Liechtenstein's Literary Scene
Diversity and Exploration
A Liechtenstein literary history
Liechtenstein's literary scene is as compact as the country itself. The following text is a compendium of Liechtenstein literature.
Liechtenstein literature began in the late Middle Ages, in the 13th century to be precise, when Heinrich von Frauenberg (1257-1314) was the owner of Gutenberg Castle in Balzers. This knight, brawler, and swashbuckler also successfully tried his hand at minnesong: five of his poems are immortalized in the Codex Manesse, the famous Heidelberg song manuscript.
But even with this first example of a "Liechtenstein" man of letters, we have to recognize the problematic nature of this attempt at categorization. Can Heinrich von Frauenberg be counted as a Liechtenstein writer simply because he lived in the territory of today's Principality, which did not yet exist at the time? The content of his work bears no relationship with the region. So when does one become a Liechtenstein author?
If you browse through the online catalogue of the National Library in Vaduz for Liechtenstein works, you will notice that the librarians have been asked to include everything with even the slightest reference to Liechtenstein. But what should be categorized as Liechtenstein literature in this outline and on this website? Authors such as the legendary Curt Goetz and the successful C. C. Bergius, who lived in the country for only a short time but never wrote about it? Or authors such as Friedrich Dürrenmatt and Paul Callico, who immortalized the country in literature but did not have Liechtenstein citizenship? Or the popular medieval novels by Swiss author Doris Röckle, who has lived in Vaduz for many years? Does one's birth make one a Liechtenstein writer? According to that view, Michael Donhauser, for example, who grew up in Liechtenstein but was not yet a citizen of the country at the time, would have to be stripped of his status as a Liechtenstein author. As a logical consequence, the same would apply to Evi Kliemand, Anita Grüneis, Jens Dittmar, and many other well-known local literary figures. The Liechtenstein literary landscape would be thinned out faster than the Brazilian rainforest. It may therefore be a Solomonic decision to shine the spotlight solely on those whose centre of writing or life is in Liechtenstein and/or who have Liechtenstein citizenship.
So let's skip over writers such as the humanist Simon Lemnius with his poem about "Die Schlacht bei Triesen" (The Battle of Triesen), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe with his "Italienische Reise" (Italian Journey), which also took him to the "Ländle" (how Liechtenstein is also called by its citizens), or Alexandre Dumas père, who tells us of a visit to a Vaduz inn where, much to his displeasure, the only food on offer was sauerkraut.
We come to Peter Kaiser (1793-1864), a historian and politician who was elected to the Frankfurt Parliament as a representative for Liechtenstein in the revolutionary year of 1848. His "Lied am Feuer" (Song by the Fire), dating from around 1817, marks the beginning of Liechtenstein poetry proper. It was also Kaiser who wrote a "Geschichte des Fürstenthums Liechtenstein" (History of the Principality of Liechtenstein) in 1847, thus laying the foundations for the country's national identity. The birth of a national consciousness went hand in hand with the formulation of Liechtenstein hymns of praise, such as those found in Dr. Albert Schaedler's (1848-1922) "Vaterlandshymne" (Fatherland Anthem) and before that in Jakob Josef Jauch's (1802-1859) "Liechtensteinische Volkshymne" (Liechtenstein Folk Hymn). The latter eventually became the national anthem – with slightly different lyrics – and was performed for the first time in front of a large audience at the opening of the 1895 National Exhibition in Vaduz. While the question of origins, of a founding myth, or national epic in other countries sometimes led to bizarre developments, and writers at the turn of the century were preoccupied with art for art's sake and suffered from a language crisis, Liechtenstein literature – to paraphrase Jens Dittmar's thesis from his literary-historical summary in "Lyrik aus Liechtenstein" (Poetry from Liechtenstein) – was content with a romantically glorified view of the past: sagas, legends, and "depictions of old customs and traditions", as prescribed by the charter of the Historical Society founded at that time, were booming.
