Kings We Are, with Wings of Dust (4)
Memories of the Shalom Salam Tour
by Anis Hamadeh
- August 2004 -
Chapter: 0 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - Appendix
Kapitel: 0 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - Anhang
Chapter 4: Düsseldorf and Bocholt
Content: Thomas Church Düsseldorf - Before in Düsseldorf - In the Historic Town-Hall - In the Garden - On the Train to Berlin
Thomas Church Düsseldorf
(May 13, 2004) It was no trouble to get to Düsseldorf. While the area around Bocholt, close to the Dutch border, is something completely different from the capitol of Northrhine Westfalia, Düsseldorf, another civilisation almost, the two cities are not far apart from each other geographically. Relaxed we arrived at the Thomas Church in the afternoon and we had time. As the technician was not there yet we were invited to a cup of tea in a church shop right at the church where we overheard the chats of the ladies who ran the shop. Esoteric, tea-house kind of atmosphere. Meditational, almost inspiring. Cookies were offered. The technician appeared and took us to see the hall. He told us that Elton John made recordings in this concert hall. It was quite a huge hall the spacious front part of which consisted of the stage which at the same time served as an altar. On the opposite side there was a room where we could dress. Our mood was quite good.
Michael Krebs came in, but he had to talk with many people and I hardly saw him. The beamer again made problems, but there still was time. The painter Bernd Schwarzer exhibited some of his paintings, I liked them. Shortly before the performance it turned out that the film could not be shown due to technical problems. Also, the introductory speeches by the organizers and sponsors were rather superficial, and droll, too. So it could happen that people just went to the microphone, whether this disturbed our performance or not. I mean, we did have an idea about the way the program should be. Moreover, there had been agreements before the performance which spontaneously were forgotton by some people. In this respect I did have better days on stage before.
The hall was not completely filled, but there were quite some people who attended. Maybe two hundred. An American, who is married to a Palestinian, talked to me after the performance. There was an "afterglow" party in the same hall, with drinks of different kind and sandwiches. The party was a good idea and it was also nice that the Heinrich Heine Society participated in it. Kerstin was there, a woman I know in Düsseldorf, she is a baroque singer and could relate to the music of the Duo Rubin a big deal. She also has some knowledge about the Middle East conflict. And there was somebody else I met again: Britta from www.marhaba.de and her husband Khalid. She had heard about the event at short sight and they did not live far away, so they dropped by spontaneously. The last time I saw them was about one or two years ago, also in Düsseldorf, when I had helped organize the foundation party of Kulturattac in the ZAKK. I was sorry that I had forgotten to inform Britta.
We drank wine, ate sandwiches, talked about politics and culture, smoked, well, the things which people do in a church. Then I met Bernd Schwarzer, the painter. He is extraordinary. At first he gave a ca. twelve kilograms heavy album/book of his' to each of us artists as a present. It is a brilliant work, the pictures and collages by Schwarzer are genialic. Sometimes with van Gogh-like mash technique, dots, waves, lobes reaching out of some pictures in yellow and blue.
Engaged in his topics: Europe, Israel, world peace. Active. An eccentric artist, too. He wanted autographs of us in his book. I have never experienced such a thing before. So I signed his book. He wanted it so. Why should I object? He also talked, but the communication was somewhat surreal. He seemed to be far away with his thoughts. He was nice, that was important. Immensely creative.
Michael could talk with him better, I guess. He had to, because he also pursued agent activities for Bernd Schwarzer. This is one of Michael's virtues that he can deal with unusual situations and people. Afterwards we went to his home in Cologne where we stayed overnight. Michael told us many stories and was like electric all the time. We did not have enough time to talk more detailed with him and Petra and their son and so Michael suggested that in the following week we could organize a barbecue or something like that, when the concert in Cologne took place.
Before in Düsseldorf
(Flashback May 6, 2004) It was the second time that I entered the starry hotel in Düsseldorfer in which the Heinrich Heine Society gathers. This time I was there together with the Duo Rubin. Another press meeting for Shalom-Salam in one of the conference rooms. I talked with Stephan Lorsbach who was helping us with the preparations in Düsseldorf and who also is a musician. Some journalists came, more than before in other meetings of this kind. The local press, but also someone from the newspaper "Die Welt" was there. Outside in the garden we took some photos. It was relaxed, we felt a certain routine in the meantime. On the occasion of the tour I had compiled a CD with six of my songs. I made 10 copies, only for the participants of the tour. One I gave to Mister Theisen from the Society, one to Stephan and to Michael. After the journalistic part we planned the impending concert in Düsseldorf.
