We mourn the loss of Harry Oberländer

We mourn the loss of Harry Oberländer

Foto: Alex Englert

We mourn the loss of our founding member Harry Oberländer, who died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 73.

We remember the poet, translator and literary mediator as a dedicated member who supported the new German PEN in word and deed with full conviction. He welcomed the founding of a »markedly rejuvenated PEN, for which the word ›diverse‹ is not an angry foreign word and which sees itself as a non-governmental organization for freedom of speech and publication and for the support of persecuted authors«, he wrote after the founding meeting of PEN Berlin, to which he had traveled from his home in Hesse.

Harry Oberländer was born in 1950 in Bad Karlshafen in northern Hesse and grew up in a time of politicization in schools. In 1969, during the student protests, he began studying sociology in Frankfurt am Main. There he met Daniel Cohn-Bendit and Joschka Fischer in the group “Revolutionärer Kampf” (revolutionary struggle), with whom he sought contact with the Opel car workers, the “revolutionary subjects” in Rüsselsheim. But their paths soon diverged again when Harry Oberländer decided against a political career in favor of (not least political) poetry, which he worked on until the end. In 1973 he was awarded the most important prize for young poets, the Leonce and Lena Prize.

In 1985, together with the poet Paulus Böhmer, he founded the Frankfurt Literature Office, which later became the Hessian Literature Forum. When he was responsible for its program management between 2010 and 2016, it became a Frankfurt institution, and with his cheerfulness and humor he also brought greats of world literature such as Mircea Cărtărescu and J. M. Coetzee to the Main metropolis.

In »chronos krumlov«, his last volume of poetry from 2015, Harry Oberländer finally returned to what was dear to him, a poetry in which historical consciousness is inscribed: »father, what did the priest do / be quiet child, it’s about the war // mother, who took the priest / be quiet child, it’s about home and victory // father, where did they take him / be quiet child, to dachau in the dark of the night« reads the poem about »pater engelmar«. His Romanian-German friend Werner Söllner dedicated the poem »Der Logenschließer« to him, who was also an usher at the theater in the 1970s: »He opens for the theater and he steps / back into the dark.«

Harry Oberländer will be missed by all of us, his friends and his readers.

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