Friedrich Dürrenmatt

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Friedrich Dürrenmatt at the presentation of the Ernst Robert Curtius Prize for Essay Writing in 1989 in Bonn

Friedrich Reinhold Dürrenmatt (born January 5, 1921 in Stalden im Emmental , † December 14, 1990 in Neuchâtel ; resident in Guggisberg ) was a Swiss writer , playwright and painter .


Friedrich Dürrenmatt was born in 1921 in Stalden in the Emmental, which was incorporated into the political municipality of Konolfingen in 1933 . He was the first child of Reinhold (1881–1965) and Hulda Dürrenmatt (1886–1975), née Zimmermann. His father was the reformed pastor of the village, his grandfather Ulrich Dürrenmatt was a politician and poet. In 1924 his sister Verena ("Vroni"; † 2018) was born. In October 1935 the family moved to Bern , where the father became pastor at the deaconess house . The world economic crisis also made itself felt in Switzerland at this point, and the middle class became poorer. Friedrich Dürrenmatt first attended the Freie Gymnasium Bern , later the Humboldtianum, where he passed the Matura in 1941 . He was not a particularly good student (overall grade: "just enough") and described his school days as the "worst time" of his life. He changed schools because he didn't like the way the classes were taught, because he had bad grades and because his behavior offended the teachers. For a short time in 1941 Dürrenmatt was a member of a Fröntler association in order to differentiate himself from his father, as he later admitted.

While still in Konolfingen he began to paint and draw, an inclination that he would feel all his life. He later illustrated some of his own works, made sketches and sometimes entire stage sets . His pictures were exhibited in Neuchâtel in 1976 and 1985, and in Zurich in 1978 . He actually wanted to train as a painter, but then studied philosophy , natural sciences and German at the University of Bern from 1941 , and between 1942/43 at the University of Zurich . In Bern he lived with his parents in an attic , which he furnished with large murals that were later whitewashed and only discovered, exposed and restored in the early 1990s (see Dürrenmatt attic ). In 1946 he finished his studies without even starting his planned dissertation on Søren Kierkegaard , determined to become a writer.

On October 12, 1946, he married the actress Lotti Geissler (1919–1983). The couple initially lived in Basel , where their son Peter was born in 1947. In 1948 the family moved to the community of Ligerz on Lake Biel , where they initially lived in the Schernelz district and from 1949 in the Festi hamlet. In 1950 the crime novel The Judge and His Executioner was created with open reference to neighboring locations such as Lamboing . In the 1975 film adaptation he appeared as "Friedrich".

Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt in the Kronenhalle in Zurich (1961)

Max Frisch had received the manuscript of Dürrenmatt's first play for the stage Es is written from the theater publisher Kurt Reiss and, after reading it, initiated contact with Dürrenmatt with a letter. The to the Münster Rebellion anknüpfende comedy was in April 1947 at the Schauspielhaus Zurich premiere and caused a theater scandal ; after it had not met with the expected approval, the author withdrew it the following year. In 1948 his second play followed, Der Blinde ; even this drama received hardly any attention. In 1949 his third play, the comedy Romulus the Great , was staged instead of the work The Tower of Babel , which was never finished and destroyed by the author .

The first years as a freelance writer were economically difficult for Dürrenmatt and his family of five - daughter Barbara joined them in 1949 and daughter Ruth in 1951. Then the financial situation gradually improved, especially due to radio plays from German broadcasters . In addition, Arche Verlag became his regular publisher at this time . His two thrillers ( The Judge and His Executioner and The Suspicion ) were first published as sequels in the Schweizerischer Beobachter from 1950 . In 1952 the Dürrenmatts moved into their permanent residence in the newly built house above Neuchâtel.

Cover of the first edition of " The Promise "

In 1950, the comedy Die Ehe des Herr Mississippi came into being , with which he had his first major success on the German theaters in 1952, after it had previously been rejected by the Swiss theaters. He achieved worldwide fame in 1956 with his tragic comedy The Visit of the Old Lady ; the overwhelming success of this work also established its financial independence. The failure with the “musical comedy” Frank the Fifth (1960) was followed by the second world success in 1962 with Die Physiker . The radio play Hercules and the Stables of Augias (1963), which was reworked into a theater play , did not go down well with the audience. With Der Meteor , his most personal play, he was able to celebrate his third and last world success as a playwright in 1966.

He has received many awards for his work, such as the Welti Prize for It is written in 1948 , the Schiller Prize of the City of Mannheim in 1959 , the Great Schiller Prize in 1960 and the Buber Rosenzweig Medal in 1977 . In 1969 he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Temple University in Philadelphia, and he received other honorary doctorates in Jerusalem and Nice. In the 1960s Dürrenmatt was at the height of its public success with its theater works. Dürrenmatt also achieved great fame with his screenplay for the Heinz Rühmann film Es Happened on Bright Day (1958), based on the model of which he wrote his novel The Promise . The film is still today one of the greatest German crime films.