A notable representative of this poetry is the clergyman Johann Baptist Büchel (1853-1923), who published more than 40 printed works during his lifetime and was awarded the titles of Princely Counsellor and Papal House Prelate for his cultural and political merits. His books include a volume of poetry set to music by Josef Gabriel Rheinberger, travelogues from Italy and Scotland and a festival play to mark the 200th anniversary of the County of Vaduz in 1912.
Hermine Rheinberger (1864-1932) was the first woman to enter the Liechtenstein literary scene. In 1897, she published the historical novel "Gutenberg-Schalun", which mixes meticulous research with the stylistic devices of trivial literatur, but which received consistently good reviews. A serious illness of influenza encephalitis, however, led to catatonia and mental changes and caused the patient's literary talent to dry up before her time: she spent more than 30 years of her life in psychiatric wards or nursing homes.
In contrast to drama and poetry, epic poetry was a purely female domain in the Principality in its early days. The next work with a Liechtenstein theme was written by a German, however, namely Maria Matthey, who grew up in Westphalia and successfully wrote fairy tales, romance novels, and young adult stories under the pseudonym Marianne Maidorf (1871-?). In 1908, she condensed several Liechtenstein sagas and legends into what is probably her best-known novel, "Die Hexe vom Triesnerberg" (The Witch of Triesenberg), which was published by Orell Füssli.
Until 1950 and 1951, when two editions of Maria Grabher-Meyer's (1898-1970) collection of stories "Dorf meiner Kindheit" (Village of My Childhood) were published, there was an extended break in prose writing. The Schaan native had already become known as a dialect poet through articles on local history and readings on Radio Vorarlberg.
Until then, literary modernism had bypassed Liechtenstein, where mainly patriotic homeland and village poems were written, which reflected the intellectual situation of the people or were guided by fealty to the fatherland and the Reigning Prince. Dialect prose did not emerge until the 1950s. In the post-war period, Liechtenstein authors returned to the village dialects and gave wine poetry and mountain poetry space to develop. Dialect was used as everyday poetry: at weddings, receptions, and similar occasions, their rhymes were akin to "Schnitzelbänke", or humorous verse and song, exhibiting sometimes awkward, sometimes naive humour.
The most important representatives of Liechtenstein dialect literature are Ida Ospelt-Amann (1899-1996) and Edwin Nutt (1922-1991). The former achieved a certain degree of fame with recitals of her poems at farmers' and winegrowers' balls, and finally with her publications "S' Loob-Bett" (The Leaf Bed), "S' ischt Suusersunntig" (It's Grape Must Time ) and "Di aalta Räder" (The Old Wheels). In 1955, Nutt published a volume of poems with works written in High German; it was not until 1982 that a work in dialect appeared, namely "Am Brunnen" (At the Fountain). From then on, Nutt developed into an extremely productive author and published a book almost every year until his death.
In response to homeland poetry, a new generation of poets emerged and the student movement swept across the Rhine. These young, wild poets scratched at the image of the ideal mountain world, embraced Dadaism, and caused a riot on the stages, such as the "Kaktus" (Cactus) cabaret founded in 1964.
Important representatives of this new era include Roberto Altmann (1942–2023), Hans-Jörg Rheinberger (1946), and Evi Kliemand (1945). Characteristic of this generation is their versatile talent: Altmann (who was perceived less as a writer, although he was involved in the Parisian Lettrism circle) worked as a poet, painter, filmmaker, sculptor and organizer of various art exhibitions; Rheinberger is a molecular biologist, translator, essayist ("Von der Unendlichkeit der Ränder" – Of the Infinity of the Edges) and poet ("Vers Labor" – Verse Laboratory); Kliemand is a writer ("Blätterwerk I" – Foliage I-III), painter and publicist. With her poems, sequences and notes, she is a poet of linguistic richness and with intense, demanding texts. She has been awarded the recognition prize of the Cultural Advisory Council of the Liechtenstein Government, the Graz and Constance Art Prizes and the Josef Gabriel Rheinberger Prize, and many others.
