It was a little more than two years ago that the Munich painter and writer Reiner Zimnik had to move out of his apartment in Schwabing at the age of 88 because of his own needs. He was already suffering from a heart condition back then, but that didn’t
change the eviction. “I don’t think I will survive long,” he said bitterly at the time, “the girl is still going, but I’m already very weak.” On December 8th, Reiner Zimnik died at the age of 90.
One of Zimnik’s most famous characters was created in the studio in the apartment on Veterinärstraße. In the 1960s he was asked by the Bavarian Broadcasting Corporation to develop a kind of Bavarian Jedermann, a grumbler, a regulars’ table brother.
In 1961, Zimnik developed the character of Sebastian Gsangl, not realizing that he would be commenting on current Munich events with him for 24 years, the construction of the subway, the Olympic Games or a change in the weather. What it was about, Zimnik
made clear in the subtitle of a Gsangl book: “Opinions of a good-natured, grumpy Bavaria with bourgeois courage”.
Looking back, Zimnik once told the SZ: “The show meant a lot of work for me, often for many days.” But it was worth it. As so often.
Zimnik was born on December 13, 1930 in Upper Silesia. At the age of fourteen, he fled the Soviet army from Bytom with his mother and four siblings. Years later, between 1971 and 1975, he captured memories of the escape in his finest winter drawings.
After an apprenticeship as a carpenter, he studied at the Munich Art Academy and graphics. There he learned to draw with Josef Oberberger, a master student of Olaf Gulbransson. Like the latter, Zimnik was a terrific draftsman and keen observer, but also
a wonderfully poetic story-maker.
Stories that he had mostly spun out in his apartment in Schwabing. When the move was irrevocably determined, he told the SZ: “An artist’s life doesn’t have to be as smooth as a bourgeois life.”
* Xaver, der Ringelstecher, und das Gelbe Ross, G. Parcus Verlag
* Jonas, der Angler (self-illustrated), G. Parcus Verlag, 1954,
translation by Richard Winston and Clara Winston published as Jonah,
the Fisherman, Pantheon, 1956.
(Direct quote: "In Paris the fishermen sit by the banks of the Seine
and fish . . . The fishermen have thrown their watches into the river
because time stands still on banks of the Seine. The city fades into
the silvery waters, and between the waves and the tracery of the
fishing lines lies the land of dreams." )
* Der Baer und die Leute (self-illustrated), G. Parcus Verlag,
1954, translation by Nina Ignatowicz published as The Bear and the
People, Harper, 1971, New York Review Books, 2005.
("The story of a traveling juggler and his bear whom everyone loved
except 3 vengeful men named Duda and their dogs.")
* Der Kran C. Dressler (Berlin), 1956, translation by N.
Ignatowicz and F. N. Monjo published as The Crane, Harper, 1970, New
York Review Books, 2003.
("In an ever-expanding city, one young man claims the job of his
dreams, operator of the tallest crane around. Since others envy his
position, he never leaves his crane, always eager for the day—and work—
to begin. As the seasons pass, man and machine almost become one. 'The
crane was a giant with iron sinews, and the craneman was its heart.'
Then people begin to hoard their goods, grinning ravens multiply
throughout the land, and war is at hand. But the craneman never
falters, remaining at his post even when the land is flooded, ready
for reconstruction to begin.")
* Der Stolze Schimmel, C. Dressler, 1956 , translation published
as The Proud Circus Horse, Pantheon, 1957.
("story about a proud and talented circus horse leaving the circus to
fend for itself in the wild, where it will learn many a difficult
lesson and eventually shed its pride...this is essentially an
equestrian take on the parable of the Prodigal Son.")
* Die Trommler Fuer eine Bessere Zeit, C. Dressler, 1958,
translation by E. M. Hatt published as Drummer of Dreams, Faber, 1960.
* Der Regen-Otto, G. Lentz (Munich), 1958.
* Der Kleine Bruelltiger (self-illustrated), C. Dressler, 1960,
translation published as The Little Roaring Tiger, Pantheon, 1961.
("Story of a little tiger with a big roar who gets even with some
* (With Hanne Axmann) Die Geschichte vom Kaeuzchen, translation
published as Little Owl, Atheneum, 1962.
("the clever little owl befriends Clotilda and saves her from a
* Der Baer auf dem Motorrad (self-illustrated), translation by
Cornelia Schaeffer published as The Bear on the Motorcycle, Antheneum,
1963 , revised edition published as The Bear on the Motorbike,
("Story of a fat brown bear who lives & works contentedly in a circus
riding a bicycle in circles. His contentment ends when a small boy
shouts he is stupid for riding only in circles.")
* Lektro und die Feurwehr, Diogenes Verlag (Zurich), 1964.
* Die Ballade von Augustus und den Lokomotiven, Diogenes Verlag,
* Geschichten vom Lektro, Buechergilde Gutenberg (Frankfort),
* Der Kleine Millionaer, Diogenes Verlag, 1969.
* Professor Daniel J. Koopermans' Entdeckung und Erforschung des Schneemenschen, Diogenes Verlag, 1971.
* Bills Ballonfahrt (self-illustrated), Diogenes Verlag, 1972,
translation by Richard Whittingham published as Billy's Balloon Ride,
Hubbard Press, 1974.
* Beatrice De Regniers, The Snow Party, Pantheon, 1959.
("A farmer's lonely wife wants to throw a party. Although she gets
little encouragement from her husband, she continues to daydream about
the type of party she would throw. The fierce snowstorm raging outside
their farmhouse becomes the catalyst for the somewhat implausible
events that follow. The farmer brings his 300 baby chicks into the
farmhouse; a carload of people and then more carloads seek shelter at
the farmhouse. When the bakery truck driver gets stuck and enters the farmhouse, he suggests that the people unload the cupcakes, rolls,
pies, and cake from his truck. Now the wife's party can begin.")