Chausseestraße 126, 10115 Berlin, Germany
Becher died of cancer in the East Berlin government hospital. He was buried at the Dorotheenstadt cemetery in the Berlin center, with his gravesite designated as a grave of honor (German: Ehrengrab) of Berlin.
In April 1910, Becher and Fanny Fuss, a young woman he had encountered in January of that year, planned a joint suicide; Becher shot both, killing her and wounding himself severely. His father succeeded in quashing the case of killing on demand, however, Becher is certified insanity. His early poetry was filled with struggling to come to terms with this event.
From 1911 he studied medicine and philosophy in college in Munich and Jena. He left his studies and became an expressionist writer, his first works appearing in 1913. An injury from his suicide attempt made him unfit for military service and he became addicted to morphine, which he struggled with for the rest of the decade.
As early as 1912 Becher illustrated his interest in art and culture by contributing to the Expressionist journal Aktion. In 1928 he cofounded the Bund Proletarian Revolutionärer Schriftsteller (League of Proletarian Revolutionary Writers) and their journal Linkskurve. By 1933 he was forced by the changing political climate in Germany to immigrate to France via Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. Deprived of German citizenship in 1934, Becher went to the USSR where he became editor-in-chief of the journal Internationale Literatur, Deutsche Blätter, for German-speaking émigrés.
In 1945 he cofounded the East German journal Sinn und Form. Between 1953 and 1956 he served as president of the Academy of Arts in East Germany, formally known as the German Democratic Republic. By 1954 he had become minister of education as well as minister of culture. It was during his years in exile that he organized the International Writers' Conference for the Defense of Culture. Alexander Stephan, a reviewer in New German Critique, noted that “politics and literature” had been “inseparable in Becher’s life and works.”
Becher’s earliest work as an Expressionist poet can be found in Verfall und Triumph. Becher’s true “message” was that society’s outcasts can offer the basis for change, even revolution. This theme was present in Publikumsbeschimpfung. Some critics have asserted that Becher’s Götterdämmerung contained a “revolutionary message.” The protagonist is “an anarchist revolutionary” who dies with “a vision of a social utopia.” Written during World War I, Götterdämmerung had connections with the music of Wagner and his Niebulung saga. However, as critics have noted, Becher did not share Wagner’s anti-Semitic beliefs.
Becher was credited with naming and setting up the publishing house Aufbau in 1945. The institution survived post-World War 11 cultural and political upheaval through Becher’s influence. Even following Germany’s re-unity in the late twentieth-century, Aufbau Verlag continued to be one of Germany’s leading publishing houses.
Johannes Becher was engaged in many communist organizations, joining the Independent Social Democratic Party of Germany in 1917, and later moving to the Spartacist League in 1918 from which emerged the Communist Party of Germany. In 1920 he left the KPD, disappointed with the failure of the German Revolution, and embraced religion. In 1923, he returned to the KPD and very actively worked within the party. In 1925 government reaction against his anti-war novel, Der einzig gerechte Krieg, resulted in his being indicted for "literarischer Hochverrat" or "literary high treason". It was not until 1928 that this law was amended.
Becher spoke out in favor of an anti-fascist people’s front for the defense of democratic culture, particularly with the International Writers’ Conference. Becher’s founding of the Cultural League for the Democratic Renewal of Germany after World War II ended as one of the most important contributions to the cultural policy of the Soviet Zone and the GDR. It operated as the organizational center for the non-partisan, all-German cultural policy of the anti-fascist/democratic phase of East German development” according to Stephan. During the decade of the 1950s, Becher wrote Auf andere Art so grosse Hoffnung and the larger Bemühungen, a work containing truisms. Becher emphasized the significance of the poet’s voice with politics yet in defense of poetry and the poet.
Johannes Becher was a member of League of Proletarian Revolutionary Writers (cofounder), Cultural League for the Democratic Renewal of Germany (cofounder), Academy of Arts in the German Democratic Republic (president).
Johannes Becher was married to Lilly Becher. He had two sons.