My brother and I recently took a trip to Leipzig, Germany, the city in which our mother was born, back in 1935. You can read here about the challenges presented by her dual/mixed heritage (Jewish father, Catholic mother in 1930’s pre-Holocaust Germany), and the important role she carved for herself in later years, before her death last May.
We’d always intended to make a trip at some point, but the opportunity came sooner than we expected, with an invitation from Edition Peters (the music publishing company, and our erstwhile family business), who were about to celebrate the 150th anniversary of their renowned Green Series. We were asked if we’d like to attend some of the week-long series of events, in which our mother would most certainly have actively participated.
My heritage might be immersed in the world of classical music (not only were my grandfather and great-grandfather proprietors of one of the world’s foremost classical musical publishers, and friends of Edvard Grieg and other composers, but my father sung for years in the New Philharmonia Chorus), but I’m more of a generalist when it comes to music. My tastes run from Abba to Zucchero, via classical, jazz, soft rock, ambient electronica, R&B and whole lot more. Nevertheless, it was a privilege to share in these celebrations. We enjoyed a violin and piano concert in the Mendelssohn Haus (onetime home of composer Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy), and attended an impressive Reception (including, of course, another delightful concert – this time, piano and voice).
There, we were introduced to Burkard Jung, Mayor of the City of Leipzig, who had written heartfelt and warmly appreciated letters to our mother when she fell ill. We met many more of our mother’s Leipzig friends – their close relationships formed over the 25 years during which our mother laboured unceasingly to re-establish her family’s name in the city’s cultural heritage, and through her talks, educate students on the Holocaust through her family’s traumatic story. We watched the 20-minute film created by Edition Peters, to mark the 150th anniversary of the Grüne Reihe, and were immensely touched to see in its final shot, a photograph of our mother, and a commemoration of her life and contribution. It would have meant so much to her.
We went to the Edition Peters offices, met all the staff, and had the opportunity to present a treasured book to them, which we had found in our mother’s effects. This book, a one-off, hand-typed, beautifully bound tome, chronicled the history of the company from 1800 to the 1930’s, and had been given to our grandfather as eldest son. He brought it with him when he emigrated to England from Germany in 1937, thus escaping the fate which befell so many of his immediate and extended family. It seemed more than appropriate that, with the company’s headquarters restored to Leipzig in recent years, and our great-grandfather’s name re-established alongside all of his many social and cultural endeavours, we should return this extraordinary ‘Chronik’ to its origin.
In our private time, my brother and I soaked up the modern-day city, with its traditional and its supremely modern architecture sitting side-by-side.
We visited the family’s memorial stone at the Südfriedhof Cemetery – the stone which came into being as a result of our mother’s work.
It stands right by the central avenue.
We found the 4 Stolpersteine outside Talstraße 10 (the family’s original home and location of the business, now once again home to the business) – yes, you guessed it, those cobbles were there for us to stumble upon as a result of our mother’s mission.
We stood in what was once the family apartment in the same building, in the room restored to its original formal state and now housing an exhibition to honour Edvard Grieg.
On the afternoon when the weight of emotional tension twisted my gut and forced me to rest, my brother took a long walk across the city and found Hinrichsenstraße, the street renamed after our great-grandfather – yet another of the many projects brought about due to our mother’s tireless campaigning.
The one thing we didn’t manage to do was visit the Musikinstrument Museum, where our mother had unveiled a bust to her grandfather back in 2012. Turns out that whereas everywhere in Leipzig still closes on a Sunday, the Musikinstrument Museum is just about the only place that opens on a Sunday… but stands closed to visitors on Mondays.
It was an extraordinary three days; reflective, and very heartwarming indeed. We met friends everywhere; we were hosted to a wonderful ‘traditional dinner’ by a group of our mother’s friends who had entertained her in the same way every time she visited for 20 years. We learned how much she was respected – and loved – by those with whom she connected in the city of her birth. We felt very proud – and just a little inadequate too, truth be told.
For both of us, the trip to Leipzig was far more than a tick-in-the-box, a part of the process of saying goodbye to our mother. It gave us valuable time and a place for reflection – together; it affirmed to us everything that our mother held so dear about family and her heritage – our heritage; it opened a window into her second home (I strongly suspect she felt more at home there in Leipzig than she did in London) and the close ties she enjoyed with friends and associates. And it has enabled us to push forward with what remains of the sorting-out of her life, with renewed love and understanding.
Now, it’s onward to 2018, and my sincerest hope that I can begin to re-establish my own life again, after this troubled and very sad year.