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The Flying Classroom (German: Das Fliegende Klassenzimmer) is a 1933 novel for children written by the German writer Erich Kästner.

In the book Kästner took up the predominantly Britishmarker genre of the school story, taking place in a boarding school, and transferred it to an unmistakable German background.

Plot summary

The story covers a few days left for the students of Johann-Sigismund Gymnasium before Christmas. The main characters - students from the Tertia (Year 8) - are rehearsing a Christmas play called 'The Flying Classroom' when their attention is distracted by a brawl against the students of the local Realschule. The depiction of the "war", taken very seriously by both sides, seems to be Kästner's wry way of commenting on grown-up wars and patriotism. The protagonists then find out that the Nichtraucher, or non-smoker, the man who lives in a surplus second class non-smoking car lying in a Schrebergarten, is actually the long-lost best friend of their much-beloved teacher, Justus. They then try to reunite the long-separated friends, while coping with their own individual problems.

Characters

Jonathan Trotz, or Johnny - a half-American boy cast away by his parents. He loves poetry and writing, and dreams of being a great writer one day. He wants to marry a kind-hearted woman and have children - children that he won't cast away.

Martin Thaler - a poor but bright student. His parents cannot afford to have him travel home this Christmas and it troubles him very much. Martin has a very strong sense of justice and will come out fighting with his friends although it means risking his scholarship.

Matthias Selbmann, or Matz - not very clever, but strong. He wants to be a professional boxer. The other children rely on him to smash their opponents. Matz is somewhat overprotective towards his best friend, Uli.

Uli von Simmern - the blonde, small, underrated rich boy, best friend of Matz. He always tries to do his best during fighting - but usually ends up hiding in fear. Uli decides to perform an act of bravado to make the others stop poking fun at him.

Sebastian Frank, or Sepp - the cynical of the five. He spends time reading 'smart books', such as ones dealing with genetics or philosophy. Although he hangs out a lot with Jonathan and the other guys, he actually has no real friends and is a lonely figure, putting up a cold mask to cover his own weaknesses.

Theodor Laban - called Der Schöne Theo (The beautiful Theo). He is Martin's prefect, busy trying to make himself look good in the eyes of the teachers.

Dr Johann Bökh, nicknamed Justus - the children's favourite teacher. He was a student of the Johann-Sigismund School and knows well how hard life in the school can be. That's why he returned to the school - to ensure that children don't have to suffer, like he did.

Nichtraucher - an old friend of Justus. He was a medical doctor. When he lost his wife and child, he disappeared, and later took residence in a trailer situated next to his old school. His nickname does not relate to his not smoking (he does, very much so) but to his living in an old railway carriage, which still bears a sign that reads "non-smoking".

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

The novel has been filmed several times, the earliest one (1954) directed by Kurt Hoffmann while the newest one (2002) was directed by Tomy Wigand. The story and characters are altered to suit the present time. In Wigand's film, Sebastian Frank is fused with Rudi Kreuzkamm to produce 'Sebastian Kreuzkamm', a red-haired nerd.

Cast of film

The principal cast are:

Hauke Diekamp as Jonathan Trotz

Frederick Lau as Matthias Selbmann

Francois Goeske as Sebastian Kreuzkamm

Hans-Broich Wuttke as Uli von Simmern

Philipp Peters-Arnolds as Martin Thaler, a boy facing the dilemma of soon-to-divorce parents

Nicky Kantor as Der Schoene Theo

Sebastian Koch as Nichtraucher

Piet Klocke as Professor Kreuzkamm, the principal, Sebastian's father

Ulrich Noethen as Justus

Background, the sequel and trivia

This was the last Kästner book published before the rise of the Nazis to power. Though Nazis are not explicitly mentioned anywhere in the book, the situation of economic crisis and mass unemployment which made many German voters turn to Hitler is very evident in the book's background.

Shortly after publishing Das fliegende Klassenzimmer he had to witness how the NSDAP turned to power and how his books were burned as well as those from other dissidents.

A short sequel, in which the characters visit the Winter Olympics of 1936 (held at Garmisch-Partenkirchenmarker in Bavariamarker) was already written under the Nazi regime and was published only many years later, having less success than the original. In it, Kästner let his characters have a friendly encounter with visiting Englishmarker boys, at a time when their soon meeting each other as enemy soldiers on the battlefield was already a very real possibility.

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