On the day before I had come from Halle with Michael Krebs. He took me with him to a meeting of the Society, including a sparagus meal in a solemn hall. An impressing scene: about 100 people - exceptionlessly men - were sitting at tables listening to a secretary from the government who was talking about different political subject matters connected with the region. Education, economics and other issues. There were interpolated questions, comments and discussions. This was completely new for me. When the talk was over I was even publically introduced, as a representative of Shalom-Salam which the Heinrich Heine Society supported. A friendly gesture.
In the Historic Town-Hall
(May 14, 2004) On the next day we went back to Bocholt. Again there was a meeting in the town-hall, we got photo books of the city and its surroundings. The mayor was there and she made clear in her speech that indeed she supported the mutual understanding. The speech was not a flourish speech, it was genuine. Regrettably I did not write down anything of it. It was shortly before the concert on the floor underneath the hall we would play in. We sat at a long antique table with about ten people. Bettina Oehmen had also come, and the German Israeli Society (DIG). Between the DIG and me there had been smaller tensions, but I did not consider them to be destructive. Maybe a little exhausting for all parties. But we were not on wellness tour, our tour was about approximations. One should not escape real conflicts, it is no use. In this way we learned what to think about the respective other and which the more constructive starting-points were and which the more destructive ones.
On the walls of the room there were photos of the mayors of Bocholt in a row. It started in the Kaiser's time and went up to date. I looked into the (male) faces, one after the other. There I noticed a gap between 1933 and 1945. The Nazi mayors were missing. This gave me something to think about. Of course, it is a time one does not like to be reminded of. The picture of Hitler, for example, normally is not shown together with earlier and later German governmental heads, either. Also, this phenomenon is known from history: when a brandnew civilisation starts the earlier one is discarded. Yet were the mayors of the Nazi period shown here, then this could also be understood as a reminder. In the sense of: watch out, this has also happened in our society. These are the faces behind it. They are real. It was real. An explaining text could be attached to the photo. Why was this an issue for me at all? I guess, because otherwise one can easily forget that the Nazis were not some stories from the media, or extra-terrestrians.
The performance started on time. Our Bocholt hosts were sitting in the audience, and also my parents for whom Bocholt was the nearest of our concert places. This was something special for me. I think they never really had seen me on a stage before. I was not especially nervous for that matter, it was just nice. Also that they made Ithay's and Gabriella's acquaintance. It was surely one of the best performances. Only when I took a look out of the window I got a funny feeling. Directly in front of the building, in the middle of the pedestrian zone, there was a police car. I think they were even two. I asked myself whether the people in Bocholt had committed some kind of weird thing which made them show themselves so frightened. At least there were no tanks or anti-aircraft defense cannons, as far as I could see.
My parents liked it a lot. Afterwards we had dinner together, Dad invited everybody. (He wanted, but the city had already scheduled an amount, so my father donated the same amount.) Mister Merschhemke from the DIG told us some jokes. But the ones by Ithay were better. It would be quite interesting to repeat them here, but rather not. You have to experience this live, sorry. Maybe a viola joke. Ithay told me that the viola (or tenor violin) is the one musical instrument about which people in musical circles crack jokes. What is the difference between a violin and a viola? The viola burns longer. Concerning my Dad I noticed that he was honestly appreciating the Shalom Salam thing. This was not a matter of course, because he grew up in Palestine and he knows the Israelis from completely different contexts. And yet it makes a difference whether you ponder about people in an abstract way, or whether you concretely meet people and talk with them.
My father told me that contacts between Palestinians and Israelis today are not such a taboo anymore in the Palestinian society as they used to be in former times. In the early nineties there had even been a phase in which a factual relaxation would have been possible. Many Palestinians then had been optimistic. I had to think of a documentary film by Spiegel TV for which I translated the Arabic in 1992. It was about collaborators on the one side and the "Black Panthers" on the other, an armed guerilla which had its center around Jenin. I had about two and a half hours of video material and translated it together with a native speaker from the same students' hostel at the Berliner Tor in Hamburg where I was living at the time. Spiegel TV had then just moved into the famous Chile Haus. It was an informative film. About extremists of the Israeli side I have never seen a film on TV, though. A couple of months later I read in the Jerusalem Post that the main character of the film, Ahmad, the Black Panther, who I had witnessed for several hours on video, was killed. It shocked me when I first read it, but I felt no pity. The world of the men with their guns is too alien to me.
