Otfried Preussler: Bestselling author of children's books

 

Otfried Preussler was a bestselling children's author who sold more than 50 million books and was translated into 55 languages. He is probably best known for Krabat, or The Satanic Mill, which told the story of a boy in 17th-century Germany who desperately wants to escape from a school for black magic, where he is held captive by demonic forces.

Preussler was born in Reichenberg, Bohemia into a family which traced its roots back to the 15th century. They had been part of the local glass-making industry. His parents, were, however, schoolteachers. Settled by German and Flemish migrants in the 14th century, Reichenberg was home to a thriving textile industry and was known as the "Manchester" of Bohemia, boasting a spectacular collection of late 19th century buildings, the town hall, the opera house, and the Bohemian Museum among them, which all impressed the young Preussler.

As Preussler was growing up his home town was a place of turbulence. Until 1918 it was part of Austria and was then incorporated by force into Czechoslovakia. The majority of the inhabitants were Germans and there were Czechs, Jews and Hungarians as well. Preussler was 15 when, under the Munich Agreement, it was transferred to Nazi Germany. The synagogue was burned down; some inhabitants fled.

Preussler always paid tribute to the storytelling skills of his grandmother Dora, which, he said, inspired him in his calling. He described his childhood as "a wonderfully carefree time", but it was soon to change. He graduated from grammar school in 1942, but instead of going to university was called up for the German army. He served on the Eastern Front, and was promoted to lieutenant before being captured in Romania in 1944.

Five years in Soviet prison camps in the far away Soviet Tatar Republic followed. Part of that time was spent in Jelabuga, 960 kilometres east of Moscow, alongside other officers, both German and Italian. He suffered from typhus and malaria, his weight dropping to 40kg.

After being listed as missing for years, Preussler was repatriated in June 1949, with 150,000 others. He was lucky to find his relatives – who had been expelled along with other German inhabitants of Reichenberg – in the Bavarian town of Rosenheim. His fiancée, Annelies Kind, was also there. The couple lost no more time and married that year. Eventually they had three daughters

Preussler followed his parents into teaching, after working as a reporter for a local newspaper and writing stories for children's radio programmes. In 1953 he began teaching and stayed in the service until 1970, retiring as school principal in Rosenheim.

After being turned down by several publishers Preussler had his Der Kleine Wassermann [The Little Water Sprite] published in 1956. It is about a sprite who goes on adventures and sometimes gets himself into trouble. It was followed the next year by the prize-winning, Die Kleine Hexe [The Little Witch]. This is a story of a "young" witch, who is actually 127 years old. She has to prove that she's a good witch in order to join the Coven and its midnight celebrations. Because of a misunderstanding she begins to do good and punish those who make others suffer.

Among his other best-known works are Der Räuber Hotzenplotz (The Robber Hotzenplotz, 1963), a classic tale of good and evil, in which the hero, Kasperl, saves the day with the aid of his friends against the eponymous thief. This book, together with Das Kleine Gespenst (The Little Ghost, 1966) and Krabat, are regarded by many as his best works. Krabat was named as the Most Notable Book of 1973 by the American Library Association, and also received awards in Poland and the Netherlands. All three books were translated into English, and several of his stories were made into films.

Preussler wrote also about his years as a prisoner of war, though his reminiscences were only published posthumously. In 2006 his wife died, after which Preussler withdrew from public life to live in a care home in Prien on Lake Chiemsee in Upper Bavaria. In 2009 two of his daughters published a tribute to Preussler, Ich bin ein Geschichtenerzähler [I am a Storyteller].

Otfried Preussler, schoolteacher and author: born Reichenberg, Czechoslovakia 20 October 1923; married Anneliese Kind (died 2006; three daughters); died Prien, Germany 18 February 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Life and Style
life
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
News
Amazon misled consumers about subscription fees, the ASA has ruled
news
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Lettings and Sales Negotiator - OTE £46,000

£16000 - £46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Home Care Worker - Reading and Surrounding Areas

£9 - £13 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a s...

Recruitment Genius: Key Sales Account Manager - OTE £35,000

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Have you got a proven track rec...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £40,000

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn