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Surprises in store for visitors to new Dürrenmatt centre

"The Sixtine Chapel" by Friedrich Dürrenmatt.

A new culture centre in Neuchatel devoted to the work of one Switzerland’s greatest writers, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, can be expected to surprise – and delight - many visitors seeing it for the first time.

The first surprise is the building itself, on a hillside overlooking Lake Neuchatel and with views as far as the Swiss alps. Designed by architect Mario Botta, it incorporates the house where Dürrenmatt, who died in 1990, spent the last 40 years of his life.

The new structure, rounded, with the grey stone exterior which is one of Botta’s trademarks, blends effortlessly with the original house, where Dürrenmatt did much of his writing – and paintings and drawings.

In fact the pictures and their subterranean exhibition space with natural light are the second surprise. During his life, only his family and closest friends knew that Dürrenmatt was a talented artist, who in his late teens even considered a career as a painter.

But at the age of 20 he decided to be a writer, becoming one whose books and plays – many containing sharp social criticism of such institutions as the Church and the banks – were translated into over 40 languages.

His pictures also contain a strong element of social criticism. They include “Last General Assembly of Confederate Swiss Banking Association”, which is painted in oils and full of the satirical black humour which was his trademark as a writer. Some bankers are holding guns to their heads while eating dinner, while others have hanged themselves from chandeliers or are lying drunk under the table.

Dürrenmatt had left instructions in his will that his pictures should go on public view, and shortly after his death his widow – Charlotte Kerr Dürrrenmatt donated the house and its surrounding land to the Swiss Confederation on condition that the pictures were exhibited.

The director of the Centre Dürrenmatt, Janine Perret Sgualdo, believes the writer would have been delighted with Botta has achieved. “He would have hated some kind of a mausoleum,” she said. “This will be a living culture centre, with his literary archives and facilities for researchers.”

by Richard Dawson

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR