Prof. Dr. Bernhard Schlink


Legal scholar, writer

DAAD Scholarship 1974, Guest Professorship 1990

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Schlink by Roger Eberhard [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Some of his books bear legal sounding titles like Vergangenheitsschuld und gegenwärtiges Recht or Grundrechte Staatsrecht. While others can also be called Die gordische Schleife (The Gordian Knot), Der Vorleser (The Reader) or Das Wochenende (The Weekend). Bernhard Schlink is not only a law professor, but also a successful novelist. "You don't only want to have just one life," he once said in an interview in response to a question on the significance of writing. In his novels he dares to undertake a concrete and critical analysis of topic of German history – and is very successful with this. 

Both the stay in Stanford and teaching at the Humboldt-Universität after the fall of the Berlin Wall were immensely enriching, stimulating experiences.
Bernhard Schlink

Bernhard Schlink was born as the son of a theology professor in Bielefeld in 1944 and grew up in Heidelberg. There, and later in Berlin, he studied law. During his studies he spent a year at Stanford University, California, with a DAAD Scholarship. "Both the stay in Stanford in 1974, which involved research on artificial intelligence in the theory and practice of law, and teaching as a lecturer at the Humboldt-Universität after the fall of the Berlin Wall were immensely enriching, stimulating experiences. They left their mark in scientific publications," says Bernhard Schlink.

The law graduate completed his doctorate at Heidelberg in 1975, followed six years later by his postdoctoral habilitation in Freiburg. He subsequently spent almost ten years teaching and researching as a law professor at the University of Bonn. Immediately after the fall of the Wall he came to the Humboldt-Universität Berlin as a DAAD visiting professor and eventually assumed the Chair of Public Law and Legal Philosophy there. The jurist also served as a judge at the Constitutional Court for the State of North-Rhine Westphalia in Münster from 1987 to 2005.

During a sabbatical in Aix-en-Provence in 1987, Schlink wrote his first detective novel together with his colleague and friend Walter Popp. Selbs Justiz (Self's Punishment) is the first part of a trilogy and tells the story of a retired public prosecutor and detective with a Nazi past. Further crime and detective stories followed. Die gordische Schleife won the 1989 Friedrich Glauser Prize, while Selbs Betrug (Self's Deception) won the 1993 German Crime Fiction Award. Schlink's most successful work, however, is Der Vorleser (The Reader) – his first novel outside the crime story genre. The book tells the story of a 15-year-old boy who falls in love with a woman 20 years his senior. As a law student, he sees her again at an Auschwitz trial and learns of her past as a concentration camp overseer. Bernhard Schlink won numerous international prizes for this novel. The book has been translated into 39 languages, was turned into a film, and became the first German title to top the New York Times bestseller list.

Schlink often takes up subjects of topical social interest. In 2008, for example, he published Das Wochenende (The Weekend: A Novel), which deals with a convicted terrorist who is pardoned after 23 years of imprisonment. Following his return to society, he has to answer the questions of his friends and his son. However, Schlink also continues to write about unusual relationships: Die Frau auf der Treppe (2014) tells the story of a famous female portrait and the relationships of three men to the woman on the picture.