Dürrenmatt in 1966 in his office in Neuchâtel in conversation with Eugène Ionesco

From 1967 he also devoted himself to practical theater work, first at the Basel theaters, after a heart attack in October 1969 at Neue Schauspiel AG in Zurich, and finally in Düsseldorf . Two of his world premieres took place there, Portrait of a Planet and Titus Andronicus . He staged several spectacular re-performances of his own plays, for example Der Meteor (1964/65) in Vienna in 1978 .

As a socially critical author, Dürrenmatt commented on international politics in essays, lectures and keynote speeches, for example with sentences from America (1970), the press release I stand behind Israel (1973) and a lecture on the 100th birthday of Albert Einstein at ETH Zurich ( 1979). In February 1987 he took part in the peace conference convened by Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. In 1990 he gave two speeches to Václav Havel and Mikhail Gorbachev, which appeared under the title Kant's Hope .

Dürrenmatt had made new versions of most of his works for the 29-volume work edition , which was published in 1980 as a hardback edition by Arche Verlag and as a paperback by Diogenes Verlag . During this time he dealt intensively with his own way of working and the characters and places he had created, culminating in the two volumes Labyrinth. Fabrics I – III (1981) and tower construction. Fabrics IV-IX (1990). From typescripts a continuation of the substances was published posthumously in 1992 under the title thought fugue .

"But the fabrics are the results of my thinking, the mirrors, in which, depending on their cut, my thinking and thus my life are reflected."

In the 1980s he again received a number of awards, including the Austrian State Prize for European Literature in 1983 and the Georg Büchner Prize in 1986 . In 1985 he received the Bavarian Literature Prize ( Jean-Paul Prize ) in recognition of his entire literary work. In 1986 he received the Premio Mondello of the Fondazione Sicilia for the Italian translation of “Justiz”.

His wife Lotti died on January 16, 1983. Dürrenmatt married the actress and filmmaker Charlotte Kerr on May 8, 1984 . Together they brought out the film Portrait of a Planet and the play Role Play. Friedrich Dürrenmatt died of heart failure in Neuchâtel on December 14, 1990 at the age of 69 . Charlotte Kerr has processed her memories of the time together in her book The Woman in the Red Coat . Posthumously Dürrenmatt was accepted into the Lord Jim Lodge with the consent of his widow . In September 2000, the Center Dürrenmatt was opened in his house , where exhibitions and events on his work have taken place ever since.

On July 26, 2000, the asteroid (14041) Dürrenmatt was named after him.

Dürrenmatt's drama theory

Similar to Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956), whose theories on epic theater Dürrenmatt studied and next to whom he is regarded as the “most original theorist”, he wanted to create a distance between the audience and what was happening on stage. The viewer should no longer play the role of a passive consumer. He should be encouraged to think for himself.

In addition, Dürrenmatt preferred the stylistic device of alienation , which questions what is generally recognized and reveals the contradictions of social structures. Just as characteristic are tragic-grotesque elements, i.e. a combination of the apparently incompatible. In contrast to Brecht, Dürrenmatt did not present a worldview (in Brecht: Marxism ).

Dürrenmatt thus created his own type of tragic comedy , a hybrid of tragedy and comedy, in his opinion "the only possible dramatic form to express the tragic today". Because , as Dürrenmatt says in his text Theaterprobleme from 1955, tragedy presupposes “guilt, hardship, measure, overview, responsibility” in order to achieve its goal, the purification of the individual. In the confusion of the modern world, so Dürrenmatt, guilt is blurred and pushed away, the modern only comes with the grotesque .

From Marcel Reich-Ranicki three works are highlighted Dürrenmatt's what makes his era for future generations tangible: "His tragic comedy by the venality of the people and by the corrupting effects of wealth" ( The visit of the Old Lady , 1956), "the parable of the threat to mankind from civilization ”( Die Physiker , 1962)“ and finally the parable of the guilt of the individual, which is completely underestimated by German critics ”( Die Panne , 1956).


Note: Many of his novels and stories were also set to music as radio plays . There are different versions of almost all works.

Work edition

From 1980 to 1986 the dramatic work was published in 17 and the prose work in 12 individual volumes, edited by Daniel Keel in collaboration with the author, both as hardcover by Arche Verlag and as a paperback by Diogenes Verlag . Volume 30 with testimonies about Friedrich Dürrenmatt is listed here under literature .

In 1998 Diogenes Verlag published the new paperback edition, expanded to 37 volumes:

  • The dramatic work in 18 volumes in a cassette. ISBN 3-257-23040-0 .
  • The prose work in 19 volumes in a cassette. ISBN 3-257-23078-8 .
  • Register tape. With a chronicle of life and work, an index of works, an overview of the contents and an alphabetical index of works, ISBN 3-257-23079-6 .


