Böll was born on December 21st, 1917, in Cologne, Germany to a middle-class, Catholic family. His father was a carpenter specializing in benches and cabinets for churches, whose first wife had died. Böll's father had remarried.
Attending a Catholic high school (Gymnasium), Böll successfully resisted joining the Hitler Youth during the 1930s. He started and broke off an apprenticeship to learn the trade of bookseller, then matriculated into the University of Cologne. His first literary attempts date to 1936.
Drafted into compulsary work service and then the army (Wehrmacht), he served in France, Romania, Hungary and the Soviet Union, and was wounded four times before being captured by Americans in April 1945. He was in Prisoner of War camps until September. During his six years in uniform, he wrote letters almost daily to his wife and family, which were published after his death. His war injuries, which he attempted to prevent healing in order to stay longer as unfit, were a factor in his often poor health.
Böll attempted to live solely as a writer after the war, but was also supported by the income of his wife Annemarie, who worked for several years as a middle school teacher. Together with his wife, who had the primary involvement, the Bölls collaborated on numerous translations of Irish, English and American literature.
Böll's first novel was "Der Zug war pünktlich" (The Train Was on Time), published in 1949. He won the Prize of the Gruppe '47 (Group 47) at Bad Durkheim in 1951. In the immediate post-war period, he adapted memories of the War and wrote of its effects on the lives of ordinary people in his works.
The novel "Billard um halbzehn" (Billiards at Half-past Nine) portrayed three generations of a family and showed the rise and continuity of the Nazi past in Germany.
His novel "Ansichten eines Clowns" (Opinions of a Clown) caused much debate for its depiction of the Catholic church in Germany. In 1976, Böll and his wife left the Catholic church in protest over church taxation.
depicts Böll on the 2nd of December 1953 at a "Wednesday Discussion" of Cologne writers.