Kigunda the man who fell

Wolfgang Herrndorf †: The man who fell out of the world

We were the boys from the last bank. We met for the first time in the back seat of a spacious family van that was carrying a load of authors and draftsmen from Frankfurt to Berlin after a “Titanic” book fair party. That must have been 1995. We were both outsiders, I because, young and shy, I had just started writing.

Wolfgang because he came from another world and another time. I knew his covers and illustrations that he made for the "Titanic" at the time: elaborate paintings with satirical and blasphemous content. Often it was pastiches of old masters, such as Helmut Kohl in the style of Vermeer, who lived from the fact that they were hardly inferior to the original in terms of production effort.

Wolfgang Herrndorf adored Jan van Eyck

He had taught himself the painting and glazing techniques in self-study at the Nuremberg Art School. Among professors and fellow students who studied the self-acclamation of the contemporary avant-garde artist and rated the artistic "position" higher than the craft, he must have been a real alien. There is a self-portrait in oil from that period, which shows him with a torn T-shirt and a drill, forefinger and little finger of his right hand spread apart, as we know from medieval depictions of Jesus. Aby Warburg would have enjoyed this classic pathos formula.

He spent over a semester working on a portrait of his grandmother in the style of Holbein. His apodictic rejection of 99 percent of art history (and 100 percent of modern and contemporary art) was fueled by technical penetration. When we visited the National Gallery in London together at the turn of the millennium, he left entire wings full of Rembrandt, Rubens and others and steered purposefully towards the “Arnolfini wedding” by van Eyck. He was able to accept Van Eyck as someone who was a hundred years ahead of his time.

He taught himself to program

Even when he moved to Berlin at the beginning of the nineties, like all of us at the time, Wolfgang remained an eccentric. Kathrin Passig and Wolfgang met at the party for my 26th birthday, which later appeared only slightly distorted in the “Plush Thunderstorms”. They had met briefly before. In a detailed report to her fiancée Ira Strübel, Passig wrote afterwards that she had kissed this strangely solitary draftsman, whose “lips were like sofa cushions”. They would have left the party together in the early hours of the morning. On the street corner, Passig's sentence “Actually, I have to go this way” remained unchallenged, everyone is home to themselves: the prosaic beginning of a great love-hate relationship between two quasi-autistic people, in which love ultimately predominated.

What both had in common besides an incorruptible intellect is a special form of mathematical thinking that seeks the challenge of tricky logic puzzles and strategy games. When I went to see him, we played chess. There was a list. Wolfgang almost always won. At the end, when the list fell asleep, it was 120 to 13. Like Passig, what very few know, he had taught himself to program.

Once, when I came up to him, a game was playing on the black and white screen of his 386 computer in which you had to destroy the enemy city with a catapult, an early forerunner of "Angry Birds". Wolfgang had programmed it himself in days of work. He did that on the side, and it didn't mean much to him. Presumably he will have disposed of the game unsentimentally with the computer, just as he soaked many pictures and texts that actually belonged to Marbach in the bathtub and threw them in the trash. Only the valid should survive.

He threw a lot of his lyrics in the trash