May 31, 2013
German publisher Suhrkamp initiates insolvency protection proceedings
by Alex Shephard
On Monday, prestigious German publishing house Suhrkamp initiated insolvency protection proceedings, which a number of observers liken to the U.S.’s Chapter 11. According to The Bookseller, Suhrkamp’s spokesperson, Tanja Postpischil, said that the application has already been approved and that “major decisions” relating to “sustainable restructuring measures” will be taken in consultation with solicitor Rolf Rattunde. While many German language outlets have reported on this story, The Bookseller‘s report is currently the best available overview in English:
No date has been set for how long Suhrkamp will remain under the umbrella of insolvency protection.
In a terse statement the board said it expected proceedings to be closed “within a few months”.
Suhrkamp has been at the centre of a bitter power struggle between publisher Ulla Unseld-Berkéwicz, who owns 61% of the company through the Unseld Familienstiftung, and minority shareholder Hans Barlach, whose Medienholding Winterthur holds the remaining 39%.
The pair have been fighting for control of the publishing house for half a decade, suing and countersuing each other. The list of accusations is long, including charges of embezzlement, mismanagement and business misconduct. In March of this year Barlach’s offer to take over Unseld- Berkéwicz’s shares was rejected.
Founded in 1950 by Peter Suhrkamp, the publishing house is considered by many to be among the best in Europe and has published works by Herman Hesse, Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Bernhard, Robert Walser, Paul Celan, and Arno Schmidt; it is also the publisher of Clemens Setz, my favorite contemporary German novelist. Before starting his own publishing house, Peter Suhrkamp ran the venerated S. Fischer Verlag; although Fischer Verlag published works by some pro-Nazi authors, Suhrkamp was accused of high treason and thrown into the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in 1944. He survived and, on October 8, 1944, received the first publishing license from the British Military Government in Berlin.
Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.