OBITUARY: Gottfried Bermann Fischer

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The Independent Online
Gottfried Bermann Fischer was one of the last remaining pillars of the book publishing world as it has been known for the last 200 years. He died in his 99th year, and had been active until almost the last days of his life.

Having written one important book about his career, Bedroht- Bewahrt ("Threatened and Saved", 1967), he published, only a year before his death, another: Wanderung durchs Jahrhundert ("Wandering Through the Century"). A few years earlier he and his wife Tutti, who predeceased him, had worked on a monumental collection of the publishing firm Fischer Verlag's correspondence with its authors, Briefwechsel mit Autoren. This work throws a most interesting light on the rich collection of authors Fischer Verlag published, including Thomas Mann and Gerhard Hauptmann, and their literary attitudes and activities. It also reveals much of their character in regard to more mundane things, such as royalties.

Until he was nearly 90, Bermann Fischer played tennis regularly and even afterwards kept up his hobby of sculpture, supplemented later by his taking up painting. In both these he had notable success. Only during the last year or so did physical infirmity begin to show through. Mentally he remained as active as ever.

He was born Gottfried Bermann, in Silesia, in 1897. He began his working career as an assistant surgeon in Berlin in 1923. At a ball he met the beautiful and talented Brigitte ("Tutti") Fischer, daughter of the great German publisher Samuel Fischer, the founder of Fischer Verlag. She was looking for someone to make up a chamber music ensemble. She found that Gottfried was suitable, and their union developed; after a short courtship they were married in 1926.

"Goffy", as the husband of Tutti, was persuaded to abandon his medical career and to enter the Fischer family firm, where he quickly achieved a position virtually second to that of his father-in-law, becoming president of the firm in 1934. But Tutti also took a close interest in publishing and was known in the firm and outside as "der kleine Sami".

The alliance was an extraordinarily successful one, covering every aspect of their joint interests both inside and outside their business and inside and outside their family. They had three daughters, one of whom died in a tragic car accident. The other two, Gisela and Annette, became active in their own right in artistic and professional careers respectively.

Fischer Verlag, from modest beginnings, acquired under the leadership of Samuel Fischer an overwhelming position in German literature during the first 30 years of the present century. There was hardly any name of distinction in German literature that did not appear in the Fischer list. The exceptional interest of the German reading public in translations of foreign authors - French, Scandinavian, Russian - was also amply catered for by Fischer Verlag. Die Neue Rundschau, a literary periodical founded by Fischer, and edited for a time by Goffy, also became a powerful instrument for the most important literary movements of the day.

While the first few years of Bermann Fischer's work in the firm were necessarily overshadowed by the personality of his father-in-law, he was called upon to steer the firm through the early days of the Nazi period, to transfer it abroad to Vienna in 1936, to Stockholm in 1938 - and then, after the end of the Second World War, to re-establish it successfully in Germany. This story, together with the personal incidents of his and his family's odyssey through Austria, Sweden, the United States and back to Germany, is vividly told in Bedroht-Bewahrt. It is a record of skill, tenacity and perseverance in the face of innumerable and at first sight intractable difficulties.

After finally re-establishing a successful firm in Frankfurt in 1950, Goffy and Tutti retired in 1968 and established their home in Tuscany. His interest in the fortunes of the firm and in anything that was happening in the literary and artistic world continued unabated. He and his wife had chosen a location in Tuscany - at Camaiore, in the Carrara mountains north of Lucca - which was favoured by three eminent sculptors: Jacques Lipchitz, Henry Moore and Marino Marini, all of whom had houses near Casa Fischer. Goffy himself was able to use - as Michelangelo had done - the foundries of Pietrasanta very near to Camaiore. The house became a centre for visitors both from Italy and elsewhere interested in all the arts, particularly in music, which was Tutti's special delight.

As a publisher, Bermann Fischer, like his father-in-law, belonged to a species which has become rare in an age of multi-media conglomerates. The principles which he cherished are still to be found not only in the publishing firm which he eventually sold, but in a few remaining distinguished houses.

Despite the high standards and principles which governed his thinking in every aspect of his life, neither he nor the publishing firm, in Sami's day and in his own, were old-fashioned, let alone fuddy-duddy. They were open to innovation, as in the way of paperbacks and pocket-books - Bermann Fischer set up the paperback publishers Fischer Bucherei in Frankfurt in 1952 - and, despite the prevalence of the giants among their authors, such as Mann and Hauptmann, many new young talents found a hospitable home in Fischer Verlag.

Gottfried Bermann, surgeon, publisher: born Gleiwitz, Silesia 30 July 1895; with S. Fischer Verlag 1925-68, owner, president, chairman of the Board 1934-68; founder, Fischer Bucherei 1952; married 1926 Brigitte Fischer (died 1991; two daughters, and one daughter deceased); died Camaiore, Italy 17 September 1995.