The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

Jun 26, 2014

Frank Göhre

[Continuing my series of little biographies of winners of the Deutscher Krimi Preis. This one is a vague translation of a profile of Frank Göhre titled 'The Exception', by Ilke Kreutzträger (November 12, 2010), on]

Gruff, shameless, profound. That's the kind of books Frank Göhre writes. He gradually developed a reputation as a pornographer of the crime genre. Many photographs show him in a hat, with moustache and long coat, always looking a little grim. Just as a crime writer should.

On his webpage, he has written an 'Obituary within a lifetime' for himself. ...his sexual fantasies became so extensive that his manuscripts were no longer accepted. His writing career ended abruptly. The once-popular writer spent his last years in a hotel suite on Miami Beach, where he died in the arms of a Cuban transvestite last Friday.

And waiting at the appointed spot on the overpass by the jetty is this older gentleman. He wears a baseball cap for his stroll along the harbour. He has a warm handshake, a soft voice, kind eyes.

Frank Göhre was born in 1943 in Děčín (in the Sudetenland), and grew up in Bochum. At the age of 15, he quit school because, as he says, he was so bad at Latin. It did not look like he'd become the writer who would later in life be feted as an innovator in the German noir. He worked at a wholesale merchant's and then trained to be a bookseller. At the end of the 1960s, he joined the protests against the miserable training conditions faced by apprentices, and began at this time to write his first short stories.

He won a prize for a radio drama, and then began to receive commissions from the German public radio stations (NDR and WDR). Before he decided to become a freelance writer in 1973, he continued as a bookseller.

It seems he learned his meticulous work habits from that time. He is no mere storyteller; he is a researcher. He does not merely invent characters and let them do fictional things, but rather he investigates their personalities and saves everything he learns in case he might need it for a later story. He writes in his diary how the weather was, keeps newspaper clippings, notes down current events, scribbles on a possible story that might be interesting to a reader, perhaps even evoked memories of the time.

Göhre came to Hamburg in 1981 where he lives today with his wife in Winterhude, close to the city park. He teaches at the writers' school in Hamburg, or the screenplay camp in Freiburg, or at Ludwigsburg's Film Academy.

He doesn't like the fixed nature of a screenplay where from the outset, everything should hold together rigidly. While writing a novel, he feels much freer. He might know more or less the kind of solution he might propose for a story, but if his wife asked him on an evening which direction he might take, he would be unable to offer any information.

Göhre's daily routine is much more predictable. He is a morning person. By eight, he is usually seated at his desk in his four metres square study which is full of bookshelves. In fact, only the balcony is free from books. He writes in the mornings, and in the afternoons, he works on proofs or answers emails. The hard tasks. His wife has noticed a certain rhythm in his work, he says. He might write fast and loose a day or two, do nothing for the next two or three days, and then throw much away. Previously there were days when entire passages of text were consigned to the trashcan, and he thought he was lost for days. But nowadays he is not worried.

In his novel, Eloi - Der Auserwählte (Eloi - The Chosen One) it took Göhre five attempts to find the right beginning. Five times he wrote the text, cut out individual paragraphs, shifted the snippets back and forth, trying different combinations until they fit.

Göhre preserved all the intermediate steps of his work. He cleared out his attic, installed shelves and set up his archive. All his works are saved, even the double editions. When he is finished with a book, he said, he packed everything into an IKEA box and took it to the attic. He has finalised his will, he said. He doesn't think of death, but he knows there are family disputes in the estates of many authors.

He speaks of his new book in the same satisfied tones he spoke of his estate. Nobody in the German-speaking world writes as he does, he says, no one interleaves their plots as him. People have praised his flashbacks and changes of perspective. This is not difficult for him because he thinks not in dialogue but in images. He is an exception, he says. And there is no immodesty or boastfulness in this claim.

His years as a bookseller have given him a long view into the genre. It is something missing in his younger colleagues. Many have never heard of Chandler, he says, his face looking grim for the first time. Writing detective fiction is not as easy as many retired teachers seem to think, he says. It does not merely involve an assembly of characters, red herrings and then revealing the most unexpected person as the perpetrator.

In the summer, Göhre and his wife want to stay a month in Amsterdam. He will collect stories, do some research. Next week he will go there to find a small apartment with a garden, overlooking the canal. He has always wanted to do this, he says, and now he finally has the time.


Frank Göhre won the Deutscher Krimi Preis in 1987 for Der Schrei des Schmetterlings, and in 2011 for Der Auserwählte.


English translations? Pshaw.


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