Science Fiction Club Deutschland e.V.
A short history.
With Germany's national SF society
now 60 years old, Thomas Recktenwald looks
back at its history
This year (2015), on August 4th, we will look back at sixty years of Germany's oldest and – concerning fans of Science Fiction in its literary form – biggest SF society. Among its founding fathers were German author Walter Ernsting, from the US Forrest J. Ackerman and Raymond Z. Gallun, and the British fan Julian Parr. The organisation wasn't originally an e.V. which means “eingetragener Verein” (registered club) but received that status only four years later when the board was forced to protect the name against rivalling groups.
And there were a lot of rivals in German fandom in the late 1950's/early 1960's for different reasons. One reason lies in the person of Walter Ernsting itself who was affiliated with the Pabel publishing house where the first German translations of Anglo-American SF pulp novels appeared and also his own early works. Ernsting used the LoC (letters of comment) pages in Pabel's pulp series Utopia-Magazin and other opportunities to reach SF readers and to promote the idea of an SF club but a lot of fans, who were already members or showed interest in joining an SF club, found the connections between Ernsting's ideal and his commercial aims too close.
Moreover there were two other prominent names in the early days of German fandom, bookseller Heinz Bingenheimer and author Wolf Detlef Rohr. Both separately wanted to transform the SFCD into a book club, Bingenheimer using it as address list for his mail-order business, Transgalaxis, and Rohr mainly to sell his own novels. But a huge majority of the SFCD members protested against Bingenheimer's plans so much that by the end of 1957 he was forced to leave the club. Transgalaxis, however, still exists and is now run by his son Rolf.
Rohr however was, at least in the beginning, more successful and even managed to get the club's magazine, Andromeda, replaced by his own magazine, Blick in die Zukunft [Look into the Future], which consisted more of advertising pages than articles or stories. Ernsting, founder and editor of Andromeda, not only tolerated this but, in 1958, renamed the club into Science Fiction Club Europe (SFCE). Fans who were not happy with this development found a new home under the umbrella of the Stellaris SF-Interessen-Gemeinschaft (SSFI) [Stellaris Society of SF interest], founded by Karl-Herbert Scheer who later, together with Ernsting, developed the concept of the Perry Rhodan series.
Now it gets really complicated: Towards the end of 1958 Ernsting finally realised that his club got on the wrong track, so he re-established his Andromeda magazine in parallel to Blick In Die Zukunft, and in February 1959 he founded the Science Fiction Union Europa (SFUE) as successor of the SFCD, leaving Rohr alone with the SFCE who also wanted to inherit the SFCD. In August 1959 Rohr founded the Europäische Science Fiction Union (ESFU) in Zürich/Switzerland. After that Ernsting re-established the SFCD and had the name finally registered on December 19, 1959.
After a lot of fan feuds in the early 1060's – on one hand about the development of SF writing and publishing in Germany in general, on the other hand sometimes on a personal level between Ernsting and other authors or fans – fandom was in need of a neutral person who was able to bring fans who had left the SFCD in anger and had joined other groups like the SSFI. That person was Waldemar Kumming who in June 1962 became president of the SSFI and two months later chairman of the SFCD.
But not only former members returned. Dieter Steinseifer established a section called Kontakt to promote the club and attracted a lot of new members, and in the middle of 1963 the SSFI merged with the SFCD. SFCD city groups flourished, the biggest ones in Munich around Waldemar Kumming with their fanzine Munich Round Up, Vienna with fanzine Pioneer and Berlin (West) with fanzine Anabis. Because of the political status of Berlin, however, Heinz-Jürgen Ehrig and his fellow fans, although in private members of the SFCD, couldn't form an official subsidiary of the club. And West-Berlin fans served as straw men for fans who lived in Berlin (East) and the German Democratic Republic, supplying them with fanzines.
Finding reliable information about membership figures of the SFCD over its first decade isn't easy. Membership lists and index cards got lost, official statements in the late 1950's about 1,000 or 1,500 names were probably pure propaganda, and separating, renaming and merging of clubs didn't really help. Rolf Heuter who in 1983 published Der Science Fiction Club Deutschland e.V. - Die Geschichte des SFCD 1955-1982, estimates that 600-800 members is a realistic number for the club's first years, dropping down to 125 in 1960 when the quarrels culminated. It then increased again to about 400 until 1967.