A true literary scene emerged in Liechtenstein in the 1970s. Robert Allgäuer, president of the Cultural Advisory Council of the Government, and the high school teacher and publicist Manfred Schlapp, who founded a Liechtenstein section of the PEN Club on 1 April 1978 at the suggestion of Paul Watzlawick, were especially instrumental in this regard. In the wake of this literary awakening, several prominent writers emerged to varying degrees.
First and foremost was Michael Donhauser (1956), who has been published by various German, Swiss, and Austrian publishing houses. While Donhauser attracted attention at the beginning of his career with stories such as "Edgar" and the novel "Livia oder Die Reise" (Livia or The Journey), over the years he has shifted more and more to poetry. Several awards, including such well-known prizes as the Ernst Jandl Prize, the Georg Trakl Prize, and the Merano Poetry Prize, bear witness to his successful writing.
A number of authors, some of whom are still active today, were also born in the 1950s. Alongside Evi Kliemand, the doyenne of Liechtenstein writers, Iren Nigg (1955) stood out with her lyrical short prose. Since the mid-1980s, her works have appeared in magazines in all four German-speaking countries. Her publication "Man ortet sich die Worte selbst" (Wording the Places Oneself), an anthology of mostly older texts, was awarded the European Union Prize for Literature in 2011.
Jens Dittmar (1950) worked as an editor and publisher for many years. Anyone studying Thomas Bernhard will soon come across his Thomas Bernhard work history, which has been considered a standard work since 1981. His "Poetry from Liechtenstein" also follows the documentary principle; it is a comprehensive anthology with a lexical character, ranging from the beginnings to the present day. Since 2008, he has devoted himself to his own literary projects. In an allusive manner, the author circles around his general theme, the relationship between language and institutional reality, in "Basils Welt" (Basil's World). This was followed by the collection of stories "Als wär's ein Stück Papier" (As if it Were a Piece of Paper), and other novels such as "Sterben kann jeder" (Anyone Can Die), "So kalt und schön" (So Cold and Beautiful), and "Baby Palazoles".
Among the authors born in the 1960s, the trained artist Stefan Sprenger (1962) is especially noteworthy. The author often uses his publications – some essayistic observations such as in "Katzengold" (Fool's Gold), some shorter and longer prose texts such as in "Vom Dröhnen" (About the Roaring) – to explore political and social issues relating to Liechtenstein as a financial centre or the role of the Princely House. More recent works following the dialect audio book "Dr Hans und sini Bank" (Hans and His Bank) also include plays, such as "Vandalin" (Vandal) and "Rubel, Riet und Rock'n'Roll" (Roubles, Reeds, and Rock'n'Roll), which was also published in printed form in 2018 under the title "Krötenarie". As a former member of the Board of Trustees of the Liechtenstein Cultural Foundation, he also had a longstanding influence on the local literary scene.
A second writer born in the 1960s is Mathias Ospelt (1963), a cabaret artist, columnist, translator, librettist, and author who is an integral part of Liechtenstein's cultural scene. He (incidentally a grandson of Ida Ospelt-Amann) has written several plays about Liechtenstein's older and more recent history. He is also a co-organizer of the biennial Liechtenstein Literature Days and president of the PEN Club Liechtenstein. In 2004, his story collection "Als Vaduz noch seinen Hafen hatte" (When Vaduz Still Had Its Harbour) was published, followed in 2007 by the volume "Das Liechtensteiner Gabarett. 1994-2006". Under the title "Wege. Gänge." (Ways. Paths.), an expanded edition of his first collection of short stories followed in 2018. The Schlösslekeller cabaret theatre, initiated by Mathias Ospelt and his colleagues, is cultivating a young guard of writers who are only gradually entering the field of literature for now, but from whom we will certainly hear a lot more in the future.
Patrick Boltshauser (1972), who decided early on to pursue a career in the theatre, is Liechtenstein's only internationally successful playwright to date. Some of his plays have been published by Bühnenverlag Kaiser, many have been performed on German, Austrian, and Swiss stages and have won awards in all three countries. His novel "Rapids" was published as an English first edition in 2014.
