January 28, 2013

He said, she said at Suhrkamp Verlag


German publishing house, Suhrkamp Verlag — home of Bertolt Brecht, Hermann Hesse, Jürgen Habermas, and novelist Isabel Allende — is currently the subject of a bitter shareholder feud. More or less a standard shareholder fight, except with better, German insults.

Sophie Hardach in The Guardian writes that at the center of the conflict are two shareholders who have profoundly different perspectives on the future of the company, both trying to expel the other and dissolve their partnership.

“The shareholders simply can’t agree on how much money you can make with this publisher,” a senior source at Suhrkamp said. “And how much money you should make with it.”

Hans Barlach, the minority shareholder, and also the one who said “a publishing house is different from a screw factory” adding, “but they follow the same economic laws”, is accusing Ulla Unseld-Berkéwicz, the majority shareholder and widow of the original Publisher, of financial mismanagement. In return, Unseld-Berkéwicz says that Barlach is only after a quick profit.

Suhrkamp Verlag is a very well-respected publisher in Germany, and many are viewing the division as a clash between different approaches to publishing — the desire to enrich the public intellectual life, and the need to function as a profitable business.

Jürgen Habermas and other Suhrkamp Verlag authors have signed an open letter calling for the conflict to be resolved. Says Hardach,

“Other Suhrkamp allies have been less diplomatic. Author Peter Handke has called Barlach “an abyss of evil”, fellow writer Rainald Goetz has described him as acting like a “blunt automaton”, while former culture minister Michael Naumann said Barlach was to Suhrkamp as a bicycle bell was to a Bach fugue.”



Ariel Bogle is a publicist at Melville House.