German writer Christoph Hein was the first winner of the Erich Fried Prize in 1990 when literary scholar Hans Mayer awarded the then young and aspiring author the prize. Nearly 30 years later the modalities have not changed: Every year a renowned German speaking writer chooses a new laureate.
In 2019 it is Christoph Hein’s turn to award the prize and he has chosen poet, novelist and theatre director Steffen Mensching as the recent winner of the Erich Fried Prize.
Extract from the juror’s decision:
With Schermanns Augen (Schermann’s Eyes) Steffen Mensching achieved to write a novel comprising the first half of the 20th century with painstaking precision.
It is the century of Hitler and Stalin who impressed their seal, riddled with fear and horror, on Europe and the world and who led not only their own people and countries towards murderous ideologies igniting the Second World War. 75 years ago with Europe in ruins the War ended who until today determines history. It was succeeded by the Cold War fought on ideological battlefields. The Cold War ended without turning into a hot one albeit sometimes coming dangerously close. After the Cold War national wars began ensuing an enduring and threatening clash of cultures and religions.
Germany and Russia held half the world captive at one point, or at least half of Europe, imprinting their ideologies on everyone and demanding huge sacrifices. The world is still marked by the fights, the wounds are healing but still hurting and a return of the bloody battles cannot be precluded. The womb who gave birth to the atrocities is fertile still.
Mensching has achieved something unique with his book. When the structure of the novel gradually reveals itself to the reader a new and completely different tension arises. Involuntarily one wonders if the brave and ludicrous idea will carry this huge novel because Mensching places his European masterpiece on one single spot, a tiny and completely remote village, in Safranowka: GULAG ITL 47. But he succeeds in making this tiny camp in harsh Siberia the pivot of his enormous undertaking, a work as minutely accurate as it is full of facts and well researched:
It is nothing less than a novel of the century.
The Erich Fried Prize (15.000 Euros worth) is donated by the Federal Chancellery of the Republic of Austria and awarded by the International Erich Fried Society. This year the award ceremony will take place on December 1st, at the Literature House Vienna.
born in 1958 in (Eastern) Berlin. Cultural studies at the HU Berlin. Mensching has worked as a freelance writer, actor, clown and director for many years becoming well known for the clown programmes he put on stage with his partner Hans-Eckardt Wenzel. Since season 2008/2009 Steffen Mensching has been appointed as director of the German Theatre Rudolstadt.
His first collection of poems Erinnerung an eine Milchglasscheibe (Reminiscence of a Frosted Glass Screen) was published in 1979. His recent publications include the novels Jacobs Leiter (Jacob’s Ladder, 2003) and Lustigs Flucht (Lustig’s Flight, 2005). In 2001 he edited the Traumbuch des Exils (Dream Book of Exile) of German writer and communist Rudolf Leonhard under the title In derselben Nacht (In the Same Night). In 2018 Schermanns Augen (Schermann’s Eyes) was published to widespread critical acclaim.
Mensching is a member of the German PEN; he was awarded with the Heinrich Heine Prize of the GDR (shortly before its dissolution) in November 1989, as well as the German Cabaret Prize and the Kabarettpreis of the city of Nürnberg.
born in 1944 in Heinzendorf / Silesia. After the end of WW2 the family moved to Bad Düben near Leipzig where Hein grew up. From 1967 studies in philosophy and logic at the University of Leipzig, 1971 graduation at the Berlin Humboldt University. From 1974 to 1979 Hein worked as a resident writer at the Volksbühne Berlin.
His literary breakthrough came in 1982/1983 with his novella Der fremde Freund (in Western Germany Drachenblut, English transl. The Distant Lover). In later works Christoph Hein repeatedly used the theme of the uncertain protagonist trying to fit into an increasingly individualised and seemingly cold world, e. g. Der Tangospieler (1989, English transl. The Tango Player) and Landnahme (2004, English transl. Settlement). Since his novel Willenbrock (2000, English transl. Willenbrock) Christoph Hein’s works have been published by Suhrkamp.
The author was awarded numerous literary prizes, e. g. Uwe Johnson Prize, Stefan Heym Prize and the Austrian State Prize for European Literature.