35 Shelf Meters of Life and Work
The Estate of the Playwright Karl Otto Mühl at the Bergische Universität
An interview with university library director Uwe Stadler
Mr. Stadler, on February 16, the Wuppertal playwright Karl Otto Mühl would have turned 100. You got to know him personally. How would you describe him?
Stadler: I actually met Mr. Mühl a couple of times, mainly on the occasion of the signing of the deposit agreement (a deposit is an archive item deposited in an archive, editor's note) that Mr. Mühl concluded with Bergische Universität. So it is about the deposit of the estate -Karl Otto Mühl died already one year after the signing of this contract in 2020- which was agreed in 2019 in the presence of Dr. Dagmar Mühl-Friebel, his wife and Prof. Dr. Michael Scheffel, the prorector at that time. He was a very strong, pleasant person with a personal mischievousness, very engaging in conversation, but also reserved.
Mühl wrote plays novels, poems and radio plays. He left his estate to Bergische Universität in 2019. How extensive is it?
Stadler: The entire preliminary and posthumous estate that was handed over to us in this contract amounts to, for example, 18 meters of archival cardboard with drafts and manuscripts of his plays and novels, so it's a very extensive estate that we will, of course, also work on in due course, together with the local experts from the relevant faculty. In addition, there is a correspondence with friends, which should be about two shelf meters, so sorted boxes that are very personal. These personal archival materials have to be handled with care, because there are personal rights and copyrights to be observed. In addition, there are about 10 meters of monographs from Mühl's own private library, which he read and from which he also found material for his own designs. Then there are 7 boxes of photographs. So a beautiful and extensive collection in total, which together must account for 30 to 35 shelf meters in the library.
Mühl was taken prisoner of war during the Second World War and wrote his first plays at that time. In 1944, he made the acquaintance of the writer Tankred Dorst in the USA, also a prisoner of war, with whom he was a member of the Wuppertal artists' group "Der Turm" from 1947. In other words, such an estate is interesting for both literary scholars and historians, isn't it?
Stadler: I see it the same way. In fact, however, with regard to the prehistory of the handover of the estate, I think that it will primarily be a matter of the relevant experts from the philologies dealing with it. The first contacts with Mr. Mühl were established by Prof. Dr. Andreas Meier, who had known him for some time. Mr. Scheffel, as an expert in edition studies, together with many other professors at the local university, is certainly also a very important first contact. We will first approach the topic from the perspective of literary studies together with the faculty. Future discussions will clarify the extent to which it also has historical relevance.
Mühl had his breakthrough late in life. In 1974, he published the drama "Rheinpromenade," which was staged throughout Germany. Who will actually have access to his archive?
Stadler: We actually defined that as part of the contract. It says: 'The contractual purpose of this deposit stipulates, among other things, that we will take over the documents as library or archive material and make them available for public use. This is an important point, because I know, both from Mr. Mühl himself and from his wife, that it is and was an important concern to make the documents available to the general public, especially for research purposes. An important part of the contract is also the approved indexing of the documents in the form of digitization and filming, i.e., we can create digital copies from these documents in order to then offer the maximum of accessibility, as far as the legal possibilities allow.
How often does it happen that a university receives an estate, and how does the library prepare something like that for users?
Stadler: That varies greatly depending on the location. There are universities and libraries that are more specialized in bequests, such as the German Literature Archive in Marbach (DLA), which is a standard institution for the cataloging of German-language writers, among others. Individual pieces by Karl Otto Mühl have already been deposited there. Here in Wuppertal, it does not happen quite so often. We received the estate of the Irish writer Walter Mäcken through a purchase from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation), which we keep in our stacks and make available for research. The digitization is still pending. Otherwise, we have already had some discussions with other authors who have shown great interest and may cooperate with the university library.
Mühl was also socially active as a writer. He taught young people how to write in a writing workshop at the Bergisches Kolleg and organized readings in retirement homes in Wuppertal with other participants. He died in 2020. How do we remember him?
Stadler: Of a very open personality, interested in social and societal things. It is indeed interesting that, as a Wuppertal writer, he also always remained connected to his Wuppertal publishers. He used to publish with Hammer Verlag, and in recent years also with Nordpark Verlag, run by our former librarian Alfred Miersch. He had a local but also regional impact and will certainly be very well remembered.
Uwe Stadler has headed the Wuppertal University Library since 2006. Born in Fürth in 1961, he studied social sciences with a focus on political science in Duisburg, worked as a librarian at the Technical Information Library in Hanover after completing his diploma and library traineeship in Bielefeld and Cologne, and came to Wuppertal in 1994 as a subject librarian for educational and social science subjects. A short time later, he became head of the Digital Library and New Media Department. In 2004, Stadler became deputy director of the university library.