Uwe Johnson

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More on Uwe Johnson

Selected LINKS and Uwe Johnson Society in Germany

Uwe Johnson in der Schule | lesen und lesen lernen

Wikipedia U-J-G

Become a member Uwe Johnson Gesellschaft

Adapted from Goodreads.com | Translated by Damion Searls

READ THE full review of the translator here.

Uwe Johnson wrote his German masterpiece Jahrestage, now translated and published Anniversaries daringly simple in conception, but wonderfully complex and engaging in effect. Late in 1967, Johnson, already one of the most celebrated German novelists of his generation, set out to write a book that would take the form of an entry for every day of the year that lay ahead.

Gesine is 34, born just as Hitler was coming to power in 1933, and she has decided to tell her daughter Marie the story of her grandparents’ lives and of her own rural childhood in Nazi Germany. She wants her daughter Marie to know where she comes from. The days of the year are also anniversaries of years of the past. The world that was and the world of the 1960s – with the struggle for civil rights leading to riots in American cities and, abroad, the escalating destruction of the Vietnam War – are, in the end, ONE world.

Anniversaries was published in 4 volumes over more than 10 years that it took Johnson to write it, and as the volumes came out, it became clear that this was one the great twentieth-century novels. The book courts comparison to Joyce’s Ulysses, the book of a day, and to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the book of a lifetime, but it stands apart in its dense polyphonic interplay of voices and stories. (…)

Monumental and intimate, sweeping in vision and full of incident, richly detailed and endlessly absorbing, Anniversaries, now for the first time available in English in a brilliant new translation by Damion Searls, is nothing short of a revelation.

You may wish to watch the FILM Jahrestage.

Wikipedia about Jahrestage – The Novel

Wikipedia about Jahrestage – The Film

Check out this review of Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl by Uwe Johnson


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This is my English version of a REPORTAGE written in German, from the website of the Author Ralf Pauli, Berlin.

Der Stifter UTF | Credit phb Screenshot from KN

Originally publish in TAZ Berlin | From the Archive of TAZ

University of Rostock | Medienzentrum

For 25 years, an entrepreneur and a Germanist have been working toward a common goal: The First Edition of Uwe Johnson’s works.
A yellow gatehouse stands on the edge of Rostock’s old town. In the past, carriages to the municipal clinic passed through here. Today, the coat of arms of the University of Rostock shines in the sun at the entrance: “Traditio et Innovatio”. An apt motto for a 600-year-old university, where perhaps the most modern edition of the works of a German writer is being produced in these years and the years to come.
On the second floor, Holger Helbig stands in the “indexing room” and observes his staff. At a large table, four researchers are sifting through documents from the private estate of the writer Uwe Johnson. They have to decipher 150,000 manuscript pages, letters or annotated newspaper clippings, measure them and enter notes in an online database.
“No one will do this after us,” Helbig says, taking a random piece of paper from a gray archive folder. Helbig – 49, nickel glasses, tweed jacket – holds the Uwe Johnson professorship. He holds up the piece of paper like a piece of evidence. “We’re sifting through everything here that’s part of a writer’s life.” It’s a tax receipt from Swiss Bank Corporation, issued in June 1971.

Uwe Johnson is considered a chronicler of German division. He grew up in East Germany and fled to West Germany in 1959, lived in New York for a few years, and died in England at only 49. In his novels, Johnson precisely documents the circumstances of the time, over there and over there. “Johnson was able to put into words, like no other, the torn relationship of GDR citizens to their homeland,” Helbig says. “There were reasons to stay and reasons to go. I was fascinated that someone could say that so beautifully.”

That Johnson is hardly read today is something Helbig regrets. And that he is not even a household name to many. Everyone knows his contemporaries Guneter Grass and Heinrich Böll, because they both were awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Johnson, too, deserves it, Helbig believes. But now Johnson is receiving another and maybe more relevant honor: His own edition of his works. He was the first writer of the 20th century to be accepted into a funding program of the German Academy of Sciences. Thanks to Professor Helbig – and thanks to a generous entrepreneur.
Ulrich T Fries is a timber entrepreneur, holds a doctorate in German studies and, along with Hamburg millionaire Jan Philipp Reemtsma, is probably the biggest patron in the academic literary world. Fries has already spent around 750,000 Euros of his private fortune on the Rostock Uwe Johnson professorship. He also paid the Suhrkamp publishing house a seven-figure sum for the private Johnson Estate, which he had brought to Rostock in 2012.
The fact that Fries had to take out a loan from his local bank at the time was worth it to himself: “What is being created in Rostock today is a miracle. “Since the archive became publicly accessible in 2013, not only Johnson researchers from all over the world travel to Rostock. The archive – together with the professorship – was the decisive argument for the academy to support the edition of his works. “They sensed something unique could be created in Rostock,” Professor Helbig confirms.
40 volumes in 24 years. The funding has been running since last year. The first volume, “Mutmassungen über Jakob,” is scheduled to appear in 2016, the last in 2038. By then, Helbig will have retired. The running time is not the only challenge: A digital edition is to be created parallel to the printed one. All documents from the estate are to be included, from original New York Times newspaper articles to correspondence with writer Hans Magnus Enzensberger.

