Hand grenades in the water, butterflies in the stomach from people who write down their lives

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The motives why someone writes down his life are as different as the people who come to speak in the program. But their memories and thoughts have one thing in common: they are worth listening to.

From: Gerhard Brack

Booth: 12.02.2020 | Archive

Biographies are a dime a dozen in the book trade. Booksellers are noticing that more and more people who consider themselves to be more prominent than they are are telling their "story want to bring under the people. Ghostwriters help to write down. Behind this is – besides the desire to earn money – also the thought:

He who writes, stays!

From farmer’s wife to autobiographer: Anna Wimschneider

A special biography was Anna Wimschneider’s work "Herbstmilch" in 1984, in which she immortalized her difficult life as a farmer’s wife in the Lower Bavarian countryside. Wimschneider’s book went through 57 editions, was made into a film and sold more than two million copies. The special thing at that time was that a biography was written from below. For centuries, only aristocrats and later citizens had written autobiographies. Nobility has a history, but with "Herbstmilch," a life story from the common people stormed the bestseller lists.

Biographical writing for the family

In the meantime, regional memoirs are booming. Anyone can write their biography and self-publish it. Josef Robmair from Immelberg in the district of Rosenheim has done that. However, he did not write for the big market, but for his family. The 88-year-old has ten children.

"The children, especially the daughters, didn’t give me a moment’s peace. They always said: "Father, write down what you’re always telling, just write it down, just write it down. And I always resisted. The idea of writing a book was never in my life. And then I started and wrote a few pages. And then, lo and behold, I enjoyed it. All of a sudden I enjoyed it, it went by itself."

Writing down life as therapy

Not all of those who write down their lives think of publishing the memory splinters. Writing has a therapeutic effect: what I hand over to the paper.

The Franconian writer Ingeborg Hoverkamp

Autobiographers meet in Nuremberg at the Caritas-Pirckheimer-Haus for the seminar "The Healing Power of Memory. There they learn – under the guidance of the writer Ingeborg Hoverkamp – to put down on paper what is bothering them in life. It is often a matter of overcoming trauma through writing.

"When I write, I often have thoughts that my grandmother, with whom I was always at war, that I can now suddenly understand her. I can understand my father now, I couldn’t understand him for many years either, why he was so stingy, it wasn’t thrifty, but stingy, and my grandmother, I can understand her best of all, and there I wrote my own story: My grandma Kathe."

The course is led by Ingeborg Hoverkamp. The writer herself was plagued by nightmares for years, until she wrote her autobiography "Don’t count what was bitter" freely wrote.

The story of her family centers on Ingeborg Hoverkamp’s alter ego Felicitas. She finally travels back in time with her uncle Rudolf, a very young man. The real "Uncle Rudolf His name was Waldemar and he was killed on the Eastern Front outside Tarnopol at Easter 1944. He was only 18 years old. Documents and contemporary history, dreams and fears, assumptions and ideas: All of which she artfully weaves together into a fantasy-infused literary fabric. She deliberately does not say "I in the novel, but gives herself the name Felicitas. That is Latin and means: bliss.

"It is very important to develop a certain distance to one’s own autobiography. This character has a large part of my ego. And yet she is not me. I have sometimes allowed her liberties that I might not have allowed myself."

Writing biographically as a mission

Some also want to change society when they publish their biography, want to change, to shake things up. Maximilian Huttner from Miesbach felt the same way when he wrote down his biography.

"I was born as a small child, at that time a cyst kidney was removed from me, I just have one kidney since birth and a hole in my heart, yes."

Autobiographer Max Huttner with friends and sister

Max Huttner has an extraordinary life. He can live with the hole in his heart, doctors say. At age 25, they also diagnosed him with a subtype of Parkinson’s disease. Max – or Maxi, as his friends call him – is probably one of the youngest Parkinson’s patients in the world. He wanted to draw attention to this disease, which means: actually to the fact that you should never give up on life and that it is always worth fighting for.

The market for private biographies and biographers

Andreas Mackler from Kaufering near Landsberg am Lech is a biographer by profession. Not just anyone. He founded the German Biography Center and still directs it today.

He sees himself as a professional author, a craftsman and a service provider. If you order a biography from him, you have to pay 50 to 70 euros per printed page. In a book of 100 to 200 pages, that makes an average of 10.000 euros.

These private biographies are actually Mackler’s favorite ones. Because he writes them for customers who are looking forward to the finished book – and not under price pressure for publishers or for an anonymous market.

Career biographer Andreas Mackler with cat at his desk

Mackler types his texts at his desk, and between keyboard and screen there is something – better someone: His cat has its favorite place here.

"I find this very nice. It always makes clear to me how important or how unimportant what I actually do is. Because I think the cat, they live here without my texts, they are not interested at all. It wants to be stroked, but it also gives me warmth, security or coziness."

The secret of the diary

People are most likely to entrust secrets and intimate matters to their best friend – or to their diary. You can’t get any closer than whispering what you have experienced into the paper. Berlin’s Theodor Schmidt collects old diaries. He reads from it in public and thus saves a life lived from oblivion. Some diaries he even read on CD, like the diary of the swing dancer Bruno W. From the years 1937 to 1939:

"At half past six the waiters mercilessly clear everything away, and I drive home with my wife, have the love cellar keys, and at eight we go to the cellar. After some smooching and so on – the other thing happens again, but I definitely don’t want to do it from today on – I fall asleep. You also. It’s damn hard to get up. And so we get up happily at half past eleven, and I take them to the subway. I can only say: The day is 100% successful!"

From the diary of the swing dancer Bruno W.

Why do people write down their lives? Because they want something of their life to remain. They write for their family, they write to overcome nightmares, to improve the world.

They want to make sure that they were, that they are, that they will be. Very few who write down their life do it to make money. But their memories and thoughts in biographies and diaries have one thing in common: they are worth preserving.

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