Although Dürrenmatt spent 38 years of his life in Neuchâtel, to some extent a language gap separated the German-speaking author from this French-speaking town. In the long run, however, the town paid tribute on several occasions to the world-renowned author they ended up adopting as one of their own.
In 1952, Dürrenmatt bought the house at Vallon de l’Ermitage, overlooking Neuchâtel, along the road leading up the mountain of Chaumont. He appreciated its price, its accessibility, its nearness to the linguistic border and, above all, its magnificent setting. When asked why he had moved to Neuchâtel in particular, his invariable reply was “because there’s a railroad station there”. Dürrenmatt put in a garden; he went on to build a second house, had a swimming pool built and added a separate wing to serve as a workroom. To avoid having constructions by outsiders encroach upon the property, he gradually acquired the land below the house, enabling the upper part of the sloping valley, extending up to the Rocher de l’Ermitage, to remain a protected area.
Only over time did the people of Neuchâtel discover Dürrenmatt, with astonishment and then with ever growing admiration; he himself participated little in the life of the town. In a beautiful text entitled Vallon de l’Ermitage, Dürrenmatt narrates his life as a German-Swiss citizen in French-speaking Neuchâtel. Several events bear witness to the gratitude of the people of Neuchâtel towards “their” world-renowned, foreign-language author. In 1981, for his 60th birthday, the University of Neuchâtel conferred the title of Doctor Honoris Causa on him. In 1985, the town’s Museum of Art and History put on an exhibition of his works and, in 1987, a Scientific Symposium was devoted to him. The year 2000 saw him featured in a special issue of La Nouvelle Revue Neuchâteloise, in conjunction with an exhibition of his works at the Public and University Library of Neuchâtel. Last but not least, the City and Canton of Neuchâtel’s participation in the creation of the Centre Dürrenmatt honours both the author and the artist.