Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Lord of Barmbeck

I got Johannes Brahms in the earbuds. 

I am listening to Ein Deutsches Requiem in honor of the passing of another famous son of Brahms’ own Hansa City Hamburg, former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who died at his home there yesterday.

Schmidt, who graduated from the University of Hamburg, where I studied in 1975, will be laid to rest at his family grave in Ohlsdorf Friedhof, a sprawling cemetery in a northern burb of that great city, steps from the college dorm where I lived for one semester, and where the little girls would periodically accost strangers on the sidewalks in front of those great cemetery gates shaking tin coffers and requesting donations for the upkeep of soldiers’ graves therein. 

Each side has its veterans. As a young man, it struck me as grotesque that such cute, innocent blonde children should be begging in the name of dead Nazis. I was a Germanophile who harbored a deep hatred of nazism. I had no qualms in refusing to donate, even waxing chauvinistic. 

Of course, Schmidt fought in WWII on the side of the Nazis. Late in life he minced no words, describing the war as shit – Scheisse – conceding only that the experience taught one not to panic.

Schmidt turned to Social Democracy postwar and came to West German national prominence when, as a senator in the Hamburg government, he coped efficiently with the disastrous flooding of that Elbe River city-state 1962.

Schmidt led West Germany during much of the era when I lived  in Europe. Generously, he used to tutor our President Ford in economics. 

In the 1980s, Schmidt joined Die Zeit as a co-publisher, the great weekly intellectual newspaper published in Hamburg. For a brief moment in the mid-80s – a cup of coffee, in MLB terms – I struggled to contribute journalism to that publication. It made me exceedingly proud to have even the most tenuous common cause with Schmidt.

I may just light up a cigarette in honor of Helmut Schmidt today. Hummel Hummel!

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