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Rudolf Heinrich Zille (January 10, 1858 - August 9, 1929), Germanmarker illustrator and photographer, was born in Radeburgmarker near Dresdenmarker, as the son of watchmaker Johann Traugott Zill (Zille since 1854) and Ernestine Louise (born Heinitz). In 1867, his family moved to Berlinmarker, where he finished school in 1872 and started an apprenticeship as a lithographer.

In 1883, he married Hulda Frieske, with whom he had three children. She died in 1919.

Zille became best known for his (often funny) drawings, catching the characteristics of people, especially "stereotypes", mainly from Berlin and many of them published in the German weekly satirical newspaper Simplicissimus.

He was first to portray the desperate social environment of the Berlin Mietskasernen (literally "tenement barracks"), buildings packed with sometimes a dozen persons per room that fled from the rural regions to the rising Gründerzeit industrial metropolis only to find even deeper poverty in the developing proletarian class.

His special talent was the scathingly humorous portrayal of what were in reality quite unfunny life conditions of handicapped beggars, tuberculous prostitutes, menial labourers, and especially their children making the best they could of life and resolutely refusing to give up.

Zille did not feel himself as a real artist: he often said that his work is not the result of talent but merely hard work. Max Liebermann nevertheless promoted him. He called him into the Berlin Secession in 1903, put his works in expositions of the upper class, and encouraged him to sell drawings - and at the time Zille lost his job as a lithographer in 1910 he encouraged him to live from his drawings alone.

The Berlin "Common People" paid him the greatest respect, and very late in life his fame culminated when both poverty and freedom of expression reached new heights in the roaring twenties, with the National Gallerymarker buying some drawings in 1921, the Academy of the Artsmarker honouring him with a professorship in 1924, and Gerhard Lamprecht making the movie Die Verrufenen based on his cartoon characters and stories in 1925. His 70th birthday in 1928 was celebrated throughout Berlin. He died one year later.

It is less known that he was the artist of many erotic pictures which are close to pornography but also show the life of normal people. Some of them can be seen in the Beate Uhse Erotic Museummarker in Berlin.

In 1983 director Werner W. Wallroth made an East Germanmarker movie based on a musical written by Dieter Wardetzky and Peter Rabenalt. This movie Zille und Ick (Zille and I in Berlin Dialect) isn't a real biopic but uses parts of Zille's life for the story.

A drawing by Zille appears on a German postage stamp of 55 Euro-Cents, with the caption "Heinrich Zille, 1858-1929".


Heinrich Zille was the son of watchmaker Johann Traugott Zille and his wife Ernestine Louise, née Heinitz. Ernestine was a miner's daughter. His father was originally a blacksmith; however, he was technically skilled so he went on to become a watchmaker, goldsmith and inventor of tools.

Heinrich Zille was born in the little town of Radeburgmarker (near Dresdenmarker) in Saxonymarker. Zille spent his early years in Potschappel.

Heinrich Zille's childhood was not without trouble. His father was incarcerated several times in debtor's prison and creditors harassed the family so much that the young Zille was often sent to live with his grandmother. In 1867 the family left town because of their debt and went to Berlinmarker.

Still in school the young Zille began to take drawing lessons. The teacher was supportive, and during a discussion of his future career aspirations, the teacher encouraged Zille to become a Lithographer.

Zille's father wanted Heinrich to become a butcher. Heinrich could not stand the sight of blood, however, so he went to the draughtsman Fritz Hecht, on Jakobstraße (Jakob street), for his education.

Zille's great-grandniece is Helen Zille (Otta Helena Maree), the previous mayor of Cape Townmarker and Premier - elected May 6, 2009 - of the Western Cape in South Africa.

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