Literary legacy at the Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel Learn more about Switzerland's best known German-language author

Issue: 2/2015
Merging history with modernity, one of the most architecturally stunning museums in Switzerland nestles amid lush forest above the Lac de Neuchâtel.


Dürrenmatt is perhaps the best known Swiss author and dramatist writing in German. Born in Konolfingen in 1921 in the Emmental region of the canton of Bern, the son of a pastor, he started writing seriously in his 20s. He was a proponent of epic theatre with his plays reflecting the recent experiences of World War II. Always politically active, his work included avant-garde dramas, philosophical crime novels, and macabre satire. Dürrenmatt became internationally famous mainly through his stage plays and the many film adaptations of his detective novels. He also wrote a great number of essays, lectures and autobiographical pieces, all of which constitute a "treasure trove of dramaturgical insights".


Dürrenmatt's art, in which he had indulged at a very young age, remained unknown to the public for some time. His "dramaturgical" works are often reinterpretations of mythological or religious themes. The Dürrenmatt Collection comprises about 1,000 original works of art and several sketchbooks, with his work ranging from large murals to caricatures.


The Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel (CDN) is now part of the Swiss National Library. Taking its cue from Dürrenmatt's achievements, the centre promotes both literature and visual arts. Opened in 2000, the building was designed by Mario Botta, whose elegant solution to the difficult cliffside landscape was to create a large, curving exhibition room into the slope under Dürrenmatt's existing house. Each of the architectural elements echoes the constructions present in all Dürrenmatt's writings: towers, cavernous spaces and labyrinths. Botta also insisted on preserving the original appearance of both Dürrenmatt's personal library, as well as his water closet. Dürrenmatt had covered the toilet walls in painted frescos, giving it the nickname of "the Sistine Chapel"!


In December 1990, three weeks short of his 70th birthday, Friedrich Dürrenmatt passed away in Neuchâtel. He had lived and worked there for almost 40 years, in the idyllic setting of the Vallon de l'Ermitage, overlooking the town. Following his bequest of his literary works to the nation, the Swiss Literary Archives were created in Bern in 1991. His second wife donated their house and garden to the Confederation, under the proviso that these be integrated into a future Centre bearing the writer's name. The Confederation commissioned the internationally renowned Swiss architect Mario Botta, one of Dürrenmatt's great admirers, for the project.

Photos: Portrait © Elke Wetzig; © Centre Dürrenmatt Neuchâtel / Pino Musi

Author: Caroline Thonger

Caroline worked as Editor-in-Chief for Hello Switzerland for 3 years, responsible for the production of 12 issues of the magazine. London-born, she co-founded the Stratford Writers' Festival. Her first biography "The Banker's Daughter" was published in 2007 (Merton). Working as a freelance translator (4 languages), journalist and editor, she now lives in the Haut Valais.

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