22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Ulrich Woelk

Portrait Ulrich Woelk
© Hartwig Klappert

Ulrich Woelk was born in 1960 in Bonn and grew up in Cologne. From 1980 to 1987 he studied physics and philosophy in Tübingen, earned his PhD in 1991 with a dissertation on »White Dwarfs in Close Binary Star Systems«, and worked until 1995 as an astrophysicist at TU Berlin and the University of Göttingen. It was during this period that Woelk also produced his first literary works.

In 1990 he published his novel titled »Freigang« (tr. Open access), which earned him the Aspekte-Literaturpreis. »Die Zeit« already considered his debut to be »the best there is today in terms of recent German prose«. His formative scientific background is not only perceptible in his constellation of characters – fastidious physics student falls in love with chaotic Germanist and ultimately seeks psychiatric help – but is also reflected in his treatment of the dichotomy of reason and emotion, calculation and chance, and of cognition and intuition. His first theater play would soon follow; »Tod Liebe Verklärung« (tr. Death love transfiguration), with Uwe Eric Laufenberg as director, premiered in 1993 at the Schauspielhaus in Cologne. Nine years later he published »Die letzte Vorstellung« (2002; The last performance), which was made into a film titled »Mord am Meer« (2004; tr. Murder by the sea) about the solving of the murder of a former member of the RAF by two investigators from former East and West Germany. In 2005 Woelk published »Einstein on the Lake«, the story of a Berlin lawyer who, in search of the famous physicist’s legacy as well as his theory of everything, exposes the adultery of his wife. In »Schrödingers Schlafzimmer« (2006; tr. Schrödinger’s bedroom), physics also meets relationship problems: The domestic life of a married couple becomes re-enlivened by the appearance of young man who turns out to be the grandson of the quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger. Woelk’s novel »Was Liebe ist« (2013; tr. What love is) shows the author at the height of his »linguistic prowess and his art for dialogue« (Jochen Hieber, »FAZ«). This love story portrays the improbable coming together of a businessman, who is attending a conference in Berlin on compensatory damages for Nazi-era forced laborers, and a young jazz singer. In his crime novel »Pfingstopfer« (2015; tr. Pentecost sacrifice), a sequel to »Die letzte Vorstellung«, the investigation of a murder in a parish garden becomes a discourse on how truth is appropriated by ideology, science and religion. In Woelk’s latest novel, »Nacht ohne Engel« (2017; Night without angels) focuses on the generation that became adults after the fall of the Berlin Wall yet – despite all its freedoms – lacks a sense of belonging.

Woelk received the 2005 Thomas-Valentin-Literaturpreis for his literary oeuvre. He has taught poetics and writing in Tübingen and at the University of Paderborn, and was writer in residence at the Goethe-Institut and the Nirox Foundation in Johannesburg, South Africa. The author lives in Berlin.