A Short Biography

"My life as written here reminds me of those dot to dot picture games given to children. Each dot represents merely a single point of an arc or fold. The final picture is a jagged representation of an image lacking color or texture. It is enough to make a child squeal and an adult squint."
- K. Ungeheuer : Journal entry 12.November.1952

Vera Schultz had been raised quite comfortably in the well-to-do Schultz family of Berlin, but she had never been happy living the life of a young debutante. She ran away at age 17 to marry a poor factory manager named Christo Ungeheuer, whom she had met while vacationing in Nuremberg. Their first child was born on April 10, 1908, just barely a year after exchanging rings. He was named Karl after Christo's older brother. Two months later, however, Christo and his brother had a violent falling out during which Christo lost a piece of his left little finger. As an insult to his brother, Christo has his son's name legally shortened to its first initial. For the rest of his life K. Ungeheuer celebrated his birthday not on the day he was born, but on the day K. Ungeheuer was born: June 14.

Whether it was due to the pressures of the domestic life or patriotism, Christo decided to leave his young family for the front lines of WWI. It was there that he was killed in 1917 during the bloody Third Battle of Ypres. The widow, still young and beautiful, cut the only tie to responsibility she had left. She sent 10 year old K. Ungeheuer to live with her brother, Willem Schultz. Although a bachelor, Willem made a rather healthy living in publishing. He was quite involved in the avant guarde, especially with Richard Huelsenbeck and the Berlin Dada movement.

There in Berlin in 1918 the Dada movement had just reached full blossom. Ungeheuer became something of a mascot for his Uncle and his friends. They encouraged the young boy to paint, draw, and write and they would critique his works over coffee in the same way they would discuss each other's. At the Erste Internationale Dada-Messe the young and uninhibited Ungeheuer's opinion ruled the show. His education included trips to exhibitions in Zurich and Koln. In 1926, Ungeheuer published his first work, High Society is Fascinated with the Death of a Gluttonous Murderer, in Kurt Schwitter's journal Merz. He had also started work on his first book, a collection of his short prose, Dein Gesicht ist Meine Geschichte [Your Face is My Story].

The following year started with the first and only exhibition of his collage/woodcuts at Die Steinern Maus. The showing was a tragedy and may account for why Ungeheuer never attempted a public showing of his artwork after the experience..

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K. Ungeheuer at age 2

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Anna and K., 1933. (Ungeheuer specifically loved this picture of the two of them since, due to the long exposure of the shot, it appears as if Anna has three arms.)

Ungeheuer met Anna Harper through mutual friends in 1929. They married later that year and were nearly inseparable until Anna's death in the early '70's. In '31 the publication of  Dein Gesicht ist Meine Geschichte was held up for political reasons. This was the last straw and Anna and K. vacationed in Paris with intentions of moving there permanently. They returned to Berlin four months later disillusioned by the politics that had engulfed the artists there. Unwilling to join the Surrealists, K. writes of this time, "I am tired of artists that don't paint and authors that don't write."

K. and Anna finally left Berlin in '33, as Hitler's Brownshirts took over the city. They moved to Lisbon, Portugal where Anna has relations. Exile in Portugal separated Ungeheuer from his friends in the publishing world. Even though he continues writing constantly, he ceases publishing by the mid '30's.

Ungeheuer earned a living in Portugal teaching mathematics. He also developed his Numerolingual theory, exploring the relationship between math and language. In 1950 an old friend of Willem Schultz tracked K. down to request the manuscript to Dein Gesicht ist Meine Geschichte. It was published in Germany in 1951, 20 years after its original date for publication.

In 1958 K. and Anna followed acquaintances from Lisbon to New York City. Ungeheuer met Jared Green there in 1964. Green ran a small magazine called The 10 cent Gutenberg (it cost only five cents). He was also a very enthusiastic fan of this practically unheard of author. Through Green's influence Ungeheuer started publishing again. Although he could speak and write in German, English, Portuguese, and Spanish, he insisted on writing entirely in German. Through management provided by Green, Die Kunst des Mittlealters [The Art of the Middle Ages] is released in 1967. K. painted the image used for the cover.


The dust jacket cover of Dein Gesicht ist Meine Geschichte

Jared Green drowned in 1972 at a weekend party in Connecticut. The last Ungeheuer story to be published, The Effect of the Thorns of Country Flowers, was sent out two days after the funeral. He never published again during his life, though he continued to write regularly.

Anna died in her sleep on the 3rd of April, 1974. Within two years Ungeheuer had lost his two closest friends. In addition to this loss Ungeheuer was questioned by the police with possible complicity in Anna's death. Ungeheuer disappeared for close to two years.

By 1976 Ungeheuer had resurfaced in New York City. In 1979 Ungeheuer returned to Germany for the first time since his exile to receive admittance into the Gesellschaft Deutsche Autoren. A mix-up left Ungeheuer with no place to stay his last night there. Luckily the owner of a local Italian restaurant let him stay the night in the dining room there.

Ungeheuer was killed on the 13 of July in 1988. He was struck down while crossing 2nd Avenue at 14th by a cab running a red light. The cab driver was never caught.

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A photo of K. at the reception party of his induction to the Gesellschaft Deutsche Autoren


The dust jacket cover of Die Kunst des Mittlealters


The author's photo from the same book