On New Year’s Eve 1952, Michael Ende met his future wife Ingeborg Hoffmann during a party with friends. According to the author, he was standing at an ivy-covered counter acting the part of the barman, when Hoffmann strode towards him, looking ‘flame-haired, fiery and chic’. ‘Leaning up against the ivy-covered wall / Of this old terrace,’ she declaimed. ‘Mörike,’ Ende said instantly, recognizing the quote. Hoffmann was eight years his senior (b. 1 July 1921) and made a big impression on him, while she was intrigued by his literary cultivation and artistic inclinations. That night they began a conversation about art and life that was to last for thirty-three years, ended only by Ingeborg Hoffmann’s untimely death. The couple stayed together for over three decades, but their relationship was never easy, for they placed a heavy burden of expectation on one another, demanding absolute integrity, commitment and honesty. Inevitably there were disappointments, and both parties were often hurt.
Michael Ende’s encounter with Ingeborg Hoffmann was a meeting of two people who could have ‘the most extraordinary effect on one another - for the good, and for the bad.’ Hoffmann had lived for the theatre since childhood. At fifteen years of age she was engaged as a dancer in Elbing and later performed in Salzburg and Bremen. She also danced for front-line troops during the war. In 1942 she married military surgeon Dr Gerko Hoffmann, and their son Michael was born a year later. But the marriage failed, and Ingeborg returned to Munich to live with her mother, aunt and son in an apartment in Siegfriedstraβe. Her acting career continued, and she performed in Munich, Stuttgart and Zurich. She also worked for Radio Munich and was often engaged as a dubbing artist - as the sole breadwinner in the household she had to provide for herself and three others. At one point, she seriously considered emigrating to America with Jewish writer Vera Hacken, and had just received her papers when she met Michael Ende in the final hours of 1952.
Nothing was more important to Ingeborg Hoffmann than integrity, and she fought passionately for justice, even if it meant making enemies for herself. She was never afraid to speak out and always accepted the fallout - usually to her detriment. Her outlook on life was shaped by mystical ideas, and she was known for her ability to read cards. She had a knack of seeing something special in everything she encountered, whether in landscapes, people or works of art. Storytelling wasn’t her forte - her tales were hopelessly detailed and full of digressions. The big questions in life fascinated her, but circumstances usually forced her to deal with more immediate considerations. She bore her situation calmly, and her willingness to accept life endeared her to others. Peter Boccarius, a good friend of the couple, described her as: ‘difficult, vulnerable, passionate. A volcano or a candle burning at both ends. Some people think she’s mad, and she’s certainly not an easy person to get along with. She’s always fighting for something - for a maltreated dog or for starving children in Vietnam. No one could be indifferent to her - she makes friends or enemies, with nothing in-between.’
Ingeborg Hoffmann was forever in search of new challenges. Acting and the stage were more important to her than anything else. The power of the spoken word intrigued her, and when a script took her fancy, she would perform it in such a way that it acquired a life of its own. The trouble came when the text didn’t appeal to her - her performance would be so half-hearted that the lines would literally fall apart. With her talent for reading aloud, Ingeborg Hoffmann would go over Michael Ende’s manuscripts, reading them page by page and discussing them with him, deliberating for hours over individual words, thoughts and episodes. She put all her energy into supporting and fostering his central mission - to find the magic words that would re-invest the world with meaning.
It was Ingeborg Hoffmann who encouraged Ende to join the Humanistic Union, an organization committed to furthering humanist values. Together they campaigned for human rights, protested against rearmament, and worked towards peace. The Union organized readings, lectures and discussions. Tolerance towards others was always the main theme.
Thanks to Ingeborg Hoffmann’s numerous contacts, Michael Ende was introduced to a variety of cabaret groups. Political and literary cabaret was experiencing its heyday. In 1955 Therese Angeloff, head of Die kleinen Fische (the ‘Little Fish’ cabaret), commissioned Ende to write a piece in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Friedrich Schiller’s death. He produced a sketch in which a statue of Schiller was interviewed about newsworthy issues and replied with quotes from Schiller’s work. ‘There was rapturous applause, and commissions arrived from other cabarets too.’ Michael Ende began to compose sketches, chansons and monologues. For the first time in his life he earned a modest income from his work. He also directed plays such as August Strindberg’s Gustav Wasa at the Volkstheater in Munich.