Zurich-based writer Maurus Federspiel (1974) studied creative writing in New York and worked as a journalist. In 2013, he published the novel "Feind" (Enemy), in which he skillfully takes up nightmarish scenes reminiscent of Pieter Brueghel the Elder's paintings of hell. With linguistic virtuosity, Federspiel paints a picture of the inner and outer tension of a person and their environment. His short story collection "Die Vollendung" (The Completion) was published by Hollitzer Verlag in Vienna in 2018.
Under the pseudonym Amelia Blackwood (1976), Mirjam Beijer-Studer is writing a romantic fantasy series entitled "Gebundene Herzen" (Bound Hearts), which is published by Sieben-Verlag based in Reinheim. Her stories are about vampires who live among us humans in a kind of subculture until they run the risk of being discovered. Other individual titles by the author include romance novels such as "Manhattan Heartbeat", "Heart of A Warrior", and "Das Tagebuch der McDonell-Frauen" (The Diary of the McDonell Wives).
The author Armin Öhri (1978), who is currently published by Gmeiner-Verlag, focuses mainly on historical material. "Die Entführung" (The Abduction), a story about the attempted kidnapping of a pair of Jewish brothers in Liechtenstein in the 1930s, gave rise to public controversy. The debate centred on the suppression of history, the reappraisal of historical events, and the role of the media as well as the influence of politics. With titles such as "Das Nachtvolk" (The Night Folk), "Sinfonie des Todes" (Symphony of Death), and "Professor Harpers Expedition" (Professor Harper's Expedition), Öhri responds to the needs of a readership demanding suspense literature, and with "Liechtenstein – Roman einer Nation" (Liechtenstein – Novel of a Nation), the author created the first major novel about the Principality. His series of crime novels about the young crime scene artist Julius Bentheim, is especially well-known and has been translated into several languages. It comprises four volumes: "Die dunkle Muse" (The Dark Muse), "Der Bund der Okkultisten" (The League of Occultists), "Die Dame im Schatten" (The Lady in the Shadows), and "Das schwarze Herz" (The Black Heart). In Spain and South America, the translations of the first two volumes became bestsellers and landed in the top ten of several critics' lists. In 2014, Öhri was awarded the European Union Prize for Literature. In addition to his literary work, he is also involved in Liechtenstein's literary scene as president of the Authors' Association of Liechtenstein, "IG Wort", which he initiated.
The texts of the trained aircraft mechanic and airline pilot Kurt J. Jaeger (1935) belong to the same genre. His many years of experience in aviation, on safaris in remote areas of Africa, and as a traveller in hidden parts of the world shaped him profoundly. His novels, such as "Eisiger Horizont" (Icy Horizon), "Das Bugatti-Dossier" (The Bugatti File), and "Phoenix from the Cold" largly draw on his biography.
Anita Grüneis (1947) was the source of ideas for the concept behind the "Lisa und Max" (Lisa and Max) picture books and the author of the first five volumes of this children's book series. Her prose and poetry have also been published in several series and anthologies, including the yearbooks of the Literaturhaus Liechtenstein.
While some of these authors published more or less sporadically before 2010, there has been a noticeable increase in literary productivity in Liechtenstein in the years since then. Several factors have contributed to this development: on the one hand, the triumph of print-on-demand services has helped many writers to produce their print products cost-effectively, and on the other, the "Ludwig Marxer Memorial Series" published by van Eck Verlag has offered a large number of young and new writers the opportunity to publish their debut texts. A landmark in the establishment of a domestic literary network was undoubtedly also a new series of events created in 2011, the Liechtenstein Literary Salon in the National Library in Vaduz, where well over 100 individual readings and over three dozen book presentations have been held. A large number of the participants later founded the authors' association "IG Wort".
Since then, Liechtenstein writers have been regularly published by renowned major publishing houses throughout the German-speaking world, including Rotpunktverlag, Luchterhand, Leykam, Limmat Verlag, Gmeiner, Emons, and Knaur.
Daniel Batliner (1988), who holds the position of secretary-general of the PEN Club Liechtenstein, is known as a prose writer and playwright. He became known through his performances with the comedy troupe "Des Wahnsinns fette Beute" (Fat Prey of Madness). He is also the author of the multimedia stage play "Wodka Nicotschow" and "Einmal Oberland, bitte! ", a comedy in four acts to mark the 300th anniversary of the Liechtenstein Oberland (Upper Country).
