hartmut geerken


hartmut geerken was born on 15th january 1939 in stuttgart as a “child for the führer” and according to google and some pertinent reference books he died during his lifetime on 25th september 1984. if geerken were not still alive, 2004 would have marked the 20th anniversary of his death. hartmut geerken unfortunately owes his existence not only to adolf hitler, but also to the american government. after nearly 80% of geerken’s home town had been destroyed (“phos” 2005) as result of more than 200 bomb attacks, churchill wanted to make an example by completely wiping out the town of stuttgart (at that time known as the german coventry) by implementing poison gas. however, this failed due to the intervention of the american government who, albeit not necessarily for humanitarian reasons, vetoed the plan.

it was his father who gave him his old germanic name upon his birth in 1939, within the framework of a nazi naming ceremony. his mother, lina klara geerken, whose maiden name was mannhardt, lived from 1896-1986 and his father heinrich august geerken, born in 1898, died in 1990. hartmut geerken’s grandfather, johann hinrich geerken (1855 – 1925) was an artist from wiefelstede near oldenburg. from time to time he earned his living by exhibiting his glass paintings, the themes of which were of an exotic nature, in schools and taverns. the method by which he chose to present his paintings, was by the use of a camera obscura. some wall paintings in the dresden zwinger are said to bear his signature. his posthumous works of art, mostly oil paintings, can be found in wiefelstede in the local museum. about 1910 hartmut geerken’s aunt, helene lorch, geerken by birth, preserved large amounts of spinach for the young physicist albert einstein who, with the help of this so-called brain food, developed the theory of relativity. on his mother’s side, his great-great-uncle carl schenk (1845 - ?), engineer by profession, since 1874 he was a professor for mineralogy at tokyo university (formerly yedo) and he was appointed minister of technology by the japanese emperor. he is considered to be the father of the modern japanese mineralogy. later he emigrated to california with his japanese wife, where he was to a great extent involved in the construction of the golden gate bridge. another ancestor on his mother’s side is said to be the inventor of the church tower clock. yet another, mathias mannhardt (1773 – 1847) decided at a ripe old age to leave the monastery, thus being free to marry a young lady and being free to become a brewer. geerken’s catholic grandfather on his mother’s side was a master craftsman of his trade as a watchmaker in schwäbisch gmünd. he had his children baptised protestants because the catholic priest in his local parish had refused to perform the marriage ceremony between him and his protestant wife-to-be. geerken’s father was a civil servant at the post office in schwäbisch gmünd, stuttgart and tübingen.

after having been bombed out on 20th october 1944 by the direct hit of a royal air force aerial mine, the family of five moves to schwäbisch gmünd where the uncle, karl mannhardt, takes them in and gives them shelter for five years. during this time eight people, surrounded by at least 10 aquariums belonging to hartmut and his brother horst, live in three rooms. the uncle, an avowed opponent of hitler, plays a considerable role in the moulding of his nephew’s character.

between 1945 and 1949 geerken is both ear- and eyewitness of the nascent bebop, played by various black groups of the us forces, who are accommodated in the neighbouring tavern “weißer ochse” (white ox) in schwäbisch gmünd. he is fascinated by this music.

