Originally published 05/30/2013
"Alertness aid" read the packaging, to be taken "to maintain wakefulness." But "only from time to time," it warned, followed by a large exclamation point.The young soldier, though, needed more of the drug, much more. He was exhausted by the war, becoming "cold and apathetic, completely without interests," as he himself observed. In letters sent home by the army postal service, he asked his family to send more. On May 20, 1940, for example, he wrote: "Perhaps you could obtain some more Pervitin for my supplies?" He found just one pill was as effective for staying alert as liters of strong coffee. And -- even better -- when he took the drug, all his worries seemed to disappear. For a couple of hours, he felt happy.This 22-year-old, who wrote numerous letters home begging for more Pervitin, was not just any soldier -- he was Heinrich Böll, who would go on to become one of Germany's leading postwar writers and win a Nobel Prize for literature in 1972. And the drug he asked for is now illegal, notoriously so. We now know it as crystal meth....
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