50,000-euro German literature prize goes to Switzerland’s Baerfuss

By Oliver Pietschmann, dpa

The Swiss writer and playwright Lukas Baerfuss, 47, has been awarded the 2019 Georg Buechner Prize, the German Academy of Language and Literature announced on Tuesday.

The prize, worth 50,000 euros (56,000 dollars), is considered the most important literary award in Germany.

Baerfuss receives the award on November 2 in the city of Darmstadt, where the academy is located.

“With Lukas Baerfuss, the German Academy of Language and Literature is honouring an outstanding narrator and playwright of contemporary literature in the German language,” the jury said.

His dramas and novels explore existential situations in modern life with a high sense of style and richness of form, they said.

“These are qualities that at the same time characterize Baerfuss’ essays, in which he accompanies today’s world with a fearlessly examining, astonished and appreciative gaze.”

“It was so unexpected. It is the kiss of an angel that touches you there,” the 47-year-old writer told dpa on Tuesday on hearing of the award.

“I have been happy about every prize, and every artist and writer needs recognition.”

The Georg Buechner Prize, however, stands alone, Baerfuss said. “To stand in this succession is absolutely moving and touches me a lot.”

Among the best-known works by the award-winning author are the novels “Hundert Tage (Hundred Days)” about the genocide in Rwanda and “Koala” about his brother’s suicide, and the stage play “Die sexuellen Neurosen unserer Eltern (The Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents).”

Since 1951, the academy has given the award to writers in German. The award winners must “stand out in a special way through their works” and “play a significant role in shaping the present German cultural life.”

Past winners include Max Frisch (1958), Guenter Grass (1965) and Heinrich Boell (1967); the most recent winners were Juergen Becker (2014), Rainald Goetz (2015), Marcel Beyer (2016), Jan Wagner (2017) and last year the writer Terezia Mora.

The prize is named after the dramatist and revolutionary Georg Buechner (“Woyzeck,” “Danton’s Death”). He was born in 1813 in the German grand duchy of Hesse and died in 1837 in the Swiss city of Zurich.

The award is scheduled to be presented on November 2 during the autumn conference of the German Academy in Darmstadt.