afflicted by years of malnutrition and hunger, the eight-year-old gets caught by american soldiers while stealing bread crusts and is punished by being put into a dark cellar. after having eaten tobacco leaves he suffers from nicotine poisoning. he often spends several days with his father in the woods, where they live on mushrooms, herbs and roots. the large family survives a whole winter by eating vast quantities of steamed honey fungi. geerken`s interest in mycology no doubt originates from these experiences. his school enrolment in schwäbisch gmünd marks the beginning of the martydom of his school days. from 1947 onwards he has piano lessons with a nun in the st. ludwig convent in gmünd. 1949 coincides with the publication of his first poem, which appears in the children`s supplement of the neue württemberger zeitung (new württemberg newspaper). after being immediately dismissed from the postal service in 1945 and after his denazification his father moves with the family to tübingen in 1949, where geerken takes his ‘o’-levels. he is very fond of doing his homework high up in the branches of tall trees. his favourite tree is a beech tree. there then follows a break due to serious heart problems which cause him to be bedridden for one year. he earns his first money by digging out copper waste at an old tip once belonging to the himmelwerk factory, specialising in the production of electric motors, and then by selling it to scrap metal dealers. he takes part in the first school exchange with france after the war and thus spends, at the age of 13, several weeks with a host family in paris. in 1953 he gives his first public solo piano radio concert performing works of bela bartok. two years after entering the church, being christened and confirmed, he changes his mind and decides in 1955 to opt out of the church. 1956 co-founder of the first jazz club “downtown” in tübingen, haaggasse. his enlistment in the army follows in 1958. however, thanks to successfully feigning incapability at the physical examination, he is classified as “only in the case of war”. between 1958 and 1960 he serves his apprenticeship at the ulrich gminder textile mill in reutlingen. he successfully passes his apprenticeship and receives his diploma as an “industrial trader for textiles”. during his apprenticeship he earns himself some money as a poster artist and begins to paint pictures with colours which he directly extracts from nature. he also starts to concentrate on writing poems. this lyrical phase lasts up until about 1968 (approximately 900 poems). subsequent to his apprenticeship he attends the vocational school for economy in reutlingen and here he gets to know his fellow pupil sigrid hauff, who later becomes his wife. in 1961 he passes his final examination and in the same year, by studying on his own, he goes on to pass his high school diploma at grammar school in freiburg/breisgau and thus qualifies himself for university entrance. his grade in the final examinaton in german is “sufficient”. he then commences islamic studies (paret, rempis, ritter, höfner, ipşiroĝlu), philosophy (ernst bloch), comparative religious studies (von glasenapp, thieme, buddruss), interdisciplinary cultural sciences (bausinger) and german language and literature studies (ziegler, jens) in tübingen. in 1961 he is awarded a grant to go to constantine in algeria and in 1963 a further grant is awarded to him by the turkish government and the daad (german academic exchange service) thus enabling him to study at istanbul university. together with sigrid hauff, who he marries in 1964, he takes active part in the productions of the armenian theatre in istanbul (stage designer and recording engineer) under the supervision of kevork kabaracian. his sole source of income for financing his university studies are his radio broadcasts on the history of literature. in istanbul he has to suffer the loss of his thesis on the eschatological passages in the koran, which gets stolen together with the entire belongings he and his wife have with them. this loss is felt all the harder as the thesis is near completion. due to his knowledge of exotic languages (arabic, turkish, persian) he is employed by the goethe institute. he lives and works for the institute in his capacity as a tutor and head of department in cairo (1966-72), kabul (1972-1979) and athens (1979-1983). on account of his current cultural and educational activities, which are felt to be of a provocative nature, he is transferred back home to germany for disciplinary reasons. since 1983 he has been living as a free-lance artist in wartaweil, which is near herrsching on lake ammer. he undertakes numerous journeys to pakistan, india, east asia, africa and australia.

author, composer, musician, film-maker, performer, actor, mycologist, archivist, stager of exhibitions, publisher of numerous authors from the circle of literary expressionism and dada, lumberjack, bumble-bee-keeper. together with klaus ramm and jörg drews he publishes the series of books entitled “frühe texte der moderne” (early texts of the modern) to be found in the “edition text & kritik” (36 volumes). at the end of the 1950s he experiences his first encounter with the music of sun ra (1914 – 1993), who he invites to cairo in 1971 in order to fulfill sun ra’s wish to be able to perform in the country of his spiritual origin. today geerken possesses one of the most comprehensive sun ra archives (“waitawhile sun ra archives”). his book “omniverse sun ra” (1994), which contains a first all-embracing discography of the musician, has meanwhile grown to be a priceless cult book. 1994 sun ra exhibition in the swiss jazz museum in arlesheim. together with james wolf from the library of congress in washington editor of the collected poetic and philosophical works of sun ra (“the immeasurable equation” 2005). since 1993 he has initiated and organized the annual “international sun ra convention”. middle of the 60s participation in the “darmstadt holiday courses for new music” with seminars held by stockhausen, ligeti, foss, caskel, aloys kontarsky et al.. 1986 a four-week isolation test for the purposes of chronobiological research in a bunker of the max planck institute in andechs. participant in the annual “bielefeld new poetry colloquium” (1978-2002). performer and speaker in five films (“föhnforscher”, “heilt hitler!”, “punch drunk”, “wohin?”, “miwix”) and actor in two theatre plays („weg“, „linz“) by herbert achternbusch at the munich “kammerspiele”. 1990/1 university teaching assignment at the university of bayreuth (“radio drama and pornography”). 1991/92 professorship in poetics at the folkwang university in essen (“interactive radio drama”). from 1986 to 2001 twenty one radio drama productions for the bayerischer rundfunk (bavarian broadcasting service). 1992 termination of the employment contract with the goethe institute (amicable agreement) and 2001 termination of the employment contract with the department “hörspiel und medienkunst” (radio drama and media arts) of the bayerischer rundfunk (no amicable agreement). since 2006 member of the “art ensemble of chicago artists creative resources international”.