  • The old. Story, published in 1945 in the daily newspaper Der Bund . In: From the papers of a guard. Early prose. Diogenes, Zurich 1980 (= WA 18).
  • The judge and his executioner . Detective novel, published between December 15, 1950 and March 31, 1951 in eight episodes in the Observer . Benziger, Einsiedeln 1952 (filmed in 1975).
  • The suspicion . Detective novel, published between September 15, 1951 and February 29, 1952 as a crime novel in the Observer . Benziger, Einsiedeln 1953.
  • The town. Prose I – IV. Arche, Zurich 1952 (contains nine stories written between 1942 and 1946, including Der Tunnel . )
  • Greek is looking for a Greek . A prose comedy . Arche, Zurich 1955 ( filmed in 1966)
  • The glitch . Another possible story. Arche, Zurich 1956.
  • The promise . Requiem for the detective novel. Arche, Zurich 1958; Further development on August 2 and 28, 1985 in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung .
  • Home in the poster. A book for Swiss children. Diogenes, Zurich 1963.
  • Sentences from America. Arche, Zurich 1970.
  • The fall . Narrative. Arche, Zurich 1971.
  • Connections. An essay on Israel. A concept. Arche, Zurich 1976.
  • Friedrich Dürrenmatt reading book. Arche, Zurich 1978.
  • Mister X is on vacation . Fragment. Diogenes, Zurich 1978
  • Fabrics. Diogenes, Zurich 1981 (therein: lunar eclipse ); New edition revised by the author: Labyrinth. Fabrics I – III , ibid. 1990.
  • Minotaur . A ballad. With drawings by the author. Diogenes, Zurich 1985.
  • Judiciary . Novel. Diogenes, Zurich 1985 ( filmed in 1993).
  • The order or From observing the observer the observer . Novella in 24 sentences. Diogenes, Zurich 1986.
  • Tangled valley . Novel. Diogenes, Zurich 1989.
  • Tower construction. Substances IV – IX. Diogenes, Zurich 1990.

Radio plays


Published posthumously


Films (selection)

Web links

Commons : Friedrich Dürrenmatt  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

About Dürrenmatt

Individual evidence

  1. Peter Rüedi: Dürrenmatt or The Hunch of the Whole. Biography. Diogenes, Zurich 2011, ISBN 978-3-257-06797-2 , pp. 117, 119f .: “In the spring of 1937, FD flew out of the 'Frygymer' […] After he was kicked out of the Free Gymnasium, the worried parents brought him to the Spring 1937 at the 'Humboldtianum' under, a private school [which] replaced fixed classes with so-called 'performance classes' ”.
  2. Dürrenmatt's flirt with the Nazis. In: 20 minutes . June 15, 2007, accessed January 5, 2021 .
  3. Rüedi, p. 273.
  4. ^ Friedrich Dürrenmatt: Albert Einstein: A lecture. 1979, archived from the original on May 13, 2009 ; accessed on January 5, 2021 (reproduced on
  5. ^ Article by Christoph Siegrist on Friedrich Dürrenmatt in Killy Literature Lexicon. Digital Library Volume 9, 1999
  6. Quoted from: Labyrinth. Zurich 1981, p. 11.
  7. literature prices Freitstaates Bavaria: winner of the Jean-Paul Award. In: . Archived from the original on October 2, 2014 ; accessed on January 5, 2021 .
  8. ^ Il Premio Letterario Internazionale Mondello: L'Albo d'Oro dei vincitori. In: Retrieved January 5, 2021 (Italian).
  9. ^ Petri Liukkonen: Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–1990). In: Authors' Calendar. 2008, archived from the original on February 23, 2015 ; accessed on January 5, 2021 (English).
  10. ^ Christoph Siegrist: National literary aspects in Swiss authors . In: Hanser's Social History of German Literature from the 16th Century to the Present , ed. Rolf Grimminger , Munich / Vienna 1986, ISBN 3-423-04352-0 , Vol. 10, p. 665.
  11. ^ Friedrich Dürrenmatt: Theater Problems. Theatrical writings and speeches. Verlag der Arche, Zurich 1966, pp. 122–23.
  12. Marcel Reich-Ranicki, Thomas Anz (ed.): My History of German Literature From the Middle Ages to the Present, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Munich, 2014, p. 411
  13. ^ Friedrich Dürrenmatt. Thinker - painter - world author. You , December 2015, accessed December 12, 2015 .
  14. Jürgen Seul : The universe Dürrenmatt. Gloss & Elend, accessed October 11, 2015 .
  15. Dürrenmatt - A Love Story (trailer). In: YouTube . Zurich Film Festival , September 14, 2015, accessed on October 11, 2015 .