In the Garden
(May 16, 2004) Silence. In front of me a lawn, behind me the house of Annette and Willy and their children Aino and Till as well as diverse pets, among them an elegant black cat. I had withdrawn onto the terrace with my rucksack. It was before noon and I was alone. Willy taught mathematics and Dutch, Annette history. A teacher family like from a picture book. They are neighbors of Bettina and Christoph. The Duo Rubin stayed with them and I with the neighbors. A feeling of "everything is ok" came over me here, a friendly normality of people. More I do not need, I thought. I breathed the garden in front of me while writing the diary. I wanted it to become beautiful. Could I make this? If I thought of Willy and Annette maybe I could make it. They accepted me the way I am, even liked me. That I am a writer and musician, and critical, too, was completely normal here. Of course, it is always important through which door one is coming in. Were the circumstances different we might have missed each other. Problems mostly don't happen because of the people, but because of the situations in which they meet. Through which door are you coming in? How are you introduced?
Here in the garden I could relax a little. Why was that a problem? Where was my problem? Relax from what, from the stress of the performances? It was not so bad after all. No, it was not this stress. It was the other one. Rafah at the moment was like hell. The stress consisted of the question what we could achieve with this tour and of the worry that I might not be able to do justice to my responsibility without offending people. How should I behave? Did I have to hide? Why did I have to hide? What exactly did I have to hide?
When I rode with Christoph late in the evening in his car from Vreden to Bocholt, we talked. I had the impression to get along with him quite well. When we talked about "the thing" Christoph mentioned the familiar view that the Palestinians had had all possibilities to get to peace with Oslo and Camp David, with Barak and Clinton that is. There I noticed that we came from two different worlds. And yet Christoph, like Ithay, did not seem to be a really political individual to me. Not in the intellectual sense, I mean. Of course he was political when he supported the Shalom Salam project and he did that in an engaged way. But a political discussion about Oslo/Camp David was not the point here. Christoph had learned about Israel in the context of German history. Maybe I was the first Palestinian, or of Palestinian origin or whatever, I mean from the other side, whom he learned more about.
At least I handed him a copy of Uri's article "Twelve conventional lies" which I had originally printed out for Ithay, because this issue was part of our problem bundle. Avnery wrote there that Oslo and Camp David could not at all have led to Palestinian souvereignty, because, for example, the Jerusalem question remained excluded, because there was no return to the border of 1967, because 80 percent of the settlers were to remain where they are, no return of a single refugee to Israel, no abolition of the checkpoints, and a bantustanisation of the state territory, meaning a splintering in a way unable to survive. Oslo and Camp David were no realistic, no acceptable options. It is not even necessary to get lost in details here, for the Israeli offers have always and exceptionless implied the control over the Palestinians, this is hardly ever denied. "We have to control them, because they constitute a danger for us." As long as this mentality - not policy - prevails I do not see any change. After all, the Israelis - the officials, i.e. politicians, officers, soldiers - surely constitute a danger for the Palestinian population, see Rafah and every other place where Palestinians have to live under arbitrary Israeli command. But nobody for this reason would grant the Palestinians to control or punish the Jewish population. Helicopter attacks by the official Palestinian side on Israeli extremists are unthinkable. Or custody of kin. Oh yes, I remember what my problem was on this tour and with the writing of these chapters. This thing.
On the Train to Berlin
(Sunday, May 16, 2004) The weekend I had spent with my parents. They had stayed overnight in Bocholt and we drove off the highway to their place. Half of the way I drove. This wonderful Westfalian landscape! We listened to Bettina Oehmen's CDs in the car. A couple of hours earlier we had sat together at the table. She had even spontaneously mixed her blossom extracts for all of us and gave it to us. Now I was on the train again. The next official appearance was only on Tuesday, in Oldenburg. But we had an extra concert in Berlin on Monday, in the school of Ithay's and Gabriella's son, therefore I took this roundabout way.
