July 8, 2015

Ferdinand Hardekopf

Ferdinand Hardekopf (Germany)

 Born Geburshaus Ferdinand Hardekopfs on December 15, 1876 in Varel, was the son of a textile merchant. After elementary and high school in Varel, Hardekopf spent his early youth at the Oldenburg Grand Ducal School (now Old Gymnasium). 
      After graduating from the Thomas School in Leipzig, the young writer studied German and Philosophy at the Universities of Leipzig and Berlin from 1895-1900. Among his teachers were the philosopher and sociologist Georg Simmel and the literary critic Erich Schmidt.
      After graduation, Hardekopf remained in Berlin, reviewing theatre for various newspapers and magazines such as Die Schaubühne and for the Münchner Neuesten Nachrichten. He quickly became one of the most sought after critics, and from 1906 to 1912 published some 50 articles in the magazine The Stage.
     From 1911 he published extensively for the Expressionist weekly magazine Die Aktion.      
     Upon the outbreak of World War I, Hardekopf, a pacifist, went into exile in Switzerland. There he met Hugo Ball who had recently founded Dadaism, which Hardekopf became an advocate.
     In the early 1920s, the young poet returned to Germany, but found no way to make a living in the devastated Berlin. In 1922 he emigrated to Paris, where he worked primarily as a translator, bringing into German the works of major French authors such as André Gide and Jean Cocteau, as well as classic French novels and tales. 
       He also regularly contributed essays and poems to French and Swiss newspapers and was published in Amsterdam in Klaus Mann’s magazine Die Sammlung.
       He lived in Paris and the Riviera with his future wife, the French actress Sita Dust. Although he wrote poetry, he did not publish extensively, by was recognized by many of his friends, including Hans Richter, as a notable writer and “a rare person”; Hardekopf was later hailed by Paul Raabe as the “secret king of Expressionism.”

      Like many of his contemporaries, the poet experimented with mind-expanding drugs, the effects of which is recorded in some of his poetry and prose works.
      After World War II, Hardekopf and his wife were interned, but through the efforts of Gide was freed, after which he emigrated once again to Switzerland, where he worked translating for the Swiss Gutenberg Book Guild. But during his arrestment and move to Zurich, many of his 1940s manuscripts were lost, among them his masterwork, The Decadence of the German Language, and a great amount of his poetry.
       Today, he is best known for his translations, with Thomas Mann suggesting that “Hardekopf is, I think, our best translator from French.”
       In 1954, distressed by his wife’s mental health, and himself heavily involved in drugs, Hardekopf was sent to Burghölzi mental hospital near Zurich, were he died. His wife, Sita, upon hearing of her husband’s demise, leaped from a high tower of their friend’s, Olly Jacques, house in Carabietta.


Lesestüe (Berlin: Die Aktion, 1916); Privatgedichte (Munich, K. Wolff, 1921); Gesammelte Dichtungen. Hrsg. und biographische Einleitung von Emmy Moor-Wittenbach, (Zürich: Verlag Die Arche: 1963); Wir Gespenster. Dichtungen. Hrsg. und Nachwort von Wilfried F. Schoeller, (Zürich und Hamburg: Verlag Die Arche, 2004)

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