Heinrich Federer in the SLA

Heinrich Federer (1866−1928) grew up in Brienz and Sachseln. After being ordained as a Catholic priest he was a chaplain in Jonschwil and later editor of the Neue Zürcher Nachrichten newspaper. Unsubstantiated accusations of paedophilia forced him to abandon his ecclesiastical career. Following years of privation, he achieved his breakthrough as a writer in 1911 and was soon a highly regarded figure. 

Heinrich Federer at the Toce Falls in Piemonte
Heinrich Federer at the Toce Falls in Piemonte
© Max Wirz, 16 July 1916

The novella Vater und Sohn im Examen, which won him a 5,000 Reichsmark prize in a 1909 competition run by the magazine Daheim, together with the Lachweiler Geschichten and the novel Berge und Menschen (both 1911) finally brought an end to Federer’s lengthy period of material crisis and enabled him to make a living as a writer. He describes his journeys and perambulations through Italy from 1903 onwards in stories, columns and travel journals. Sisto e Sesto (1913) is one of his best-known tales set in Italy. An active mountaineer, Federer achieved best-sellers in Germany with Berge und Menschen and Pilatus (1912), but they also led to him being labelled a parochial writer. Yet this was to overlook the radical views on social issues that pervaded his work, and his unstinting support for the disadvantaged and weak. 

His novel of childhood Das Mätteliseppi (1916), the memoirs of his youth contained in Am Fenster (1927), the unorthodox novel of priesthood Jungfer Therese (1913) as well as Papst und Kaiser im Dorf (1924) all draw heavily on his own experiences and biography. In 1919 he is awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Bern, and that same year he purchases the house at Bolleystrasse 44 in Zurich with the royalties from his books. In 1924 he is awarded the Gottfried Keller Prize by the Martin Bodmer Foundation. 

Heinrich Federer dies in Zurich’s Rotkreuz Hospital on 29 April 1928. He is buried in the city’s Rehalp cemetery, wrapped in his chasuble.

Last modification 16.12.2020

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