It is often really nicer to ride the train than to take a car. You can use the time for reading. For example the letter from Karl Merschhemke, the gentleman from the DIG. It had not been a hundred percent easy between us, rather like porcelain. In his letter, which he wrote after the concert in Bocholt, he gives us some advise concerning the program. Much more interesting are the two episodes of his book which he attached as an illustration of his political convictions and which I want to represent here as they are meant for a wider audience and as they can explain, almost settle, a lot. The title of the book is not mentioned in the letter, but it is about war memories. Karl Merschhemke writes:
Episode 1: In the domain of our working area (as a student on labor supply vacation) there were also Russian assistents, civilians and prisoners of war. The Russian war prisoners were strictly kept in custody; they looked debilitated and must have had a gruesome hunger, as they picked up from the ground everything that was eatable and immediately put it greedily into their mouths without washing. They were not allowed to pause while working. We were not allowed to approach them. Different from this especially harshly treated group were the Russian civil forces. One day I spent a couple of minutes with a young Russian woman who spoke passable German. She told me that she - viewing the German soldiers as liberators from the violent Communist reign - had reported to voluntary service in Germany. She had trusted that her work would serve the battle against the power of Stalin. When she had reached Germany she was arrested, put up scantily in mass baracks and forced to do service in the ammunition factory with the worst of food-supply. There was no way to help either the captured soldiers, or the deceived and disappointed civil forces. The general surveillance and the menace of punishments deterred everybody.
Even worse than these encounters and experiences of complete helplessness was the following event. From the freight train, where I did my service, I observed a guard when the train made a stop. He was keeping a small group of Russians in custody, with a primed and loaded gun. A young Russian, apparently in a moment of uncontrollable weakness, leaned for a short moment on the tip of his spade. The guide saw it, had him approach, put his gun aside, made the Russian put his hands on the seams of his trousers and started hitting him hard, until he dropped and rolled down the railway embankment. I could not believe that this, which I had witnessed here with my own eyes, could be reality. It was, at any rate, more than I could cope with or more than I was ready to tolerate despite all danger. During the next working break, which we were allowed to take, I strolled, as if without intention, to the guard, a man of about 45 years and involved him, among other things, in a harmless discussion about his family, asking also whether he had children. He spoke frankly and enthusiastically about his relatives and readily and proudly showed me a picture of his 15 year-old son. When I held it in my hand I said with a low voice: 'I wished he could have watched you 15 minutes ago.' The guard got pale; with a voice that was trembling with anger it rattled out of him that he even did other things, he had done service in the concentration camp, there he even had to guard Catholic and Protestant clerics. Those he would also have brought down, every morning he made them appear for report and stand at attention along the wall of the room, then he 'hit them one in the gob' in a row, then they became 'very nice the whole day through', and he continued: 'And people like you we will also get down, if you continue to involve yourself in things which you do not understand and which are not your business.' For the rest of the day my thoughts turned in tiny little circles, I felt utterly helpless, could neither integrate this experience into my hitherto existing world, nor did I know what could have been done. This world would probably not be overcome with scout-like games. I felt dirty, in a way, was depressed and sad. - This immediate encounter with the rough brutality, the apparently real evil, which the human being seemed to be capable of, had made me brood for days and has been concerning me for a long time, actually a whole life long. I was 18 years old. So far I would have sworn that human beings could not be capable of absolute, personally committed and wanted cruelty. Now we became witnesses of injustice and cruelties which we were confronted with in complete helplessness. The more harmless part of our lives, childhood, adolescence and the protected school days, times which had not seemed to us to be so protected, would probably remain past forever, irretrievable years for which we unexpectedly soon would begin to long back.
It appears to be important to me to note that I never, be it after the event, be it at the time of the experience, wanted to or even could give the impression of myself having been an active, or even heroic, anti-Nazi. According to the heritage of our birth, the many influences of childhood and the whole education we just were unable to participate in violence and cruelty. They disgusted us, but it did not make any revolutionaries out of us. We had been saved from active cruelty without own merits. It is impossible for me to say how I would have behaved or proven myself if accidence or providence had brought me into a situation like the one of the sisters Scholl who had thrown copies of anti-Hitler pamphlets into the hall of the University of Munich and only because of a silly accidence were being watched by the caretaker. I have, at any rate, never been a hero, even if I, with trick and ruse, but also with caution, had tried again and again to strew sand into the clockwork of regional and super-regional history, without remotely being able to understand wider contexts. It was actually never more than the attempt of the child to be valiant against the power of the big ones as far as possible, without - at the end of the phase of adolescence - having the overview that would have been necessary in order to see the core of things. For a senior it is difficult to reconstruct and recall things...
