Germany capitulated before Remarque had to serve again. When he returned home, he was faced with the responsibility of building a life for himself. It was a difficult struggle. The young veterans, he felt, did not receive the respect they were entitled to after what they had been through. He became a teacher, but as early as December 1920 quit in disgust-no one understood the young veterans, he complained. He drifted professionally , but even later, when he was a firmly established writer, he frequently referred to himself as a 'vagabond' in his diaries (see, for instance, entries on 28 and 29 April and 23 May 1937)-not in romantic self-glorification but as an expression of his deep-seated rootlessness.
During the next several years Remarque lived hand-to-mouth, holding a wide variety of jobs, including accountant, tombstone salesman, and piano teacher. He also worked as a theater critic, freelance writer, and copywriter for a number of different publications.
How was he to make up for the lack of acknowledgment he felt so keenly? Young Remarque made a number of different attempts. He borrowed a lieutenant's uniform, proudly attached the Iron Cross First Class he had received after being wounded in battle, and had his picture taken. He wrote more poetry and, in 1922, assumed the same middle name as Rilke; later he gallicized his last name (his paternal ancestors of several generations ago had indeed immigrated to Germany form France). Finally, the new Erich Maria Remarque bought the title of baron for 500 Reichsmark. Needless to say, none of these measures provided him with the authentic sense of self he craved.
There were also women who briefly gave Remarque the solace he sought. Ultimately, however, he found the very women who provided him with some sense of safety to be undesirable, and he desired those who caused him suffering and who could not provide the sense of belonging for which he yearned. In 1925 he married the actress and dancer Jutta Ilse Zambona, a woman with an uncanny resemblance to Marlene Dietrich (who was to play a large role in his life). Like Dietrich, Jutta Zambona radiated a cold, somewhat masculine sexuality, and Remarque often called her "Peter," giving her a male nickname as he did many of his lovers. But theirs was not bourgeois domestic bliss, for neither was faithful to the other. Leni Riefenstahl once recounted an intimate evening with the Remarques and a good-looking young man whom Jutta seduced before Remarque and Riefenstahl's eyes. Jutta disappeared with the stranger and stayed away for several days, leaving her heartbroken husband and flabbergasted host behind. The author's search continued.