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The Clemens Story in Garmisch, Germany

May I tell you a story ?

Thank you.  I'd like to share something that occurred to me some time ago, and which left such a significant signature.

It was some years ago, during one of my earlier trips to Bavaria in southern Germany to plan and develop one of our concert tours.  In Garmisch, I met with Clemens, the son in the family Boehmer which over these many years has provided so many wonderful introductions and opportunities, and which family has afforded me personally such warmth and sincerity.  He was advising me as to potential venues and making his suggestions.  I enjoyed these times with Clemens; he had begun to call me his "American uncle". As a sensible, intelligent, worldly, young European he was comfortable, even quite warm, with me, and I with him.  So --"American uncle".  Well, I was quite proud of that, and proud of him - my "German nephew".

On this occasion he had prepared a short list of venues that he thought I should see and consider. Then he said that I would have to see them alone, as he had to spend some time with his part-time job. He told me of a particular church up on the side of one of the staggering mountains that ring Garmisch-Partenkirchen.  He knew me not to be a hiker, but assured me that even I could handle it. After all, he said, even upwards on the mountain, it was still within the town and there were streets and walkways ascending.  I trusted, even knowing that he and his family routinely trekked high, very high, up in the Alps.

But only after some huffing and puffing did I arrive at a most attractive, small church tucked precariously into the side of the "Wank", the northern-most high-ringed border of the town.  I already realized the venue would not be suitable for a musical performance.  I mean, how could we get our coaches and equipment trucks there?  And, it was also clear at first glance that the chapel would likely be too small for a performance.  But Clemens was right, the setting was one of peaceful majesty. So, I entered.

The small chapel was lovely indeed, and still – quite still.  I was alone in the setting. And, I lingered.

When finally I moved to leave, I realized that I had actually entered through the rear door, up at the front at the altar.  I proceeded onward to the front entrance.  Moving through the small vestibule I was intrigued.  On each of the side walls of the little vestibule where rows of small flower/petal holders, under tarnished nameplates, under aging photos.  Neat rows of little pictorial "shrines"... remembrances.  It was still. The only light came in small streams through the decorative windows. Sweetly spectral.

As I moved to see closer, I saw:  all men; all young men (Clemens' “cousins”);  all in uniform;  the same uniform.  (You may well be ahead of me here.)  A strong sweep of feeling rushed over me. These were Nazis.  "How could that be?  Nazis, here?  In my Garmisch --- my picturesque and loved Garmisch?"  After the strong sweep, then reason:  "Of course, it could be Nazis."  "Had Garmisch ever had Nazis?  Probably!"

It happened slowly. As I moved from photo to photo.... seeing the same beautiful blue eyes, face after face, seeing the same blue eyes that I had just seen in the village down below just a short while earlier (for, Clemens himself has the most crystal blue eyes I've ever seen).  It happened slowly.

I came to think:  If I am Clemens' "American uncle", then Hermann (his dad) is my "German brother".  Now, I had two "real" uncles who fought in the war.  Although I never heard them speak of the war, it just has to be the case that they killed Germans.  Well, one was a fighter pilot and one was a bombardier.  So, they most assuredly killed.  Did Hermann have uncles in the war?  I know he has/had uncles, but I do not know if they were in the war.  However, not just possible, but likely, it would seem. 

It slowly flowed over me that my uncles could have killed Hemann's uncles, theoretically.

I then had one of the most powerful and clarion feelings that I've ever experienced.  At that moment I felt I had a plenary understanding of peoples and societies.  I knew right from wrong.  And the thought of my ever doing harm to my "German family" was unimaginable, and understanding why someone else would do them (and their family) harm was unthinkable.

I knew I wanted to tell Clemens and Hermann of this.  But years passed before I did.

Years later on a more recent trip we were to have dinner in Munich one evening.  Clemens had been on the road with me negotiating with one of the Bavarian Music Academies for booking some space for future use.  We returned to Munich and met-up with Hermann and Margot (mom).  As we were finishing dinner, I felt the time was right.  I told them this story.  And, I told them that having no brother or nephew, I was quite pleased that they thought of me that way, and I them.  Both Hermann and Clemens had small tear lines down their cheeks. 

We left the restaurant and I said goodbye to Hermann and Margot as they climbed onto their bicycle (!!) and rolled off toward a distant car park where they had left their car.  A bicycle !  (Those delightfully odd Europeans!) 

Clemens and I were left standing to say goodbye in Karlsplatz.  He held me tight and hard and asked me to promise that I would always return to Germany.  I wept and walked away.


I am very simple. And, I am very naive. I have tried to understand, but I have yet to. Why do people imagine it to be OK to strongly dislike someone who is very different? And, to do harm to people that are very different?  It is said that we are all basically the same, the same DNA. So, humans are basically the same, react the same, feel the same. Why then, do humans let inanimate things (like businesses, institutions, governments) direct human experience?  For me, it seems that the more different someone is, the more my interest is piqued for therein lies the great reward. 

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