Kings We Are, with Wings of Dust (5)
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 5: Oldenburg, RBB, Cologne
Content: Oldenburg - Ellen Rohlfs' Texts - A Short Break - Radio Meeting in Berlin - Cologne, Wallraf Richartz Museum
(May 18, 2004) The performance in Oldenburg was a little combersome. We did a couple of times experience on tour that it is not easy to activate people. But this time there was hardly any advertisement. The biggest part of the posters we saw on a pile, they had not been used. Also at the main entrance of the concert hall in Oldenburg there was none, only a single poster was attached lonely in the hall. The organizer, the Jewish community there, said that the city would not allow them to stick posters at the main entrance. The respective people, however, would know about the concert and would find it. This surprised me. I could not imagine that the city of Oldenburg would not have supported Shalom-Salam if it had known about it. We could not adequately have our table with books and CDs placed, either, because the organizers had a sales table themselves, with a - quite nice - two-dimensional harlekin figure out of painted metal which also had to do with Givat Haviva and which was sold to its benefit. The situation was accordingly not completely relaxed and we artists reminded each other of the fact that we have come for the audience and that the audience had nothing to do with these irritations. And there were indeed people attending and they listened to us, too.
We had arrived in the city early. I went for a stroll. Gabriella and Ithay always liked to have about an hour for checking the instruments and the acoustics and to warm up the fingers. I normally was prepared more quickly: I used to test the microphone, put the texts for the reading down at the desk and went through the final song one time with Ithay, that was quickly done. Thus I enjoyed the afternoon sun. It was a beautiful day. Oldenburg does have something nice about it. I only knew it vaguely, because at the university there there are a couple of progressive scientists, as I remembered darkly. There was an Oldenburg Series or something like that, I forgot. A city in between the rivers Ems and Weser with a population of about 160.000 inhabitants. I think we have all in all only appeared in really old cities - very charming -, because Oldenburg, too, has a superlong tradition which reaches back to the year 1108.
Shortly before the show the usual scene in the dressing room: Gabriella and me walking up and down the room, Ithay liberating himself by playing some extra squeeky sounds on the cello. We talked little. Suddenly a knock on the door. At first we thought that we are called to the performance, but two people stood before me who I did not know: a friendly looking lady, who unintentionally reminded me of the detective Miss Marple, and a young Arab in her company. She introduced herself as Ellen Rohlfs. I see!! I knew her from the internet, was glad to see her. Ellen Rohlfs regularly translates the texts of Uri Avnery into German and she has also for many years been writing herself, both journalistically and literary. Often she had been to Palestine and Israel.
We talked a little outside where I could smoke. She lived not far away and came to visit our concert reading. It was a pity that her escort had to leave early, otherwise he could have joined us when we went to the restaurant after the performance. We chose a Greek restaurant, the four of us, the Duo Rubin and us two. It was a pleasant evening. Of course we talked politics, but not only. It was also about travels, memories and music. Ellen Rohlfs had visited Givat Haviva in Israel already. I liked it a lot that we could be together in this constellation. It did become clear that not everybody at the table had the same views about everything, but with a shared humanism one can have a good time together in a Greek restaurant.
Ellen Rohlfs' Texte
Next to numerous articles, translations and poems there are two books which Ellen Rohlfs wrote and compiled (in German),
"The Children of Bethlehem. Documentation" (with Muna Hamzeh-Muhaisen, 2000) and: "Say Mother, what does Peace Look Like?
Reflective and Questionable Issues of the Israel Palestine Conflict" (Dura Publishing House 1993). Both are compilations. In the first book you can find many Palestinian voices. They talk about memories and everyday life. "What does Peace Look Like?" is made of texts concerning Palestinian history and present, both by Ellen Rohlfs and from sources she collected. "What does Peace Look Like?" is especially important to her. On the internet you can find a lot about her. A recent poem of Ellen Rohlfs' is dedicated to Daniel Barenboim:
GIVE them Violins!
Do not take away from them the bread and the water!
The land, the olive trees, streets, houses, schools and places of work!
Do not take away from them dignity, freedom, hope and the courage to live,
But take away the checkpoints and road-blocks
The sharp tone of orders, the humiliating movement,
the under-cover squads, the collaborators,
the prison camps with their torturers,
the tanks, snipers, helicopters, bulldozers,
the tear gas, the noise of the engines,
the monster which the apartheid wall is.
Take all this away! and
Stop the arresting, destroying, injuring, the targeted killing!
Otherwise they take not only stones into their hands, but Kalashnikows
They smuggle weapons and construct missiles,
hide mines on the side of the road -
Yes, they will wear explosive belts around their bodies ....
- Do they have anything left to lose
- Except the fear of death?
and so they pull innoscents into their own ones.
Who are they? Terrorists, freedom fighters?
Who sows wind - will harvest storm.
Who sows violence will be confronted with terror.
So: Give them violins, trumpets, celli and drums into their hands -
Dignity and respect of the other
will make them catch enthusiasm
give them love, understanding
and true meaning for a life in rewarding future.
Thus Ramzi the stone thrower became - Ramzi the violinist.
Samir the Intifada boy became - Samir the architect.
Majid the frustrated became - Majid the doctor.
Nazmi the beaten became - Nazmi the archaeologist.
Mahmud the robbed became - Mahmud the poet.
Sliman the humiliated became - Sliman the painter.
Noah the traumatized became --- Noah the fighter for peace.
Ahmed the tortured - will hopefully become just a normal family dad.
Yes, give them violins into their hands, the brush, the book or a tool,
Give back human dignity, hope and a goal for the eyes.
And of course the bread and the water,
The house, the land with its crops,
Give back pride to the individual and the families,
Freedom and security in the own country!
Give them violins into the hands! - then they will prove
their genes* are not different from the ones of normal people.
They will live in peace with themselves and their Jewish neighbors.
After Martin Buber, Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Yehudi Menuhin
It would never have been different.
But now the spirit of reconciliation and forgiving is to grow.
So give them violins into the hands and hope into the hearts!
(* An Israeli general claimed in 2003 that the Palestinians have genes of violence and therefore would be terrorists.)
The assessment of Ellen Rohlfs in the Jewish Israeli public is probably similar to the assessment of Uri Avnery who wrote the preface of "What does Peace Look Like?" This man is a phenomenon. It is true that he has sharp critics, but his deeds have brought him respect on all sides. Recently he became 80 and he still is active like a young man, this is absolutely remarkable. He could withdraw, lean back a little without so much stress, but this man is breaking all records. Not in all points I agree with him, he favors two states, I don't believe in the two-states solution, he is a Zionist, I don't believe in Zionism, but I like his mentality and also most of the things he writes. His vision is the reconciliation of the children of Abraham. In this point we completely agree. I even say: Judaism, Christianity and Islam are basically the same thing. It is the same thing.
Later on I asked someone from the (so-called) left Israeli spectrum after Ellen Rohlfs. Yes, she would be known, he said. Yet she would sometimes write a bit too emotional. This thing about emotionality is remarkable, because it is about the question whether or not feelings have a place in public life. Objectivity is often demanded. Not always without a right, not always by right. In the end, the whole catalogue of the human rights is about feelings. This, in any case, is how one can see it. I think it is important to not lose the ground contact, to not become abstract. This is a danger I see in the "objectivity" of war. The counter-danger is that the emotionality of journalistic texts may associate the support for specific groups, even if in reality it might be about the support of the human rights. Of Ellen Rohlfs, at any rate, I had the best memories in Oldenburg, also objectively.
A Short Break
(Wednesday, May 19, 2004) Eight performances were now behind us. Actually nine, if one took the last rehearsal in the Jewish High School into account. For two weeks we had been on the road together. When I woke up in the hotel the next morning or noon I was rather groggy. We said goodbye now for the time being, the Duo Rubin and I. They went back to Berlin, we had five days off until the performance in Cologne. Yet first we had to get back home, and moreover we had a radio interview at the Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg (RBB) on the Cologne day at noon. So the free time melted to three days only. At the breakfast buffet I was the last one, subsequently I made my way to the station nearby. The guitar I had left with the Duo Rubin. It is not too far from Oldenburg to Kiel, sometime at noon I finally fell into my bed at home and wanted to sleep for four weeks.
But I didn't. In my mind I recalled all the things which happened and I took out Sophia's book again, "I have come as a Human", which by now I had almost finished reading. The whole time through I had carried it in my rucksack. We traveled parallel and on different time levels. While I was touring Germany in 2004 with the Duo Rubin, at the periphery of the Middle East conflict, she in the year 2002 traveled through Palestine and Israel together with her daughter Julia, in the center of the conflict. Last year Julia sat next to me at a conference in Berlin. She had two dogs with her which were as big as elephants. I had to pay attention when she turned her head, because she wore a mighty feather in her hair. There is an article of hers in the book of her mother. In it she reports about an adventurous journey in a Palestinian ambulance car.
