Dieter Wellershoff

Portrait Dieter Wellershoff
© Hans Weingartz

Dieter Wellershoff was born in Neuss in 1925 and grew up in Grevenbroich in the lower Rhine region. In 1943, influenced by war propaganda and still a student, he voluntarily went to the front. Wellershoff could first work through the experience of the “bloody reality of the word ‘battlefield’” 50 years after the end of the war in his autobiographical book “Der Ernstfall” (1995). After the war Wellershoff studied German Language and Literature, Art History, and Psychology in Bonn. His dissertation on Gottfried Benn from the year 1952 is still considered a standard work for literary scholars. He was a member of the influential “Group 47” and in the 60s founded the “Kölner Schule des Neuen Realismus” (Cologne School for New Realism), which was inspired by representatives of the “nouveau novel” and supported a realistic approach to documentation literature. In 1966 he published his debut novel “Ein schöner Tag.”

Since the 50s Dieter Wellershoff has worked as a freelance writer and critic, as a literary scholar at universities in Germany and abroad and not lastly as an editor at the publishing house Kiepenheuer & Witsch (1959 to 1981). He has accordingly become an influential figure in German literature. His own literary work is diverse and extensive, ranging from poems to stories, novels, radio plays, screenplays, theoretical essays on literature and most recently to autobiographical texts. He has received many renowned awards, including the Heinrich-Böll-Preis from the city of Cologne (1988). Two years ago his life’s work, with special emphasis on his novel “Der Liebeswunsch” (2000) – a modern version of the “Wahlverwandtschaften” (“The Elective Affinities”) – was awarded the Friedrich-Hölderlin-Preis and the Joseph-Breitbach-Preis. Among his further distinctions are the Niederrheinische Literaturpreis of the city of Krefeld and the Ernst-Robert-Curtius-Preis.

With an analytical eye for the smallest details, the author meticulously describes his subjects. His novels unfold their intense effect largely by presenting the figures in an oppressively exact way – as Wellershoff puts it – as “beings capable of falling prey to illusion, who in the search for the right life tend to get caught in the trap of their own imagination.” A search which not only comes to a fatal end in the “wish for love,” since, in Wellershoff, life in a modern society with its seemingly endless possibilities reveals itself as an erotic competition, which above all generates losers. With his cultural-analytical book of essays “Der verstörte Eros” (2001) the author presents an intellectual and fact-filled history of sublimated passions in literature from Goethe to Houellebecq. He recently published the essay collection “Der lange Weg zum Anfang” (2007) presenting thoughts on a variety of issues such as culture and society, politics, morals, literature and life itself. Wellershoff is a member of the Academy of Sciences and Literature, Mainz, and of the German P.E.N. He lives in Cologne.

© international literature festival berlin