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Pick, Otto

(1887–1940), poet and translator. Otto Pick belonged to the German-speaking Jewish community in Prague and to the literary circle that included Max Brod, Franz Kafka, and Franz Werfel. With Willy Haas he edited their important, though short-lived, magazine, the Herder-Blätter. As a young man, Pick worked in a bank and devoted his spare time to literature. He published a collection of poems, Freundliches Erleben (Kindly Experience; 1912), and a book of short stories, Die Probe (The Test; 1913).

Pick’s poetry, as was true of the young Werfel’s, is expressionist, touched with mysticism; it appeared in leading German avant-garde periodicals such as Die Aktion, Der Sturm, and Die weissen Blätter. Pick later published additional collections of poems: Wenn wir uns mitten im Leben meinen (When We Think We Are in the Midst of Life; 1926), Das kleine Glück (Small Happiness; 1928), and Preisungen (Eulogies; 1937), as well as the short story “Spielende Kinder” (Children at Play; 1928). In 1912–1914, he became close to Kafka, traveling with him to Berlin, Vienna, and Leipzig, though from Kafka’s diary it seems that the two bachelors irritated each other.

Pick served as an officer in World War I and, after the founding of the First Czechoslovak Republic, worked as an editor and literary critic on the German-language newspaper Prager Presse. Like Brod and Kafka, he was in close touch with Czech culture and published many translations of Czech poetry and prose (including works of Otokar Březina, the Čapek brothers, Fraňa Šrámek, and František Langer), anthologies of Czech prose (Tschechische Erzähler [Czech Storytellers]; 1920), and German writing from Czechoslovakia (Deutsche Erzähler aus der Tschechoslowakei [German Storytellers from Czechoslovakia]; 1922). He also translated German writers such as Werfel, Stefan Zweig, and Carl Spitteler into Czech. Pick’s efforts to mediate between the two Czech cultures have been compared to Adalbert Stifter’s sympathy with Bohemian culture in the mid-nineteenth century.

In 1939, after Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, Pick escaped via Poland to London. There he founded a German-language weekly, The European Observer, which published the works of distinguished contributors, including Zweig, but it closed for lack of money after nine issues. Pick died of a heart attack in May 1940.

Suggested Reading

Jürgen Serke, Böhmische Dörfer: Wanderungen durch eine verlassene literarische Landschaft (Vienna and Hamburg, 1987); Scott Spector, Prague Territories: National Conflict and Cultural Innovation in Franz Kafka’s Fin de Siècle (Berkeley, 2000).