German-Polish poet, essayist, translator, author of radio and stage plays and director. He founded the Poza Video-Theatre in Warsaw with Jolanta Lothe. Born on the 21st of October 1935 in Gliwice (then: Gleiwitz).
According to the artist, the fault line in his life was the "head-on collision with Polish language and culture" after his family accidentally avoided being resettled to Germany in the massive ethnic resettlement imposed by Joseph Stalin in 1945 when thousands of Germans were removed from Poland to Germany.
As a German born in Gliwice, I didn't sense any hostility from my Polish neighbours", he said in an interview for the Rzeczpospolita daily. We managed to make friends with people from Lwów after the war. Varsovians kept their distance, and I was too young then to understand why.
After passing the Polish secondary school exam he enrolled as a chemistry student at the Silesian University of Technology. It was here that he made his debut as a poet. He was also a co-founder of the university's satirical theatre, and in his capacity of writer and director he observed the political upheavals of October 1956 in Poland that saw the rise of Wladyslaw Gomulka and the thaw of Stalinist communism. He moved to Germany in 1958 to study courses in German, philosophy, theatre, and Slavic studies. He worked at a German radio station as a writer and critic and was an in-house reviewer and translator for major publishing houses. He lived in Cologne, Munich, Bochum, Berlin, and Radolfzell am Bodensee.
Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz wrote, "One of the striking things in Munich was my meeting with Piotr Lachmann. He was a great person yes - person. Intelligent, subtle, mature, and also reliable … An absolutely exceptional poet. Poetry gushes from him like from Gałczyński or Miłosz. He especially reminds me of Czesio [Czesław Miłosz] (Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz Dzienniki 1956-1963 / Diaries 1956-1963, Warszawa 2010).
His poetry, which had been published in Germany in the early 1960s, appeared in Poland a short while later. He also published numerous essays. Through his poetic treatment of the paradoxes of German-Polish fate, he transformed his individual experience into a European dimension. The central theme of his works is memory. His poetry is a kind of vivisection that tries to break free of his traumas.
After Lachmann received the 2010 award from Zary", a Polish-German periodical published in Germany, Piotr Roguski commented that "the 'Polish writer' inside Lachmann can always look with ironic reserve at the 'German writer', or the other way round. Piotr Lachmann has been playing this game for years with huge success".
My arrival in Warsaw was connected with the plans of my friend, Helmut Kajzar. He was about to take over a theatre and wanted me to be the literary director. We were thinking about staging The Bacchantes and travelling to Greece. These plans were interrupted by his tragic death. Then there was martial law. It was a breakthrough moment for me. I was totally confused as to what had happened. Though I had left Poland in 1958, I visited a lot and believed in the country's huge opportunity as a civilization - which Poland was not really aware of and which the West did not see. I saw potential here which slowly revealed itself, with its substantial capacity for surprise. Meanwhile, martial law caused time to stand still. In a state of shock, I wrote an account-settling poem about it, read out by actors from the Bochum theatre. My impression was that art in the West had become conventionalised, while here, in Poland, ferment was possible, something kept emerging all the time. Helmut Kajzar's death gave me a reason to continue not so much his method as his words. I decided I would do my best to preserve what he had created, producing art that strangely blended Protestantism with Catholicism, and even with the Orthodox faith, because he got Jerzy Nowosielski, who had a unique attitude towards icons, involved in his projects. To Kajzar, images were sacred too, like words. Jolanta Lothe and I included the confrontation of these two elements in the Videoteatr Poza.
The Video Teatr is an unusual theatre, experimenting with form while remaining consistent in its aesthetic quest. Its small-scale performances combine live acting with video projections. The video images appear on large screens and monitors processed by a computer that often produces extraordinary visual effects. Lothe and Lachmann's shows, which draw upon the achievements of theatre, opera, happenings, installation, film, graphic art, and computer animation, create a new, original quality. The Videoteatr "Poza" selects important texts from many sources - from authentic texts copied from ancient papyruses, through the Greek tragedians, to contemporary writers such as Helmut Kajzar or Tadeusz Różewicz.
The Video Teatr is based at the Szuster Palace in the Mokotów district. Lachmann has staged many innovative productions there that were also shown at festivals and arts reviews in Poland and around the world. He created the video-triptych Tadeusz Różewicz - Twarz poezji / Tadeusz Różewicz - The Face of Poetry (1995-2005) in association with the poet himself, and the series E.T.A. Hoffmann w Płocku / E.T.A. Hoffmann in Płock, E.T.A. Hoffmann: z Płocka do Warszawy / E.T.A. Hoffmann: from Płock to Warsaw, and Hommage à Hoffmann / Homage to Hoffmann.
Lachmann once wrote,
Warsaw is a magical city, though its residents are not aware of it. Some find their own magical places at our Videoteatr at the Szuster Palace, during performances. For me, the magic of this place is also revealed when there are no shows. The first person who founded the Warsaw Music Society over 200 years ago was Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann. This was a meeting of Polish and German artists, despite all animosities and above any occupation-related divisions. The society was financed from the Prussian king's coffers. E.T.A. Hoffmann conducted Beethoven in Warsaw and was so familiar with his scores that he was able to write brilliant critical studies about him. Suddenly I found myself at the home of today's Warsaw Music Society, which rents us the premises. I constantly enter the domain of music, which unites words and images in our shows.
Bowed over the computer console, Lachmann controls everything in the performance. He is a contemporary demiurge of electronics transporting the audience into distant times and spaces, fantasy worlds, impressions, and images. No description of these performances would be complete without stating their most important quality: their aesthetic climate, their mood of taking part in something ancient, something more than theatre - a ritual.
Quotes from Piotr Lachmann were gathered during interviews with the author Janusz R. Kowalczyk, who published this piece in October 2010
Translations into German: