WITH THE DEATH of Georg Seidel, an extraordinary era of post-war German literature and journalism closes.
He was the last of a long line of well-known German authors in his family, and the son of Ina Seidel, a writer especially celebrated during her heyday in the inter-war period. The birth of Georg, her only son, was the inspiration for her best-known novel, Das Wunschkind ('The Desired Child', 1930). He grew up in a world of literature in which he was to distinguish himself not only as a writer of fiction, but also as a dramatist, satirist, translator and journalist.
In Britain and elsewhere Georg Seidel is best known under the pen-name Christian Ferber which he used for his contributions to the German national newspaper Die Welt. He joined their editorial team in 1954, and as their London correspondent covered the UK and western Europe from 1967 until his official retirement a few years ago. However, he continued to contribute to Die Welt and other papers on selected topics and, as an outstanding writer and journalist with a witty, biting and sarcastic style quite his own, and with a wide range of topics extending far beyond cultural affairs, remained in great demand. His foresight in political and economic matters clearly emerges from the fact that as early as 1961, the year the Berlin Wall was built, he outlined exactly present-day German unification problems in a paper contributed to a volume edited by Martin Walser, Die Alternative oder brauchen wir eine neue Regierung? ('The Alternative or Do We Need a New Government?, 1961).
Seidel used the same pseudonym for his brilliant satires, radio plays and general works, including the history of his family, Die Seidels: Geschichte einer burgerlichen Familie 1811-1977 (1979). For his earlier fiction, marked by its wit, skilful structure and serious treatment of moral issues, he used the pen-name Simon Glas. As 'Lisette Mullere', for 10 years he looked satirically at the time in which he lived through a special column in Die Welt, 'Seite 8' ('Page 8'), which was closely followed by leading politicians of the day. In his later years he composed a series of brilliant volumes from extracts taken from some of the pre-war periodicals of the Ullstein Verlag Berlin.
Georg Seidel was a writer of scrupulous honesty, which is apparent from his family history Die Seidels. Despite his esteem and love for his mother, Ina Seidel, he did not spare her when discussing her role during the Nazi period as an early admirer of Hitler - at least during his first years in power. He included in full one of her poems and a short piece of prose in celebration of Hitler and the Nazi movement, a position from which she later retreated. Nor did he spare his brother-in-law for his active support of the Nazi regime and regrettable influence on his mother. This honesty unavoidably led to family conflicts lasting to the present day.
Seidel was educated at the universities of Munich and Munster, and had a spell in the army as an ordinary soldier which ended with his being taken prisoner. It was not until 1947 that he was released from the POW camp in Yorkshire. He then became a reader first with the Piper-Verlag and subsequently with Suhrkamp, the leading Frankfurt publishing house founded by his uncle Peter Suhrkamp.
It was during this immediate post-war period that he persuaded his uncle to exhibit some of the Suhrkamp volumes at a Frankfurt fair for stationery equipment. Soon other publishers followed and this venture turned out to be the birth of the Frankfurt Book Fair. With Heinrich Boll and other leading writers, he was also one of the founding members of the 'Gruppe 47', established after the war to find a new basis for the emergence of German postwar literature.
In 1962 he was elected into the Freie Akademie der Kunste and in 1970 became a member of PEN. As a journalist he was in the unusual position of having been the recipient of the prestigious Theodor-Wolff-Prize for outstanding contributions to journalism on two occasions, in 1967 and 1973.
Georg Seidel loved the English countryside, where he lived most of the time. It was there where, the gourmet and cook, he and his wife (the actress Ursula Liederwald, to whom he was utterly devoted) entertained their friends and colleagues in great style.
He had tremendous charm and appeal which served him well during his many television appearances, but was a reserved man of genuine modesty despite his manifold achievements. A friend of greater warmth, reliability and dedication would be impossible to find.
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