Biography of Friedrich Duerrenmatt

Friedrich Duerrenmatt was born on January 5, 1921, in Konolfingen, Switzerland. His father Reinhold, a Protestant minister, and his mother Hulda, a devout Christian, kept an orderly house and ensured that their son, Friedrich, and their daughter, Vroni, received an excellent education.

Friedrich, to his parents' disappointment, did not perform well at school. His own doubts about the Christian faith intensified over time, along with his general feeling of dislocation. As the years passed, he became more and more like his father's father Ulrich, who had been a well-known anti-establishment journalist and poet in Bern, and who had been imprisoned for his political work.

During his youth, Friedrich developed a passion for astronomy and painting. In 1935, when Friedrich was fourteen, his father accepted a position in Bern, and the family moved to the city. Friedrich attended a Christian preparatory school where he failed in his studies, but continued to develop his individual passions. He also began spending afternoons studying philosophy in cafes. However, he did not adapt very well to city living, and often spoke of this period as a particularly difficult time in his life.

Friedrich's decision to study painting disappointed his father, who had hoped that his son would follow in his footsteps and become a minister. Friedrich, however, developed an intense fascination for physics, mathematics, Latin, and Greek, but ultimately decided to study painting at the University of Zurich from 1942-1943. His peers at the art academy, however, were strongly influenced by impressionism, and did not react well to his wild bursts of expressionism. His fellow artists convinced Friedrich's parents that he was better suited to the study of literature.

In the summer of 1942, at the age of 21, Friedrich completed his basic training with the military, but was not permitted to engage in real combat as a consequence of his poor eyesight. His military training, however, proved crucial to the development of his cynical perspective on world affairs. He continued with his studies at the University of Zurich, where the constant financial struggle of the bohemian life inspired him to make artistic contacts. His friendship with the expressionist painter Walter Jonas exposed him to a wide range of strong personalities, many of whom influenced his artistic growth. On Christmas Eve of 1942, Friedrich composed his first comedic story, "Christmas", which was published in a 1952 collection called The City. In spite of the literary potential he sensed within himself, Friedrich changed his course of study to philosophy. When it came time to complete his dissertation, however, he once again decided to pursue writing. Instead of a dissertation, he composed his first play, It Is Written, in 1946.

That same year, Friedrich married the actress Lotti Geissler. They moved together to Basel, where they struggled against their spartan lifestyle. Friedrich's breakthrough arrived when a theatrical publisher offered to produce It Is Written. The play premiered in Zurich on April 19, 1947, and the play's subject matter and scathing critique of religion caused an uproar in the theatrical community. In January of 1948, Friedrich's second play, The Blind Man, was produced in Basel, but met with general indifference. As financial troubles began to plague the young couple, Friedrich proved to be creatively prolific: he composed prose, theatrical critiques, and radio plays, and made the switch from serious drama to comedy. With the 1956 publication of The Visit, which finally gave Friedrich widespread, international acclaim, the lean years came to a permanent end.

The Duerrenmatts, along with their son and two daughters, settled in Ligerz. Friedrich composed several more works, but none ever won him the same acclaim as The Visit. He completed The Physicists in 1962 and The Meteor in 1966. At the same time, Friedrich became increasingly involved in international politics, which were at the time dominated by Egypt's six-day war against Israel, the occupation of Prague, and the Vietnam War. Friedrich was an avid supporter of Israel, and wrote a number of essays to that effect.

In 1982, his wife Lotti died unexpectedly; Friedrich dedicated the play Achterloo to her memory. Shortly afterwards, Charlotte Ker, a German actress and documentary filmmaker, insisted on shooting a documentary about Friedrich's life and work. The collaboration produced a film entitled Portrait of a Planet, as well as a 1984 marriage between the filmmaker and her subject.

In the remaining years of his life, Friedrich Duerrenmatt received numerous awards and honorary doctorates. He died of a heart attack in 1990.

Study Guides on Works by Friedrich Duerrenmatt