I could almost feel the mud under the feet of the peace activists who were rallying through the occupied Ramallah, close to each other, approaching the soldiers and tanks. I imagined the faces like in a film, saw them in their quarters, standing on a chair and talking into a mobile phone, in complicated positions - because of the phone connexion. These people were not against Israel, on the contrary. If there was anybody working for the security of the real Israel, then it was them. The advocates of the human rights. Rachel Corrie died for it. A tank rolled over her and killed her when she was demonstrating against violence. Later I read a letter of her parents who had come to Israel from the USA to trace Rachel's last experiences. Their letter had deeply touched me. It was completely without any feelings of hatred or revenge, it was compassionate and constructive. I admired Rachel Corrie's parents.
Sophia Deeg also is a progressive and courageous woman to me and I take an example from her. She does not escape the conflict, but she does her best to support the global network for an equal peace between all people. This is an attitude she also showed in her TV appearance at Alfred Biolek's, the famous German talkshow host. I was looking forward to meeting her in October during the Frankfurt book fair.
But first the tour had to be finished. Cologne and Berlin were still ahead of us. Both events in a bigger framework. I was especially curious about Berlin, the finale. How would it be in the DaimlerChrysler building? I had already heard from the Duo Rubin that DC would make a big effort. For me it was the first time to participate in such a sponsored performance.
Radio Meeting in Berlin
(May 23, 2004) In the building of the Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg we met Dagmar Schmidt again, the legislator, as well as the journalist Gesine Strempel. We sat around a round table, in a small recording room. The discussion was broadcast a few hours later. Barbara Fuchs, an acquaintance from Attac circles, who is also doing public work, later wrote to me that she heard it on the radio. We had hardly talked about it before, the Duo Rubin and me, we just spoke about the central message for a moment. We already knew each other and were able to assess what would happen. There has to be space left for spontaneity, too. With Dagmar Schmidt we did not talk at all before the interview, all this actually did not pose a problem. I emphasize this, because it is not a matter of course. Here is the wording of the conversation in English translation:
Link to Rundfunk Berlin Brandenburg:
Conversation with the Duo Rubin, Anis and Dagmar Schmidt about the Benefice Tour "Shalom-Salam" for the benefit of Givat Haviva Program: "Zeitpunkte" on May 23, 2004, 05.05-06.00 p.m. Editor: Birgit Ludwig, Host: Gesine Strempel, Technician: Annette Kruschke
After the recording the four of us stood in front of the radio building, as long as Dagmar Schmidt was waiting for her taxi. In thoughts I still was with the introduction by Gesine Strempel. "Day by day new terrifying news about worldwide violence, day by day news from the conflict between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, and again and again new suicide and killing assaults in Israel. The confrontations between Israeli soldiers and armed Palestinians have been escalating in the last days in the Gaza Strip." Was it so? What about the confrontations between Israeli soldiers and the Palestinian civil population? What about the settlers? About the things Sophia Deeg, for example, reports in her book. Also, as far as I could recall there had currently not been any suicide or killing attacks from the Palestinian side, although the Israeli policy, for instance in Gaza, had been utterly violent.
I did not mention that in the interview, it would have led to principal discussions which were beyond the framework of such a cultural program. There would not have been a constructive effect to it. Maybe at the end, when Gesine asked again. She did want to hear our opinions. But I didn't feel up to it rhetorically, either, on that day. What surprised me in a positive way was the fact that Gesine Strempel really listened, also listened to me, with an attention that was not superficial.
In the car to Cologne I suddenly laughed and tapped on my forehead. The wings of dust! I told Gabriella and Ithay that in the book "Loving Jay" there is an interview with the poet, in which he is asked about the motivation of his writing. His answer is: "Because I have to. The point is to fix the truth of the moment. The things that go unnoticed in the news. 'Kings we are, with wings of dust', for example, has not yet been broadcast in the news." So now I had almost made it: "Kings we are, with wings of dust" was broadcast on the radio.
Cologne, Wallraf Richartz Museum
(May 23, 2004) Somebody said to me after the performance in Cologne that I allegedly said "Richard Wagner Museum" on stage instead of "Wallraf Richartz Museum". I didn't think I did, but of course something like this can happen in a live situation. Normally I only forgot the first name of the composer Hemsi and then looked at Ithay in a questioning way. - But that it had to be Wagner... whereas I like his music, it is big. The Wallraf Richartz Museum, which is situated near the Dome of Cologne, is an architecturally remarkable building in which mainly historic paintings and graphics are exhibited. But it also is a place for performances, and we played in the Stifter Hall. I am really grateful for having appeared on stage in so many beautiful places.
