Osman Durrani obituary

Other lives: University lecturer whose specialisms included Goethe, Romantic poetry and German pop music

My former colleague Osman Durrani, who has died aged 77, was a scholar of German literature and culture with a broad range of research interests. He wrote books on Goethe, Faust and the Bible (1977) and Faust: Icon of Modern Culture (2004), and another on fictions of Germany in the modern novel. He also edited an anthology of German Romantic poetry and had a collection of his poems, After Sunset, published in 1978.

There was more to Osman’s range than classical literature, though. He was a close observer of the contemporary literary scene, a friend of the novelist Joseph von Westphalen, and a key participant in the 1990s at conferences on post-unification German themes, one of which he organised himself at University College Durham in 1994, resulting in the publication The New Germany: Literature and Society after Unification, co-edited with Colin Good and Kevin Hilliard. To the end of his life he enjoyed reviewing books, for academic journals and the Times Literary Supplement, insisting that a review should never take more than a day to write.

Osman also took a serious interest in German pop music and was more than once assigned the after-dinner slot at meetings of the Conference of University Teachers of German because he could be relied upon to provide much-needed entertainment. In the late 80s he was an early adopter of IT in teaching when many in academe were either stuck in their ways or tending to scepticism towards digital innovations. In some quarters he was known for being something of a showman, an impression that was enhanced by his habit of turning up at academic gatherings in his private plane, which he had learned to fly as a hobby.

Osman was born in London, the only child of Sarwar Durrani, a civil servant with the British colonial service, and Melanie (nee Haag), an Austrian. They arrived in the UK on the eve of the second world war and Osman was born just after it ended. He was educated in Germany from the age of 13 at CJD St Christoph school in Berchtesgaden, where his mother had found a job. It was there that he acquired his impeccable German, although English remained the language of his family life.

At Oxford University he studied German and Italian. He did his first teaching stints, in German studies, at University Hall Buckland, in Oxfordshire, and Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University) before being appointed in 1972 as a lecturer in German at Durham University, where he stayed for 23 years. In 1995 he became chair of German at the University of Kent, where I also worked, teaching there until he retired in 2010.

He is survived by his wife, Lorna (nee Hawker), whom he married in 1972, their sons, Alexander and Tristan, and granddaughters, Alicia and Sienna.

Julian Preece

The GuardianTramp

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