In the late 1960's the student revolts also reached German fandom, especially a club as big as the SFCD with members of different age, educational background and political orientation. Fans inside and outside the club formed groups and published fanzines that showed their understanding of politics and imaginations in which direction the SFCD should develop. In 1968 Waldemar Kummings successor as SFCD chairman, Gert Zech, was considered as reactionary and, of course, opposed by left-wing fans, his successor two years later, Heinz-Jürgen Ehrig, was still considered too liberal. The Worldcon 1970 in Heidelberg with its – mostly Anglo-American - fannish traditions like the masquerade and St. Fantony ceremony was a special target for the lefties in fandom.
Not only membership numbers dropped again, the clubzine Andromeda appeared in more and more irregular intervals, so in 1970 Heinz-Jürgen Ehrig established the bi-monthly newsletter Andromeda Nachrichten (AN) in to supply the members with essential information about SF, fandom and club-internal matters. If the club's finances allowed it Andromeda should appear besides AN, with tree issues per year, edited by different teams who could apply at the club's AGM presenting their idea for a theme. Also in 1970 the magazine Story Center, a platform for amateur authors, was, with issue 2, adopted as regular club publication.
In spite of all these efforts the SFCD got into serious trouble when Ehrig resigned as chairman at the End of 1971. Only the experience and stamina of vice-chairman Dieter Steinseifer who also sacrificed a huge amount of his spare time saved the club several times from liquidation. Inactive board members and chairmen who could or would not bring the club forward dominated the 1970s,. Fortunately there were always editors-in-chief for the main club publications at hand, also members or groups who organised the yearly SFCD conventions around the AGM.
When I encountered the SFCD at my very first convention in October 1982 the club was attractive again for SF fans who, in the times before the Internet, were looking for a larger organisation which could provide domestic and international information about their hobby. There were also strong regional or city chapters, e.g. in Hannover, Berlin, Stuttgart and Vienna organising monthly meetings and sometimes conventions and publishing their own fanzines.
After the reunification of the two Germanies in 1990 East German fans could now easily establish clubs and magazines, and some of them joined the SFCD. From time to time SFCD conventions are now organised in Leipzig and Dresden, and a couple of issues of Andromeda were used to write about the history and sometimes difficult situation of fandom and SF in the GDR (the former East Germany).
SFCD's ,embership figures are now stable around 350, losses are more or less compensated by newcomers. Since the club is still focusing on SF literature new members are commonly between 35 and 55 years old, readers, critics, collectors and sometimes beginning or even established authors.
Since 1985 the SFCD issues a yearly literature award, now called Deutscher Science Fiction Preis [ the German Science Fiction Award] DSFP in short, www.dsfp.de), which has categories of 'Best German-language Novel' and 'Best German-language Short Fiction'. Thanks to generous donations this award is now the only genre award left in the German-speaking area which includes the prize money of 1,000 Euro per category. The DSFP is judged by a jury committee – comparable to the Arthur C. Clarke Award - which is open to any interested person including non-members, and the award is presented at the SFCD conventions.
As oldest German SF club the SFCD does not only have a long history but also preserves it in the club archive which contains – if possible – two copies of all club publications, historical documents and correspondences, and an audio tape collection, the “Phonothek”, which is probably unique in fandom. Waldemar Kumming started it in 1959 with recordings of the first SFCD convention and continued it until 2008 when he had to stop attend conventions because of health problems. Ten years ago I started to digitise the tapes, and I continue to record events, now by means of digital devices.
Andromeda Nachrichten with four issues per year, edited by Michael Haitel in a professional manner a real signboard, has now taken over the role of Andromeda as the society's leading publication whereas Andromeda is mainly published for special occasions like the bi-lingual edition for the Loncon 3 Worldcon. With an Internet discussion forum, the electronic magazine androXine in PDF format, and AndroSF, a book series created by Michael's publishing house for the SFCD and not included in the membership fee, but available through any book store, the club tries to cover different areas according the mandate requested by its constitution, the critical approach to SF in literature and other media, offering a home to fans of the genre and promoting literature, science and other areas connected to SF.
With this behind us, we are now looking forward to seeing what the next 60 years has in store.
Thomas Recktenwald is a physcist by qualification and computer programmer by career. He is the SFCD's current Chairman. He is also on the organising committee of the forthcoming 2017 Eurocon in Dortmund.
Elsewhere we have an article on German science fiction up to 1945 as well as one on German SF since 1945.
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