Again we had visitors. The chef for peace Jalil Schwarz had come and served Arabian coffee in the break. He originally is from the city of Ramle near Yafa and has already collected many donations for diverse projects. For his engagement in the mutual understanding he received the Bundesverdienstkreuz, the highest honor in Germany. He is living nearby, in Cologne Ehrenfeld, and Michael Krebs had invited him which we found very fitting. At www.friedenskoch.de you can learn more about Jalil Schwarz and his work.
The hall was simple, but with style. It had a high ceiling and wooden grid patterns on the walls. I associated it with Zen and with Japan. Exactly my style. From out of the panorama window behind the stage one had an overwhelming sight on old masonry which was shining like in a fairytale when the sunlight fell on it from the right angle. Too bad that I cannot describe optical sensations so well, for concerning the architecture this was the place I liked best. The clear forms, the clear materials, the exquisite black stairs. Not snobby, but noble. We had a room near the entrance at our disposal, on the first floor, where we could dress. Through a long slot window I looked down into the entrance hall where the visitors were now strolling in the direction of the hall. The Duo Rubin was not there yet, they were bringing the car into the parking house. I dressed and made my way to the hall, because I wanted to say hello to the chef for peace who was standing behind his table with some friends.
In passing by I smelled tobacco and noticed a couple of young people, assistants from the museum, in official clothing in a semi-open room in the middle of which there was a working desk with a counter, and around it they were standing and chatting. I asked if I could smoke one here. Sure. I sat down without following the conversation, just took the scene into my mind. It was a Jaques Tati atmosphere. This ingenious French filmmaker with the shining corridors and the long takes.
It is not usual for an artist to enter the hall before the appearance. It is a funny feeling, because you don't really know where to look and how to look. But anyway. Already in the antichambre I met an Arab journalist from the Deutsche Welle who said hello to me. We talked a little. He apologized that he did not know me before. I had to laugh. Yes, he said, he had accidentally met my mother on the dome square, right now, and she told him about me. Mom! This was funny. I, too, had just arrived from the dome square, had to pull myself a burger before the appearance, but I did not see her there. My Mom came with her Syrian friend Nahla and she was attending for the second time.
In the hall I met another Arab journalist from the Deutsche Welle, who had come with his son, and we introduced ourselves. Michael Krebs was in thoughts and went from one side of the hall to the other. There were blue yellow paintings by Bernd Schwarzer standing in front of the stage. He has still remained lively in my memory since our meeting in Düsseldorf. The eccentric ingenious painter himself was not attending this time. Michael had successfully made an effort to mobilize people in his hometown Cologne, the hall was well filled. In Cologne, too, we had had a press meeting before, and it had even been pleasantly relaxing.
We heard speeches by the mayor Renate Canisius and secretary (Staatssekretär) Hartmut Krebs who conveyed greetings of the prime minister of Northrhine Westfalia, Peer Steinbrück, and reported from his recent Israel journey in which he participated. I listened to this with the ears of an intelligence service, because I had read what Mister Steinbrück had said during his stay in Israel and I did not like it. He had conjured up an allround Israel solidarity, something which did not seem adequate to me in times of helicopter assaults and routine disregard of the human rights and of international law. It sounded similar to the conservative leader Angela Merkel and her "In doubt pro Israel". I ask myself: in what doubt? In doubt between Israel and human right? And which Israel? The real one or the abstract one, the glorified one?
But what secretary Krebs said was constructive. He made an alert impression in general and seemed to be an interesting individual. If just this conflict would not lead to distrust and disharmony so easily! When after the break the mayor had also spoken and it was my turn to continue with poetry I did not say anything about it. Also, the speech of the secretary did not give me any reason to open the conflict. So I rather said in front of the audience that we artists really sensed this attention from the politicians and appreciated it, because it is not an every day event that politicians can be mobilized with this subject matter. This was taken with an applause. No political discussions here. It is necessary to talk about it. Somewhere else.
When later I received a nice word from this man concerning my poetry I was touched. This meant something to me. The whole performance was pleasant. Afterwards we went with a couple of people into an very old restaurant around the corner which was called Sion. The seats were excellent, but the dishes were not so good. But the Cologne press after the event was.