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August 2002 - Nr. 8


The Editor
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KW & Beyond
Delis DO Open
Help for Flood Victims
Dick reports...
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Romantic Rhine
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125 Years H. Hesse
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Racing History

Celebrating 125 Years of Hermann Hesse

  TWIG - Had he lived to see the 21st century, German novelist Hermann Hesse would have turned 125 Tuesday (July 2), and Germany is celebrating his life and work with a host of exhibitions, performances, readings and other events this year. Starting this week, Hesse will be the focus of a month-long festival in the Black Forest town of Calw (Baden-Wuerttemberg), the author’s birthplace. Once known as a teenage rebel who would never amount to much, Hesse grew up to win the Nobel Prize in literature and achieve lasting fame as one of Europe’s best-loved writers. "We have a debt to pay him," says Calw mayor Werner Spec.

Calw is hosting nearly 200 cultural events in Hesse’s honor this summer, including a gathering of living Nobel peace and literature laureates and a concert by the American rock group Steppenwolf, named for one of the writer’s most widely read novels. In nearby Maulbronn, the seminary that Hesse briefly attended is presenting an exhibition on its most illustrious pupil. The author’s memories of the school provided material for his 1906 novel Unterm Rad (Beneath the Wheel), a book Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder this week said still has much to say to German students.

Hesse left the seminary at age 15, determined to become, as he put it, "either a writer or nothing." His parents, who were devout Pietists, tried desperately to turn him back to theology, but Hesse resisted, eventually beginning an apprenticeship in the bookselling trade. In 1904 his first novel, Peter Camenzind, was published to immediate acclaim.

Hesse’s youthful struggle for freedom and self-definition, according to Suhrkamp publisher Siegfried Unseld, became the seed of a lifelong battle against conformity. He visited India in 1911, an experience that led him to the study of Eastern religions and inspired his 1922 novel Siddhartha. He moved to Switzerland in 1912, and during World War I, he remained critical of German nationalism, an attitude many of his countrymen saw as a betrayal. Yet his 1919 book Demian - like most of his works, a story of personal crisis and transformation - became especially popular with veterans of the war.

"All of his books are autobiographical," says Volker Michels, editor of Suhrkamp’s edition of the complete works of Hesse. "They are actually quite private, honest, unsparing: writing as self-therapy." These deeply personal works have served as a guiding light for generations of readers, especially the young. Discovered by American Beat poets in the 1950s, Hesse achieved cult status in the U.S. in the decade that followed, and by the 1970s, his booming popularity had spread back to Germany. The Hesse craze has died down in recent years, but critic Michael Limberg believes it is due for a revival. "In the age of the Internet, where it’s all about shareholder value and profit," says Limberg, Hesse’s search for the soul is exactly what people need.

With Suhrkamp’s support, an extensive website (www.hermannhesse.de) was launched this week to help researchers and others interested in learning more about Hesse. Information on the site is available in both German and English. 

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