Landgericht (District Court)

Ursula Krechel

What fears, what hopes can anyone have who returns from his exile to Germany in 1947? After her celebrated book Shanghai fern von wo, published in 2008, Ursula Krechel’s expansive new novel Landgericht once again follows the traces. The German post-war period, oscillating between depression and new beginnings, forms the backdrop of the almost parable-like, tragic story of a man who fails to arrive anywhere. Richard Kornitzer is a judge by profession and a character of almost Kohlhaas-like dimensions. The Nazi period with its absurd and deadly rules has rent his life in two. Afterwards, nothing remains as it was: his small family has been scattered to Lake Constance, Mainz and England, and his homeland is almost stranger and more exotic to him than his exile in Havana, now bathed in a magical light. Ursula Krechel’s novel interweaves documentary and fictional elements; through this finding and inventing, a period during which the past weighs heavily upon the hopes for the future emerges in atmospheric contours. With linguistic tenderness and insistent affection, Landgericht accords its figures a kind of late justice. Landgericht – which can mean both “County Court” and “judgment upon a country” in German, thus making for an ambivalent title – is about a German family, and it also tells forcefully of the founding years of a republic.

Ursula Krechel was born as the daughter of a psychologist in Trier on April 12, 1947. She dedicated the first poem in her volume Nach Mainz! to her mother, who died when she was very young. She studied German literature, theater studies and art history. In 1971, she submitted her doctoral thesis on the theater critic Herbert Jhering to the University of Cologne and was awarded a Dr. phil. degree. She worked as a theater dramaturge, realized theater projects with youthful remand prisoners, and decided to become a freelance writer in 1972. She published twelve volumes of poetry at regular intervals, most recently Stimmen aus dem harten Kern (2005) and Mittelwärts (2006), as well as narrative prose, essays, plays and audio plays. Since the 1980s, Ursula Krechel has held various teaching positions, including a visiting professorship at Warwick University in England and the Lectures on Poetics at the University of Vienna in 1989/90, which formed the basis of her volume Mit dem Körper des Vaters spielen. In 1991 she was writer-in-residence at Washington University in St. Louis (USA), in 1993/94 poet-in-residence at the University of Essen, in 1997/98 and in 1999 visiting professor at the Institute of German Literature at the University of Leipzig, from 1998 to 2001 director of Werkstatt Prosa (Prose Workshop) at the Literary Colloquium Berlin, in 2002 Escriptora convidada in Barcelona, and during the summer semester of 2007 Research Fellow at Washington University in St. Louis (USA). In 2009 she took on the directorship of the Prose Workshop at the Literary Colloquium again.   

2006      Hermann Hesse Stipend of the City of Calw
2008      Rheingau Prize for Literature
2009      Jeanette Schocken Prize – Citizens‘ Prize for Literature of Bremerhaven
               Critics‘ Prize for Literature
               State Prize of the Rhineland-Palatinate for the Arts
               d. lit. – Literature Prize of the Municipal Bank of Düsseldorf
              Joseph Breitbach Prize
2012      Orphil Prize for Poetry