Michael Ende’s decision to move to Italy was closely bound up with the censorious attitude to escapist art in Germany. For Ende as a writer, the rejection of escapism was ‘suffocating in the extreme’. Literary critics favoured books that were socially conscious and politically instructive, and dismissed fantasy literature as ‘mere escapism’. Even Ende’s friends found fantasy literature somehow questionable, and Ende soon tired of having to justify himself and his work. In fact, he felt so riled by the German dismissal of fantasy fiction that he feared it would prejudice him against his countrymen more generally.
In Italy there were no such literary constraints. ‘Socio-political fiction or fantasy literature – you can take your pick. Quality is all that matters.’ Ende was enthused and inspired by the climate of artistic freedom and tolerance. During his fifteen-year stay in Italy he participated in numerous literary gatherings and got to know the principal figures in Italian literature and art.
Michael Ende’s view of Germany was heavily influenced by his time in Italy. Moving away from his homeland allowed him to gain a new understanding of the people and place he had left behind. The change in perspective enabled him to reconsider his roots and sharpen his senses. He was convinced that every author should live abroad for a few years in order to see their own culture and country through a stranger’s eyes: ‘You see so many positive things - and some negative ones as well - that you would never be able to spot while you’re in the middle of it all.’