Carl Amery, a Remembrance

The Unforgettable Poet
of the Forgotten

Carl Amery

Carl Amery image © Claus Biegert


When I shut my eyes, I can still hear him recite a lyric sentence he once penned: Der Mensch ist erst dann die Krone der Schöpfung, wenn er erkennt, dass er sie nicht ist. ("A human being first becomes creation's crowning achievement upon grasping that he or she is no such thing.") A sentence one must balance evenly on one's tongue before the poetic coating melts away to leave behind the rich residue of its significance. A sentence that will never want for truth. A sentence typical of Carl Amery.

Those lucky enough to move in Amery's circle often heard such thoughts expressed in that gravely voice so unique, so his own. A voice that raged against the night right up until his final day, a voice rich with Bavarian color – warm, vibrant, stubborn, yearning, earnest, strong, and always on the side of all the world forgets.

Among the ranks of the forgotten he included the creation account in Genesis, which he, the critical, Green-thinking, Catholic poet, tapped again and again to fuel new, masterly written broadsides against the decadent excesses of capitalism and the fetish of consumption.

Carl Amery was born Christian Anton Mayer on 9 April 1922 in Munich. As a member of the Katholischen Jugend, he spent the major part of his youth in Passau and Freising, municipalities that would frequently reappear in his work, most notably in Der Untergang der Stadt Passau ("The Collapse of the City of Passau"), and Das Geheimnis der Krypta ("The Secret of the Crypt"). He studied modern philology and comparative literature at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich, before the events of World War II caught up with him, eventually spewing him out as a POW in the US. He was twenty-one. Following his release, he remained in the States and studied at the Catholic University of America. There he met the woman who would later become his wife, Mary Jane. The pair left for Munich in 1946. After completing his studies, Carl provided for his young family by becoming the director of the Munich Municipal Library System. Over the next few years he began to make a name for himself in the literature scene by writing numerous radio theater pieces, as well as the occasional novel. His breakthrough came in 1954, when, as a member of the legendary Gruppe 47, he published, Der Wettbewerb ("The Contest").

Bavaria, Christianity, the destruction of the environment, and the possibility of living an alternative, sustainable lifestyle, one in keeping with the native demands of a healthy earth, were the reoccurring themes of Amery's prodigious achievement. In the autumn of 1976, when Natur als Politik arrived in bookstores, the conservative press fumed. The German newspaper Die Welt called it: "A waste of paper."

"Ecoropa" was born during the summer of 1976, when, together with friends in the south of France, Amery began toying with the idea of founding a pan-European club of environmental activists – a sort of travelling liberal thinktank that would act to counter the creeping spiritual malaise and environmental ignorance trashing the continent. Already by that December their vision became a reality – one with headquarters in Geneva. In 1980, after much legal headache, Amery founded the German section of Ecoropa by convening to order the E.F. Schumachergesellschaft für politische Ekologie ("E. F. Schumacher Society for Political Ecology").

The written word alone was never enough to satisfy this "Catholic leftist": he was the president of the E. F. Schumacher Society for Political Ecology (1980-1995), director of the German Writers Association (1976/1977), president of the German PEN Organization (1988-1991), advisor to the Society for Threatened Peoples from its inception to his death, and co-founder of the German Green Party (1980). In the fight against the military and "peaceful" uses of the atom, the battle to keep the uranium in the earth, he was always a dependable, generous partner. When in 1998 we announced the founding of the Nuclear-Free Future Award, Carl was our keynote speaker.

Carl published the essay "Global Exit" two years ago when he turned eighty. In it he compared life today with life as lived in dissolute Imperium Romanum prior to the reign of Constantine. Today, though, we are not ruled by King Caesar, but rather by King Consumption. The central mission of Christianity in the new millennium, he wrote, is to banish the plague of the wasteful free-market, and to preserve the world for the coming generations. He saw in the liberation theology of Latin America one possible escape route from our present-day standing as slaves to consumerism.

Over the last few years we often heard Carl Amery on the radio, that energetic voice of his singing out against the ills of globalization. During the autumn of 2004 he wrote an open letter to the fresh German president Horst Köhler – a letter that received prompt reply: Köhler visited him in his Munich-Au apartment. It was through letters that Amery eventually bid us all farewell: his last book, a collaborative effort, bears the title, Briefe an den Reichtum ("Letters to the Super Rich").

Carl Amery will be deeply missed for his creative anger, his deep, honest moral convictions, his courageous flights of poetic invention, and for his penetrating insights into our societal and spiritual ills.

Let's pray that missing someone so dearly can also make the heart grow wiser.

English translation: Craig Eldon Reishus