during his six-year stay in egypt he is co-founder (together with salah ragab and edu vizvari) of the “cairo jazz band” as well as founder and head of the “cairo free jazz ensemble”. in 1967 he founds and heads the “nile group”, a gathering of german-writing egyptian authoresses and authors who work in the field of concrete and visual poetry. works of this group as well as other related documents are to be found in the archives of the academy of the arts in berlin and in the archives of the university of cambridge. 1966/67 geerken finds in france, together with his wife sigrid hauff, the literary remains of the exiled german philosophers anselm ruest and salomo friedlaender/mynona. these documents are meanwhile also to be found in the archives of the academy of the arts in berlin. at present, together with philosopher detlef thiel, geerken is publishing a 30-volume edition of the complete works of friedlaender/mynona.

from 1976 onwards he organizes the annual “indo-afghan-european music weeks” in kabul with numerous concerts, seminars, exhibitions and films. he is responsible and hosts from 1977 to 1979 for the first regularly broadcasted jazz programme on radio afghanistan, jointly with wahab madadi. in 1993 he conceives and organises the extensive literature exhibition “maßnahmen des verschwindens” (measures of disappearance / the families of salomo friedlaender/mynona and anselm ruest in exile in france), which takes place in gasteig in munich. his radio drama double project entitled “zero sun no point” takes places in 1996 with the art ensemble of chicago at the bavarian state theatre in munich. the second part of the project “no point” is the first radio drama to be placed live in internet offering the possibility to globally communicate with the stage (cd “zero sun no point” leo records 2001).

in addition to the “cairo jazz band” and the “cairo free jazz ensemble” geerken played with the drummer abdel hakim abdel nasser, who is the son of the egyptian president gamal abdel nasser, and in various music groups: “the cross” (with carlos baily, salah ragab, hubertus von puttkamer), “the heliopolar egg” (duo with michael ranta, extensive tour in east asia), “rock and free jazz group kabul” (with maqsud shukurwali, fritz pfeiffer et al.), “embryo” and “mondtrommler” (with grace yoon, roman bunka, christian burchard, monty waters, edgar hoffmann et al.), “trio tchicai-geerken-moye” (extensive tour in africa) and also with the “art ensemble of chicago”. furthermore, he worked with sunny murray, don cherry, famoudou don moye, okay termiz, peter kowald, john tchicai, johnny dyani, takehisa kosugi, toshi ichiyanagi, ustand mohammed hashem, sainkho namtchilak, jaap blonk, robert lax et al..

honours: nationwide essay competition on “what is social market economy?”, 3rd prize (1957), münchner literaturjahr (1984) ( munich year of literature award), schubart literary award (1986), karl sczuka award for radio art (1989 and 1994). 

translations into english, french, russian, turkish, arab, japanese, spanisch, greek.

critical encyclopaedia of german contemporary literature (klg), kürschner literary calendar, kürschner scientific calendar, who’s who, books on demand, kindler enyclopaedia of literature, encyclopaedia of jazz musicians, lexikon deutschsprachiger schriftsteller 20. jahrhundert (1993), hildesheim: olms. Deutsches Literatur-Lexikon, Das 20. Jh. (biographic-bibliographic handbook), edited by Konrad Feilchenfeldt.

(translation by carole lohse)