Luise Rinser

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The Independent Online

Luise Rinser, writer: born Pitzling, Germany 30 April 1911; married 1939 Horst-Günther Schnell (deceased; two sons), second Carl Orff (died 1982); died Unterhaching, Germany 24 March 2002.

Luise Rinser was one of Germany's best-known writers, whose books sold more than five million copies. The Federal President Johannes Rau called her one of Germany's greatest literary voices of the 20th century and a champion of freedom and democracy.

Rinser was born in 1911, the daughter of a teacher, in Pitzling, Bavaria. She followed her father into teaching in 1935 but was forced out of the profession because she refused to join the Nazi party or any of its affiliates. After the publication of her first novel, Die gläsernen Ringe (1940; translated as Rings of Glass, 1958), she was banned from writing. She was arrested in 1944 for treason and defeatism and held in the women's prison at Traunstein. A possible death sentence was avoided by the arrival of the US Army in early 1945. It was the Americans who gave her a job on their Neue Zeitung in Munich in 1945.

Rinser, together with Gertrud von Le Fort, became known as the most influential woman writer of the "inner emigration" at the time of the Third Reich. Rinser examined the problems of the Nazi era, especially from a women's standpoint, and various existential problems. Among Rinser's best-selling books were Mitte des Lebens ("In the Middle of Life", 1950; translated as Nina, 1956), Daniela (1952), Mirjam (1983) and Abaelards Liebe (1991; Abelard's Love, 1998), a love story set in the Middle Ages.

Nina, the central character of Mitte des Lebens, comes across as a new type of woman, who is able to meet the challenges of life and, in so doing, establish her own identity. This became a recurring theme. Rinser's diaries included Gefängnistagebuch (1946; Prison Journal, 1987), Baustelle ("Building Site, 1970), Grenz-Ubergänge ("Frontier Crossings", 1972), Kriegsspielzeug ("War Toy", 1978) and Winterfrühling ("Winter Spring", 1982).

In her nine novels, short stories, essays, diaries, plays, autobiographical works, travel writing and even children's stories, she always went back to the power of love and the purpose of life. She attempted to understand other cultures and ways of doing things and travelled to the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 and to North Korea in 1981. Significantly, she listed her hobbies as politics, theology and music.

In the new, post-war Germany she raised her voice many times on political issues in conservative Bavaria. She was a friend of Willy Brandt, German Chancellor 1969-74, and travelled with him on a number of electioneering trips. She joined her fellow author Heinrich Böll in denouncing spiralling expenditure on arms. In 1984 the Greens put her forward as their candidate for the Federal Presidency.

She was a thorn in the side of the Catholic Church. She spoke out in favour of abortion law reform and against the celibacy of the Catholic priesthood. Yet her son, Christoph, commented that she remained deeply rooted in Catholicism and had never left the Church.

In her final years Rinser suffered from poor health and had to undergo several operations on her hips and thighs. Although she had lived near Rome since the 1960s, she wanted to die in her native Bavaria and returned there just two months before her death.

David Childs