantly) the Nazi cause. The Science Fiction pulps were the worst of them all; Jorn Farrow’s U-Boot Abenteuer was an unfailing advocate for both German imperialism and the stabbed-in-the-back myth, while the wildly-popular Sun Koh (the Nazi Doc Savage) and Jan Mayen combined imaginative plots with paeans to genocide.
The longest holdout against the government’s pressure were the Mystery pulps. The Westerns, perhaps surprisingly, gave in rather quickly. (If the cowboy heroes weren’t German immigrants, or German-American, they became that way, and the stories played up their racial superiority and the inferiority of everyone else. Once in a long while you even got a statement like “Someday a True Leader will come along and organize all the German peoples of the world into one true nation!”).
The Humor pulp was a reprint and expansion of a 1922 wacky-teen-detectives farce-and-slapstick pulp rather than anything with a bite.
1940-1945. World War Two. The new laws regulating the pulps didn’t just affect content. It was a useful way for the government to let publishers know what genres were Nazi-approved. Mysteries weren’t (although there were a handful of mystery novels published in Germany during World War Two), so away went that genre. After the U.S. entered WW2, Westerns were no longer allowable. War pulps were, because they could double as propaganda.
So...what did I miss?
Now that I'm thinking about it...the most popular German pulp hero of them all was Frank Allan, and his pulp ended in 1932...
...maybe Harst wasn't the Spirit, maybe Harst and Allan were, hmm, Batman and Robin, or Apollo and Midnighter.