Episode 2: Our train (I was a soldier on the way to the barracks) moved forward only very slowly. In the total darkness (due to the war) of the late evening it stopped on the remote side track of a Berlin station. We were in a state of sleepy carelessness, like in the nocturnal Garden of Eden. We were expelled from it suddenly and without warning. The unescapable hardness of the times confronted and shook us. On a side track, only three meters away from us, a freight train stopped immediately next to our waggon. On the lateral wall of the closed waggon, the huge sliding door of which was nailed with crossed planks, it read in white script: '8 horses or 40 people.' The planks were broke open by men in black uniforms, one of them yelled: 'kaput ones out!' Some bundles of cloth flew out of the widely opened door of the waggon. - What I was forced to witness went far beyond my hitherto existing capacity which had still been stamped by the protected life of the childhood. Only a couple of seconds later I realized that they were corpses which landed on the cold ballast of the railway ground. Laying in the luggage net above in the compartment I simultaneously noticed that my head was in the latitude of a small peep-hole in the freight waggon. And suddenly I noticed in the darkness of this peep-hole three or four faces looking at me with eyes deep and black in the sockets, in a despaired expressionlessness. It must have been Jews or other NS victims who surely knew that they were on the way 'into the gas' and who certainly assumed that we belonged to the armed enemies sending them into a violent death while being safe themselves. They could not know that I, in fact, at the moment of the encounter of our eyes did in a flash think about what one could do, but as quickly knew that one was completely powerless. Then our train jolted, we rode on. I can and will never forget those apathetic looks of deepest helplessness. The expulsion from the paradise of our childhood and youth had become horrible reality.
Of course I could integrate those terrible moments only very limitedly into my hitherto existing life, during this short moment. Only with time, long after our train had resumed its course, I realized what unbelievable roughness and inhumanity I accidentally had to witness, and it took another long time until I comprehended that the things, which we had occasionally heard of in our hometown only as highly indefinite rumors, had taken place as an unescapable manifestation of evil right in front of my eyes. All of it, especially the aspect of the fatefully unescapable, was gruesome; I guess I have never again experienced and sensed anything similarly bad like that and this moment has never left me anymore. The experience of total powerlessness in front of the unlimited evil was benumbing. There was nothing at all, really nothing at all, we could do against it. Where was this god who "endlessly gently holds this falling in his hands" (R.M.Rilke)?"
Mister Merschhemke also writes in his letter that he feels deeply connected to our cause to bring more humanity into a world that is coined by inhumanity. He is hoping that younger forces like us three would take the invisible flag of humanitas and carry it on. OK. That was a good contribution. I stretched my neck and looked through the train window into the dark evening. Merschhemke... What else might this man have gone through? What he writes and the way he writes it is not alien to me. A different generation, sure, but this could be considered, it did not change the meaning of what he said. Humanitas, that even is enough. There was nothing in these excerpts of his book which would have disturbed me. Well, maybe the repetitive references to "evil" and the inescapability of the events, but to measure the text against these details would mean using scales for weighing gold, as we say in German. It would not be adequate. This man made experiences which have never left him. Which are concerning him until today. I wish my granddad would have written like this, then we would have come closer to each other. He would have come closer to people in general.
Funny how close Mister Merschhemke suddenly had come, after reading his text. There had been slight aggressions due to political contexts, but here? What was he doing here other than what I am doing myself? Not to take the train. No, to write about the things that happen, the things one finds relevant, one wants to share, to convey, searching. To find the inner balance by reflected writing. And if we were even connected by humanitas, why then was not everything alright?
To explain this I could insert a poem by Erich Fried here. I could also mention that I get emails from Palestine/Israel every day and in them find reports on ferocities like the murder of civilians, custody of kin, destruction of private homes, brutalities at the checkpoints, theft of land via building of the wall, theft of olives, racist marriage laws and things I do not even dare to tell, because... The tone of despair and urgency, at any rate, is very similar to the one from the memories of Mister Merschhemke. When my father reads this above he also will think about Palestine, many people do that. Even Lapid from the Israeli government associated this way when he saw the image of his grandmother behind an old Palestinian woman who was in deep pain. This is not about a comparison with the heaviness of the Nazi dictatorship, but about regularities of feelings in victims of oppressive situations. When will the human right be valid for all human beings at last? Right because I feel obliged to humanism I cannot ignore this. I can hardly tolerate when others ignore it. And the mainstream does ignore it. This is the conflict in which I live. I must not be silent, but I also cannot really talk.