“There has never been such a modern Akademie edition,” enthuses Helbig. The Federal Government and the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern are each paying 4 million euros for the mammoth project. At last year’s ceremony, Helbig recalled, “The 24 years of public funding would not have existed without the 24 years of private funding.” And the hall knew who was meant by that.
“I didn’t necessarily want to boost academic research with my money at all,” said Ulrich Fries. Fries, 65, freshly shaved, wears a shirt and jacket. His gaze wanders to the ceiling of the exhibition room in his Hamburg branch, a drill hall from the imperial era. Flooring, doors, windows gleam around Fries. There’s a smell of wood. “Holger and I wanted people to read Johnson. Along the way, we made him one of the most studied writers today.”

When Fries and Helbig met 25 years ago, one was a student in Jena and the other a businessman with a doctorate who had given up German studies in favor of the family business. It’s a move that Fries still doesn’t regret: “When we started out, I knew a lot more about Johnson than Holger did. Today it’s the other way around. I’m proud of that groundwork.”

Their love for Johnson also united them in the years that followed, when Fries was busy expanding his father’s company. Fries expanded the two companies in his hometown of Kiel to a group of companies that now has 13 locations throughout northern Germany and employs nearly 500 people.
Nevertheless, there was also time for their shared passion. “I like to talk about the Johnson sound,” Helbig explains. “The appeal of his language hasn’t diminished to this day.” From 1994 to 2004, Fries and Helbig co-edited the scholarly series “Johnson Jahrbuch,” organized Johnson conferences in London, and published a commentary volume on “Anniversaries.”

Then, in 2012, a unique opportunity presented itself: Suhrkamp Verlag wanted to sell the Johnson Estate. Fries bought the archive and made it permanently available to the University of Rostock. “I wanted it to be open to anyone who was passionate about Johnson.”

Seven doctoral students are currently researching the writer in Rostock. Across Germany, Professor Helbig knows of 17: “No other university is doing nearly as intensive research on Johnson.” A fact that also throws a spotlight on public university funding: Why does it take an entrepreneur to put up money for a university to take on such an important author?
All attempts in recent years to draw attention to him have come from Rostock – or from non-university sources: The Mecklenburg Literary Society awards the Uwe Johnson Prize every two years, the Literaturhaus in Klütz in West Mecklenburg curates Johnson exhibitions, and the Brecht House in Berlin organized the Uwe Johnson Days to mark the thirtieth anniversary of his death in 2014. And it did so with financial support from Helbig’s research center.

In storeroom 407 of the historic Bücherspeicher in the middle of Rostock’s old town, most of the 8,500 books and periodical volumes from Johnson’s private library are stored, along with letters, manuscripts, and records. Johnson’s typewriter is also stowed away on one of the metal shelves, and in another place a wooden cat from Bali, given to him by the journalist Margret Boveri.

“Come on, I want to show you Johnson’s complete Spiegel collection.” Holger Helbig directs his steps through the room. On either side are magazine racks, filled to the ceiling with books. Tucholsky’s Weltbühne, Christa Wolf, German studies volumes from GDR times: Side glances catch a whiff of Johnson’s personality.
“It’s not just the collection itself that reveals a lot about Johnson,” Helbig notes. From the condition of the archival materials, he immediately recognizes what was really important to the writer, what was purely required reading. With every letter, every newspaper comment, Helbig reveals, Johnson the man becomes more tangible: “In looking at the archives every day, we get very close to Johnson.”
The book depository is one of eleven locations of the Rostock University Library. It takes Helbig less than ten minutes to walk from the research center to this archive. Across the streetcar tracks at Schröderplatz, past the baroque fortified tower and the stores of the pedestrian zone, turn right at Universitätsplatz.
Antje Pautzke, deputy director of the Uwe Johnson Research Center, knows the way best. Pautzke handles everything to do with the archive: she has archival materials restored, arranges for museum loans to be sent out and for permission to use the archive. “For the first time ever, the archive is really usable,” Pautzke says. It took a year to catalog the entire estate and feed it into the library database.
In 2014, 15 foreign researchers were in Rostock. In the summer, a whole group of Japanese comes to Rostock. “The trend is clearly upward,” says Pautzke. Ulrich Fries and Holger Helbig already have an idea to make the archive accessible to even more Johnson lovers: scholarships for foreign researchers – again at the entrepreneur’s expense.

Ulrich always wanted his money to create something that might not have existed otherwise,” says Helbig, back at the Torhaus. “He never wanted anything in return.”

This text was published in German by TAZ Berlin in the Reportage Section.
The Author is Ralf Pauli, Berlin

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