Ulrich Becher in the SLA

Ulrich Becher is arguably one of the most exciting, powerfully eloquent and, not least, brilliantly humorous authors of German exile literature. A prime example of this is his absurdist «magnum opus», the autobiographically based crime, horror and exile novel «Murmeljagd» (“The Woodchuck Hunt”, 1969), which is set in Pontresina.

Ulrich Becher
Ulrich Becher
© Esther Pfirter (1974)

A critical engagement with the era of National Socialism and the precarious role of the artist are also at the heart of other works by Becher, including the New York Stories (1950) and the novels Kurz nach 4 (1957), William’s Ex-Casino and Das Profil (1973). In addition to the formally expressionistic prose works, Becher also wrote poetry and a number of plays including the period piece Der Bockerer (1948), which was turned into a successful film in 1981.

Ulrich Becher was born in Berlin on 2 January 1910. After attending the reformed grammar school in Wickersdorf, he studied law in Geneva and Berlin from 1928 onwards. A man of many artistic talents, in 1927 he also began training as a graphic artist under the famous painter George Grosz, who was to become a lifelong friend. Becher’s volume of novellas entitled Männer machen Fehler, which was published by Rowohlt Verlag in 1932, is believed to have fallen victim to the Nazi book burning on 10 May 1933.

When the Nazis assumed power, Becher was forced into exile. On 27 February 1933 he fled to Vienna, where he married Dana Roda, the daughter of the Austrian writer Alexander Roda Roda. When Germany annexed Austria in 1938, Ulrich and Dana Becher emigrated to Pontresina in Switzerland. Further periods in exile followed in Brazil (1941–1944) and New York (1944–1948), before Becher returned to Europe in 1948, living in an apartment house in Basel from 1954 to his death on 15 April 1990. 

Ulrich Becher’s literary estate is divided equally between the Swiss Literary Archives in Bern and the German Exile Archive in Frankfurt am Main.

Last modification 14.04.2021

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