Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Leading Light in German Letters, Dies at 93

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Poet, essayist, writer and societal critic, helium held wide power among a postwar literate procreation with works arsenic intelligence arsenic they were political.

Hans Magnus Enzensberger, successful  a achromatic  and achromatic  photo, wearing a acheronian  overgarment   and necktie  and leaning implicit    a podium arsenic  speaks into microphones.
Hans Magnus Enzensberger astatine a governmental lawsuit successful Frankfurt successful 1968. He was regarded arsenic 1 of the founding literate figures of the Federal Republic of Germany.Credit...Manfred Rehm/picture-alliance/dpa, via Associated Press

Melissa Eddy

Dec. 2, 2022, 6:37 p.m. ET

BERLIN — Hans Magnus Enzensberger, a poet, essayist, playwright, journalist, exertion and translator whose wide-ranging intellect and writings resonated among West Germany’s postwar literate generation, died connected Nov. 24 successful Munich. He was 93.

His German publisher, Suhrkamp Verlag, announced his decease but did not springiness a cause.

Considered 1 of the starring intelligence forces successful West Germany and aboriginal successful the reunified Federal Republic of Germany, Mr. Enzensberger was, by his ain account, fluent successful “about 7 languages,” surviving crossed overmuch of Europe, including Scandinavia, Italy, France and, successful the run-up to the 1968 pupil gyration there, West Berlin.

A.S. Byatt erstwhile described him arsenic “the ironic German par excellence” and an “ideal European — polyglot, polymath, skeptical and humane, with a beardown consciousness of past some bully and evil.”

When helium was 16, Mr. Enzensberger made disconnected with a crate of U.S. Armed Services Editions that helium had recovered successful the Bavarian colony wherever helium spent the last days of World War II, aft defecting from the nationalist militia. The container included works by Hemingway, Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but it besides held translations of works of German authors, Thomas Mann and Franz Kafka, that “nobody successful Nazi Germany had ever read,” arsenic helium recalled decades later.

“The American Army, successful different words, not lone gave maine a clang people successful American civilization,” helium wrote successful an essay for The New York Times successful 1985, “it besides provided maine with a archetypal and tantalizing glimpse of my precise ain literature, the champion portion of which had been banned for 12 years.”


Mr. Enzensberger, 1 of his country’s astir varied writers, successful 2013. “I’ve had forays into the theater, I bash immoderate vigor work, adjacent television, immoderate translation,” helium said. “I hatred being a specialist.”Credit...Andreas Gebert/picture-alliance/dpa, via Associated Press

From that glimpse helium would spell connected to go 1 of his country’s astir varied writers, publishing much than 70 works, including volumes of poetry, essays, criticism, media mentation and adjacent a publication explaining the wonders of mathematics to children, “The Number Devil,” which became an planetary champion seller.

“I’ve had forays into the theater, I bash immoderate vigor work, adjacent television, immoderate translation,” helium said successful an interrogation successful 1989. “I hatred being a specialist.”

In 1947, Mr. Enzensberger joined Group 47, a corporate of West German writers — Günther Grass and Heinrich Boll among them — that defined a caller dependable for German literature, 1 that was arsenic intelligence arsenic it was political.

His controlled choler astatine the postwar establishment, which helium viewed arsenic complicit successful the crimes of the Nazis, shown done successful his archetypal measurement of poetry, “Defense of the Wolves” (1957). In a poem helium titled “The wolves defended against the lambs” he wrote, “should the vultures devour forget-me-nots?/ what bash you privation the jackal to do/ chopped escaped from his skin, oregon the wolf? should/ helium propulsion his ain teeth retired of his head?”

A 2nd measurement of poetry, “landessprache,” followed successful 1960. Three years later, astatine 33, helium became the youngest writer to beryllium awarded 1 of Germany’s highest literate honors, the Büchner Prize.


Mr. Enzensberger, right, successful 1963 aft receiving the Georg Büchner Prize, 1 Germany’s highest literate honors. Credit...Richard Koll/picture alliance, via Getty Images

Mr. Enzensberger described his relation arsenic a writer during that clip arsenic “sort of being a sanitation worker: you had to cleanable up the place.” That cognition earned him swift praise and popularity successful the English-speaking satellite but derision astatine home, wherever to the much established critics of the clip helium represented the “angry young man.”

Unimpressed with the moniker and anxious to spot much of the world, helium spent respective years abroad.

“Then I near Germany for a agelong play of time, due to the fact that erstwhile you walk your clip warring something, you go successful a consciousness portion of it, and I didn’t privation to go an obsessive German, 1 mode oregon another,” helium said. “I felt this was truly a regulation which successful the agelong tally I couldn’t accept. I did my portion of the occupation and past I left, truthful I could deliberation of different things.”

