Albin Huldrich Zollinger

Albin Zollinger, Teacher, Poet and Author, Zürich, Switzerland, 1895 - 1941

Albin Zollinger is probably the most undervalued of all Swiss authors and poets, and while many other names are widely recognized and appreciated, his is only honored by a relatively small group of literary connoisseurs. Many reasons have been given for this unfortunate situation, but they certainly do not include the depth and quality of his work. It may have been Albin’s misfortune to have been born into a time period which covered two world wars and an economic depression between the wars. And yet, his melodramatic, depressive and pessimistic temperament somehow fitted the events of his time. The recognition of his achievements would also be much wider had he not died far too early, at the age of 46 years, and at the height of his most productive period. Who knows how many more poems, stories and novels bounced around his overactive mind, but did never have a chance to be put to paper. And a last, but certainly important reason for his lack of recognition must have been his outspoken tendencies towards the political left during a time when most of Europe was rapidly drifting towards extreme right-wing dictatorships. His early and insistent warnings about the imminent dangers to democratic societies which he saw in Mussolini’s annexation of Ethiopia and in the Spanish Civil War were largely ignored by Swiss society, which did not want to see these events as harbingers of the dramatic events that the near future was to hold. Being a left-wing (or pro-democracy) advocate in a society drifting ever more to the right did not promote the popularity of his literary work.

Albin Zollinger was in every sense a rare combination of so many extremes embodied in one person, and this must have had its roots in the two extremes that the characters of his parents represented. His father was a quiet, melancholic, depressive and inward turned factory worker in Rüti, while his mother was an exuberant and hyperactive social butterfly. Albin was born into this family as the second boy in 1895, and grew up under these contrasts. While his two brothers were more outgoing, Albin’s character showed more similarities to his father’s. During his youth his parents then added more turmoil to family life by deciding to emigrate to Argentina. There the three boys grew up in the Pampas without much supervision or schooling, while his father worked some menial farm jobs, and his mother sought the company of other men and sometimes was gone for months at the time. The move overseas did not work out, and after a few years the family decided to return home to Rüti. Albin’s experiences as a child, the traveling and the exposure to foreign cultures likely were among the reasons for his strong attachment to the Zürich Highlands, to his own family and to the farming society of his roots in the small hamlets of his home county.

Once he was back in Rüti, his inborn intelligence allowed him to catch up on the missed schooling, and he moved on to higher education by training as a teacher at the Küsnacht Teachers College, from which he graduated in 1916. Shortly after he was conscripted into the Swiss army, and he spent the rest of WW I on border patrol. Afer the end of the war he held several temporary positions in schools around Zürich, until he received tenure in Öerlikon in 1923. But his complex personality was not all that well suited to the tedium of the classroom, and as much as the students loved him, he was in frequent conflict with both parents and the school board. The same character traits did not lend themselves to a stable home and marriage relationship, all the more so since his first wife Heidi came from a well to do printing and publishing family. After a five year marriage, a divorce was inevitable, and from then on Albin spent most of his free time in the coffee houses and bars of Zürich. It was there that he met his second wife, who was more in tune with his bohemian lifestyle, but who, after less than two years of marriage had to bury her husband, who died in November 1941, at the age of only 46. His memory is kept alive in the town-hall of Rüti, where there is an "Albin Zollinger" room, and in the City of Zürich, where a town square carries his name.

It was during these last years after his divorce that the compulsion to write became stronger and stronger. Between 1939 and his death two years later Albin Zollinger produced a quarter of his literary work, and his life’s work includes seven novels, a collection of poems and a volume of short stories. Aside from this intensive writing he was also teaching over 30 hours a week, as well as looking after his new wife and his infant son Kaspar, and his daughter Eva from his first marriage. Writing thus became a nighttime activity, and it was the urgency which he felt in putting his thoughts on paper that increasingly damaged his health. And so in the end it was all the conflicting demands on his life that were the main cause for the heart attack which felled him in mid stride in late 1941.

If there is such a thing as a “Zollinger Characteristic”, it is certainly not melancholy, depression and sensitivity, nor a bohemian lifestyle, and one could say that Albin was not made of the typical Zollinger mold. But his compassion for his fellow humans, his dedication to his work, his exceedingly high standards of workmanship he set himself, and maybe most of all his deep love for his roots in the Zürich highlands are very familiar character traits that any Zollinger would recognize.


Reference: Albin Zollinger Werke, Volume 1, Biographie, Artemis Verlag, Zürich

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