Literature fans celebrate Hesse's 125th anniversary

Hermann Hesse at work.

Swiss fans of the author Hermann Hesse have been celebrating the 125th anniversary of his birth with a series of events across the country.

This content was published on July 2, 2002 - 14:36

One of the most widely read German-speaking authors of the 20th century, Hesse enjoyed a long love affair with Switzerland. He started his literary career in Basel close to the German border and later lived in Montagnola in southern Switzerland.

Anniversary celebrations for the 1946 Nobel prizewinner range from an exhibition in Zurich to a party featuring readings and music in Montagnola.

Zurich exhibition

The Zurich exhibition, in the Swiss national museum, focuses on the author's time in the city, which produced two of this most distinguished works, "Siddharta" in 1922 and "Steppenwolf" in1927. Both works deal with the search for "one's true self"

But as well as focusing on Hesse's ability as an author, the exhibition also features some of his watercolours. At the age of 40, the author took up painting, which he said made him feel "happier and more patient".

Other exhibitions are underway in the Italian city of Milan and Brussels, Belgium, showing the author's enduring international appeal, which appears to lie in his ability to capture the angst of 20th century life. To date, 100 million copies of his work have been sold worldwide.

He lived through two world wars, three marriages, two psychotherapists and a number of suicide attempts, and his work explores fundamental questions of who we are and the inner-self.


Hesse was born in the German town of Calw on July 2, 1877, to missionary parents: a German/Estonian father and a Swiss/German mother. His childhood was spent in boarding schools in Baden-Württemberg and a seminary in Laulbronn.

At the age of 12, Hesse decided he wanted to be a poet. Shunning missionary life, he started a mechanic's apprenticeship.

Aged 19, he moved to Basel where he wrote his first work "Peter Camezind", published in 1904 and set in Switzerland. He married his first wife, Swiss-born Maria Bernoulli, had three sons and moved to the Swiss countryside.

First World War

Hesse was vehemently opposed to the First World War and his criticism of German militarism and nationalism left him exposed to constant attacks from his countrymen.

In 1923, he gave up his German nationality and became a Swiss citizen. Shortly after becoming Swiss, he divorced his first wife and married his second wife, Ruth Wenger, daughter of Swiss author Lisa Wenger. The marriage was ill-fated and ended a few months later.

Following his separation, Hesse wrote "Steppenwolf" which proved popular with America's disaffected youth in the sixties and seventies.

In 1931, he re-married for a third and final time. With his new wife Ninan Dolbin, who was eighteen years his junior, he settled in Casa Bodmer in Montagnola in canton Ticino.

During the Second World War, he published what many claim to be his masterpiece, "The Glass Bead Game".

In 1946, Hesse was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature "for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humanitarian ideals and high qualities of style".

He died in Montagnola in 1962 at the age of 85.


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