Hans Magnus Enzensberger was calved connected Nov. 11, 1929, successful Kaufbeuren, a colony successful the Bavarian alps. His father, Andreas Enzensberger, was a telecommunications technician; his mother, Leonore (Ledermann) Enzensberger, was a kindergarten teacher. The eldest of 4 brothers, Hans was viewed astatine a young property arsenic already having an extraordinarily alert and captious caput arsenic good arsenic an unruly temperament.

After the war, helium rapidly earned his precocious schoolhouse diploma and went connected to survey lit and doctrine astatine universities successful Freiburg, Hamburg, Paris and Erlangen, wherever helium earned a doctorate successful doctrine successful 1955.

He besides worked arsenic an exertion for a nationalist vigor presumption successful Stuttgart and successful 1967 launched “Kursbuch” (or “Railroad Timetable”), an influential diary for progressive intellectuals. It would spell connected to animate a procreation of those who, similar him, sought to interruption escaped of a postwar strategy successful West Germany that they viewed arsenic tied to the past. The 1968 pupil revolt that began successful West Berlin dispersed crossed West Germany and altered the people of the country’s politics, lit and acquisition systems.

“I was not a student, I was overmuch older, but it was for maine a precise important experience,” Mr. Enzensberger recalled. “In hindsight, 1 tin accidental it made the spot inhabitable due to the fact that immoderate other whitethorn beryllium said astir the ludicrous sides of it, it achieved a modernization of societal relations successful this country, which were inactive benignant of stuck successful the 1940s oregon ’30s oregon God knows when. It became a modern country.”


Mr. Enzensberger successful 1986. He helped make young writers similar W.G. Sebald.Credit...Jack Manning/The New York Times

After his death, his wife, Katharina, received a condolence missive from President Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany citing Mr. Enzensberger’s boundless curiosity. “Your hubby ne'er shied distant from asking adjacent the seemingly elemental questions,” Mr. Steinmeier wrote. “Inexhaustible originality, astonishing thoughts, delight successful wit and irony were the unmistakable signature of his works.”

In summation to his wife, Mr. Enzensberger is survived by their daughter, Theresia Enzensberger, a writer and author; and a daughter, Tanaquil Enzensberger, from his archetypal marriage, to Dagrun Kristensen, which ended successful divorce. A 2nd marriage, successful 1967, to Maria Makarowa, besides ended successful divorce.

While connected a fellowship astatine Wesleyan University successful 1968, Mr. Enzensberger denounced the U.S. authorities successful an unfastened missive published successful The New York Review of Books and announced that helium was vacating the station to articulation the revolutionary question successful Cuba. “For it is 1 happening to survey imperialism successful comfort,” helium wrote, “and rather different happening to face it wherever it shows a little benevolent face.”

While successful Cuba, helium collaborated with the German composer Hans Werner Henze connected “El Cimarrón,” a enactment helium described arsenic a 75-minute “recital for 4 musicians.” It is an adaptation of a salient publication that told the existent communicative of Esteban Montejo, an escaped Afro-Cuban enslaved who lived successful the jungle and fought for Cuba’s independency from Spain.

It was besides successful Cuba that helium began his epic communicative poem, “The Sinking of the Titanic,” which explores the lasting fascination with myths of catastrophe and considers the weaknesses of modern society. In it helium wrote: “I saw the iceberg, looming high/ and cold, similar a acold fata morgana,/ it drifted slowly, irrevocably,/ white, nearer to me.”

Mr. Enzensberger returned to Germany successful 1979 and settled successful Munich, wherever helium started a publishing house, The Other Library, which helped make young authors, including the German novelist W.G. Sebald and the Polish writer and writer Ryszard Kapuscinski.

Many of his aboriginal essays and books focused connected the authorities of Europe aft the autumn of the Berlin Wall and the illness of communism successful the Soviet bloc. He remained fiercely political, outspoken successful his enactment of the Persian Gulf War, and created a disturbance erstwhile helium compared Saddam Hussein of Iraq to Hitler.

In his publication “Civil Wars,” which explored evolving ideas of nationalism and assemblage by comparing the bloodshed from the breakup of Yugoslavia to the municipality riots successful the United States successful the 1990s, Mr. Enzensberger described a satellite defined by an “inability to separate betwixt demolition and self-destruction.” In this world, helium wrote, “there is nary longer immoderate request to legitimize your actions. Violence has freed itself from ideology.”

Yet adjacent arsenic helium contemplated humanity astatine its worst, helium infused his writings with a sly wit that rendered them astir comic. In an effort published successful The Times successful 1975, “A Brief Note On Doom,” helium looked astatine what helium called the “secularization” of the Apocalypse successful the modern world, calling Doom “the Last Word successful Entertainment, oregon “a commodity similar immoderate other.”

Regardless, helium concluded that Doom was present to stay, writing, “Today everything volition spell on, a small worse possibly than past week, but not noticeably different.”

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