Peter Härtling. An Obituary by Jörg Stürzebecher
One might be surprised that form is dedicating space to an obituary to an author known for his children’s books, novels and fictional biographies. But there are good reasons for this. For Peter Härtling (13 November 1933 – 10 July 2017) was not only a wonderful storyteller with a perspective on things – one only has to recall the novel “Hubert oder Die Rückkehr nach Casablanca” [Hubert or The Return to Casablanca] with its introductory chapter “A Hat Is Sold” and the unpleasant, unmasking point for the anti-hero: “It suits you excellently, remarked the sales assistant. You look a little like Humphrey Bogart.” He was also an important intermediary and discoverer of the forgotten literary avant-garde which he first presented in essays, such as the collection “Palmström grüßt Anna Blume” [Palmström greets Anna Blume] (1961), and later in the “Im Fischernetz” [In the Fishnet] series that he edited.
His work for the publishing house S. Fischer Verlag was also related to the fact that Härtling, born in Chemnitz, was able to find a new home in the literal sense in one of the most advanced projects of post-war architecture. For this man, who had been displaced by the Second World War and became manager of the Fischer Verlag, was, with the support of Brigitte Bermann-Fischer, able to acquire a house in the Neue Heimat settlement in Walldorf, near to Frankfurt/Main. This settlement had been designed by Richard Neutra as a model allowing life to be lived of one’s own free will both privately and in community. When the author of this piece first encountered the Neutra settlement and its integration into the forest dunes, it was similar to the time when a visitor chanced upon a holiday development which the American author, Ayn Rand, describes in her novel “The Fountainhead” (see form 271): “‘Such a thing does not exist!’ he said, pointing downwards. ‘It does now,’ replied the man. ‘Is it a film set or an optical illusion?’ ‘No. It is a holiday village. It has just been finished. It will be opened in a few weeks.’ ‘Who built it?’ ‘I did.’ ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Howard Roark.’ […] The young man went down the hill, pushing his bicycle, down into the valley to the houses. Roark watched him go. He had never seen the young man before, and never saw him again. He did not know that he had given someone the courage to stay alive.”
The Neutra house, where Härtling lived with his family, was an open house. Not always, but certainly when the Deutscher Werkbund, of which Härtling was a member, occasionally asked it to be made available, and sometimes, too, if clear interest was shown by visitors to see the compact bungalow development with its inner courtyards. And in these permitted visits, too, Härtling contributed to others’ survival. And, in addition to his many books, engagements, other activities and services, that is no small thing.