Christa Eberle-Feger's (1948) memoir of her youth, "Irgendwie ist alles ein bisschen Sünde" (Somehow Everything is a Bit of a Sin), evokes positive feelings about the home country in readers interested in the past and brings back the good old days with gentle irony. In her follow-up volume "Arm, fromm und bauernschlau" (Poor, Devout, and Cunning Like a Farmer), Eberle-Feger gives a voice to strong personalities from Liechtenstein have their say, making her book a vivid social history.
The works of journalist Anton Beck (1996) deal with Christian influences, the divide between town and country, and the connections between zeitgeist and moral ideals. The titles of his debut novel "#Jugend" (#Youth) and his collection of stories "Rassismus, Gender & Lillemor" (Racism, Gender & Lillemor) already hint at the prevailing themes, which Beck has dealt with in a refreshingly youthful literary style.
Since 2016, Doris Röckle (1963) has been whisking her readers away to the Middle Ages with books such as "Die Flucht der Magd" (The Maid's Escape), "Die Spur der Gräfin" (The Trail of the Countess) and "Die Wehmutter vom Bodensee" (The Midwife of Lake Constance). She publishes her entertaining novels with two German publishers: Knaur publishes Röckle's project about the Alpine Rhine Valley and its castles, which is set to span several volumes, while Emons publishes her historical crime novels.
Anna Ospelt (1987), who studied sociology, began her monographic publishing activities with the portrait volume "Sammelglück" (Collecting Happiness), in which ten collectors from Liechtenstein are presented. The second publication by the author, who has been awarded many stipends, was her poetic prose debut "Wurzelstudien" (Root Studies). As the initiator of the Young Literature House JuLi, Ospelt ensures that children and young people come into contact with literature.
Simon Deckert and Benjamin Quaderer, whose first works were published in the pandemic year 2020, have proven that local writers can be accepted into renowned creative writing programmes and go on to achieve success throughout the German-speaking world. While Deckert was enrolled at the Swiss Literature Institute in Biel, Quaderer studied literary writing in Hildesheim and Vienna.
Even before and during his studies, Simon Deckert (1990) worked as an author, mentor, and editor all in one. His texts were initially published in various magazines and anthologies, and his first novel was published in 2020, "Siebenmeilenstiefel" (Seven League Boots). In addition to his literary work, Deckert is also a singer/songwriter.
Benjamin Quaderer (1989) wrote a critically acclaimed novel with his debut "Für immer die Alpen" (Forever the Alps), which won him the Rauriser Literaturpreis and the Uwe-Johnson-Förderpreis for literary debuts. His book, whose protagonist is based on the con man, fraudster, and data thief Heinrich Kieber, was also dramatized for the stage by the TAK Theater Liechtenstein and the Staatstheater Mainz in 2021.
What remains to be said? – For example, that the reading public can expect to read about a number of topics in the future: banking crises, politically motivated attacks from outside, data thieves, and constitutional debates are just a handful of the motifs that the "Ländle" offers its poets and which await further artistic treatment. Liechtenstein literature is more alive than ever before, with a magnificent wealth of facets that is characterized by the diversity of its interpreters. Liechtenstein writers are currently exploring many different directions: local authors are writing essays, short stories, novels, and poems, are at home on stage and on the internet, and are engaging in new literary forms such as poetry slams and the internet novel. "Vampirism" has also long since found its way into Liechtenstein writing, and inspired by series such as Twilight and Harry Potter, some authors are currently trying their hand at the fantasy genre.
The next few years will show which directions Liechtenstein literature ultimately takes, which trends it allows itself to be carried away by, and what its themes are …
(Note: The above essay makes no claim to completeness and covers only the most important representatives and trends in Liechtenstein literature for now, with particular emphasis on those publishing from 2010 onwards. This literary history is constantly being supplemented to and should be regarded as a work in progress.)