The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 7

In 1956, Hermann Gross returned from the USA where he had never really managed to gain a foothold. His marriage, too, was at an end. Downcast, he visited old friends in Germany. The stories as to what followed are contradictory; both Hildegard Cornelsen and Hans Haustein claimed to have arranged the contact to Trude Sand. Whatever the circumstances may have been, between the sensitive artist and the capable radio journalist grew, many years after their first meeting in Berlin, a deep affection. They complemented each other; Trude Sand’s optimism and warmth cheered up Hermann Gross in his darker moments, while his calm, considerate nature restrained Trude’s exuberant temperament. After living together for a few years, they married in 1962.
Through an acquaintance a contact to Dr. Karl König came about, the founder of the Camphill Community near Aberdeen, a centre for disabled persons based on Rudolf Steiner’s teachings. One year later, Hermann and Trude Gross moved to Bieldside, Aberdeen. There, Hermann Gross created metal sculptures and stained glass windows for Camphill Hall, the spiritual centre of the movement, taught art and once again found a productive creative period. Trude Gross supported her husband and his work and busied herself with drama therapy, for which her experience with children’s theatre had amply prepared her. She and her husband also travelled widely in their camper van, to France, Spain, Egypt, Finland and the Soviet Union.

Marta Dietschy-Hillers in the meantime continued her journalistic work even after her marriage. Mainly it was her characteristic little anecdotes picked up on the streets and in shops that she published in the local newspapers, but also her photos of Basle scenes. Only in 1969 she entered again in dealings with a publishing house: She edited the memoires of the dancer and choreographer Elisabeth La Roche (admired in vain by young Hermann Hesse who wrote poems and an erotic novella about her) for presentation to Pharos-Verlag. The project had been initiated by an acquaintance of Karl Dietschy, Dr. Christoph Bernoulli, who, after “Lila” La Roche’s death, went over her literary estate. He thought her memoires interesting enough for publication, but when the unedited, almost 500 pages strong manuscript was rejected in April 1969, he was looking for a competent opinion. Marta Dietschy agreed with him and set to work.
Even though Hansrudolf Schwabe, the owner of Pharos-Verlag, considered publishing the now edited manuscript, he finally decided against it for financial reasons. But Marta Dietschy was not discouraged that easily. Elisabeth La Roche’s life had begun to fascinate her, especially her connection to Hermann Hesse. She published chapters on the dancer’s childhood in Basle in the local newspaper; when Hermann Hesse’s work experienced a worldwide renaissance in the early 70s, she followed it up with the article “Hermann Hesse and Elisabeth“, in which she presented their relationship.
Karl Dietschy died in October 1970. It is not unlikely that his widow was all the more willing to take on new projects. She wrote several radio plays and articles on Hermann Hesse and Elisabeth La Roche, writers E. Marlitt and Johanna Spyri, painter Hans Thoma, dancer Isadora Duncan and composer Dieterich Buxtehude.

Probably stimulated by Lila La Roche’s memoires, Marta Dietschy began to study Hesse’s life and work, the more so as the La Roche estate contained some rare manuscripts and limited editions. Marta Dietschy collected countless newspaper cuttings, visited exhibitions and corresponded with other Hesse enthusiasts. She also undertook the sale of rare Hesse papers from the estate of Elisabeth La Roche and in return gained access to other rarities and unpublished works and so became something of an expert in originals.
When some dedicated Hesse enthusiasts from Calw undertook to arouse interest for the famous son in the hitherto disinterested hometown, the result was the call to the first International Hesse Colloquium. Marta Dietschy-Hillers’ work on Hermann Hesse’s connections to Basle had already been noticed in literary circles, and she was invited to the panel of this first colloquium. On 13th of May 1977 she spoke in Calw on “The European Hermann Hesse“.
An interesting event for Marta was the filming of Fred Haines’ Steppenwolf in Basle that partly took place in the direct vicinity of her apartment.

Marta Dietschy 1979
Marta Dietschy in 1979

Her love for travelling never abated, and even though writing on her mechanical typewriter – always her preferred method of correspondence – became increasingly arduous, she continued to write to her many friends and relatives. Among them were acquaintances both of long standing and repute: Joachim Barckhausen and his second wife who asked Marta to be godmother of their daughter Stephanie; the photographer Marion Schweitzer, a former colleague from Minerva-Verlag; the actresses Bruni Löbel and Alice Franz-Engelbrecht.

Sadly, rather unpleasant reports from here: the approaching Ninety becomes noticeable, the signs of age are approaching, though relatively late: my back hurts, I often feel dizzy, have to lean on my stick, crawl around quite crookedly – but still „Head upright!“. Every workday a stalwart 40-year-old home help comes to the house, cooks a proper meal, keeps the rooms clean! (am almost 10 years older than the pope, after all!) I still love Basle, feel at home in the old city, take part, as best as I am able, in the cultural life – only the visits to the museums have become difficult, don’t dare to go on my own, old as I am!(1)

Following a rib fracture in December 2000 and subsequent increasing need of care she had been placed in the nursing station of a hospital where she quietly, but always amicably, withdrew into herself by and by. Her ninetieth birthday she still observed happily, but after that her interest in this life seems to have ended. Increasingly she refused food and died peacefully on June 16, 2001. Following her wish she was buried without ceremony, with only the closest relations attending.

The author and journalist Marta Dietschy-Hillers didn’t simply disappear into obscurity after the release of her book. It seems strange that she is only known because of her anonymous diary today. No doubt it is her best, most important and most impressive work. But she was much more than just the “woman in Berlin“ she outlived for almost sixty years.

(1) Dietschy, Marta: Letter to her brother Hans (estate)

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4: The characters and places in „A Woman in Berlin“
Part 5
Part 6
Recommendations for further reading and watching


8 Kommentare

  1. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Introduction | Clarissa Schnabel

  2. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Recommendations for further reading and watching | Clarissa Schnabel

  3. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 6 | Clarissa Schnabel

  4. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 5 | Clarissa Schnabel

  5. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 2 | Clarissa Schnabel

  6. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 1 | Clarissa Schnabel

  7. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 3 | Clarissa Schnabel

  8. Pingback: The life and times of Marta Dietschy-Hillers – Part 4: The characters and places in „A Woman in Berlin“ | Clarissa Schnabel

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