International Congress for 200th Anniversary of Gottfried Keller’s Birth

A Wonderful Legacy

Gottfried Keller is the most famous Zurich writer of the 19th century. He had close links with UZH and bequeathed the university his complete estate and archive, laying the foundations for modern-day Keller research. A major international congress is now being held on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Keller’s birth. From 23 to 25 May, congress attendees and speakers will examine the poet's literary heritage.

Marita Fuchs

Gottfried Keller
Master storyteller: Gottfried Keller was born in Zurich on 19 July 1819. (Image: Wikipedia)


2019 marks 200 years since the birth of Zurich writer Gottfried Keller (1819–1890). To mark the occasion, UZH is hosting an international congress from 23 to 25 May, at which Keller researchers will spend three days examining and discussing Keller’s work from a wide variety of angles and perspectives, under the title “Welt Wollen, Gottfried Kellers Moderne”.

Eighty participants, including literature experts from Switzerland and abroad, will visit UZH to explore questions such as: How modern is Keller? Do his works anticipate future developments and how do we relate to his protagonists today? How does he reflect the knowledge of his time and describe strange worlds and cultures? What is his influence on realism? What different genres does Keller experiment with as a writer and painter? Theories from the areas of text analysis and methodology, historical problems, media, cultural and textual theories, as well as rhetoric, poetry and aesthetics will also be on the agenda. The congress has been organized by Professor Frauke Berndt and Professor Philipp Theisohn of the University of Zurich’s Department of German Studies.

A plaque in the main building of the university
A plaque in the main building of the university
A plaque in the main building of the university commemorates the poet’s bequest.



Gottfried Keller felt a deep connection with the University of Zurich. On the occasion of his 50th birthday on 19 July 1869 – never having completed a degree – he was awarded the title Doctor Honoris Causa by the Faculty of Arts. Six months before his death, Keller named the University of Zurich as his sole beneficiary, leaving virtually his entire estate to the institution. A plaque in the main building highlights this considerable gift.

When the will was opened after his death it was met with great astonishment. His relatives could not believe that Keller had left the income from the royalties of his literary work to the Canton of Zurich specifically for the university. A cousin of the poet even demanded a medical report, believing that Keller had not been of sound mind when he made the will.

The will also guaranteed the University of Zurich access to Keller’s literary archive. Early publications confirmed the author’s public and academic reputation, and his legacy still forms the basis of modern-day Keller research.


Marita Fuchs, Editor UZH News; English translation by Caitlin Stephens

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