Publisher Klaus Wagenbach died, and died Friday in Berlin at the age of 91, his publisher announced Monday. She added that he died “accompanied by his family and surrounded by his books.” “We will continue to run his publishing house in line with his motto: Nothing can ever be gained through melancholy.”
Born in Berlin, Wagenbach began his professional training in 1949 at the then consolidated publishing house Suhrkamp/Fischer. The writer Franz Kafka became a great passion, and Wagenbach earned his Ph.D. on the author. Fischer’s purchase by Holtzbrinck had far-reaching consequences: the new presidents expelled Wagenbach after he complained to the attorney general about the arrest of the GDR publisher during a book fair. Wagenbach liked such “curves in an autobiography,” as he put it. His author friends predicted that he would never find a publisher with his opinions.
In 1964 he founded his own publishing house in West Berlin. The early publisher’s slogan “Historical Consciousness, Anarchy, Hedonism” was a reference to Wagenbach’s world and the struggles of young democracy against the suppression of the Nazi past, lackluster conservatism, and petty philosophy. Economically it was not easy. He described the transfer as the answer to the task of successfully running a bankrupt company. The bank blocked the loan.
“The first titles are reserved for the most famous authors, beginning with the memoirs of Kurt Wolff, followed by the prose books by Christoph Mikl and Johannes Bobrovsky and one book each by Günter Grass, Hans Werner Richter and Ingeborg Bachmann, and they are happy to work on this project from an alternative publisher involved,” Wagenbach later recalls. Wolf Bermann’s “Die Drahtharfe” was the first year’s most successful book, “but it cost the publisher dearly,” Wagenbach said. The Deputy Minister of Culture of the GDR, Klaus Hopke, advised him to leave Bermann alone. Wagenbach refused. The result: entry and transit bans, little chance of finding other East German authors, and the dream of a cross-border publishing house. Berman himself was disappointing Wagenbach, too: having left for the West in 1976, the defector looked for a larger publisher.
Wagenbach advocated a culture of interventionism and democratic conflict. He was considered the prototype of the political publisher of the 1968 movement. He entered the scene and exited the publishing house. There were always house searches, trials, and convictions. Wagenbach saw himself as the most accused German publisher. The lawyer at his side was Otto Schily, who later became the RAF’s solicitor and later became the German Federal Minister of the Interior. He told Spiegel about the connections in the underground: “Above all, Ulrich Minhoff was close to me, but I never understood how I sped down this path.” .
He also advocated lavishly made books, he said, that should “last a hundred years.” “The Independent Publishing House for Unbridled Readers” – thus the later own view – directed “Kursbuch” and later “Freibeuter” with Hans Magnus Enzensberger. Michel Houellebecq was too cold for Wagenbach. “Extension of the combat zone” refused the publisher “Elementarteilchen”. In 2002, Susan Schusler, the third wife of Wagenbach, took over the management of the publishing house.
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