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|Clemens-Peter Haase |
On 14 July 2011, Clemens-Peter Haase, Director of the Goethe- Institut’s Department of Literature and Translation Promotion, died at the age of fifty-two. Many NBG readers will have been touched by Clemens-Peter’s services to German literature, whether as translators, publishers, readers of translations, or otherwise involved in the book industry or German cultural life. Not all will have known the role he played and the person he was.
Convivial with a ‘boyish charm’, an old-school refinement and belief in manners, Clemens-Peter was ‘immensely well-read’, with a ‘steely resolve to get things done’, a respect for the discipline of hard work and a willingness to shoulder responsibility. He could be engagingly sociable, was tireless in his discussion of German writing at book fairs or on other public platforms, but also appreciated solitude, his retreat a small summerhouse in Finland. He once observed that ‘when you’ve been in charge of a platoon of a hundred soldiers’ – he was a Lieutenant in the German Army for two years – ‘you can handle anything!’ Hölderlin was a favourite (Hyperion his literary companion), but so too Ernst Jünger. He was a great communicator, but shunned the mobile phone. And he was that other rare beast, a Roman Catholic from East Frisia: friends believe this accounts for some of his fighting spirit, especially in coming to terms with the news of an inoperable brain tumour. Professionally his major legacy may be that literature is at the heart of the Goethe-Institut’s activities worldwide today.
After graduating from the University of Münster in Modern History, Politics, Sociology and German Philology – and with a firm handle on Finnish – Clemens-Peter completed the training period in Bremen and devoted his career to the Goethe-Institut. Director first of the institute in Tampere, southern Finland, then Sofia, Bulgaria, he made his mark, particularly through literature, encouraging the support of translations, widening his network of contacts within the literary world and becoming the obvious choice for heading up the still evolving Department of Literature and Translation Promotion at the Munich headquarters.
Taking the helm there in 2003, he ensured German letters were anchored firmly in the bedrock of the institution. He came to be regarded as ‘the G.I.’s Mr. Literature’, admired by his colleagues for his fairness, optimism and determined approach to problemsolving, and by the wider world for his open-mindedness, sincerity and knowledge. He championed the Chamisso Prize, for writers from elsewhere who adopt German as their written language of choice, and was an active member of the 2011 German Book Prize jury for as long as was possible.
New Books in German has lost a stalwart friend. There is a painting from Hölderlin’s time that brings him to mind: Caspar David Friedrich’s ‘Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer’. It shows a young man in a frock coat, his back to the viewer, looking out over a craggy mountainscape, the mist billowing, his thoughts, one imagines, those of a Romantic, optimistic, however mysterious the future. Clemens-Peter Haase will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with his family.
Rebecca K. Morrison is a writer, reviewer and translator. She edited NBG from 2005-09.