Daniel Kehlmann delivered the speech published here on 9 September for the opening of the International
in Linz. He had been asked by the organizers about
to refer to the topic "tradition". He took this occasion, also about the fate of his
to speak in the "Third Reich" in Linz
not far away camp Maria Lanzendorf, a satellite camp of the concentration camp
Mauthausen, had been imprisoned and, unlike most of his family,
What is tradition? The terrible 20th century, the "Age of
Wolves, "as Ossip Mandelstam called it, before he fell victim to himself, has us
taught to add culture almost reflexively also the barbarism. Sometimes arises
This confrontation is again a kind of folklore. It is now 18 years ago. On
Friend of mine had received a gift card, we were curious, and so we went to
Mauthausen. Some of those present may still remember: a group
well-meaning people – I use the word without ironic connotation, because they meant
in fact, well, and that's not all – a group of well-meaning people had
decided to hold a memorial concert in the camp Mauthausen. The Vienna Philharmonic
should play, and indeed – because where the horror had been greatest, one also wanted, the
Holding Libra in balance, reaching for the highest cultural heritage – Beethoven
We came out of Vienna by car, stopped in one of the designated parking lots, and were guided by the folders that warned the audience to carefully climb the stairs into the quarry. And there we were. Far away from the stage, where after some speeches the Vienna Philharmonic began to play. They played as well as the Vienna Philharmonic did, very, very well, and Beethoven's music was as splendid as Beethoven's music is; and meanwhile it was getting dark-a cloudless spring sunset was theatrical. Highly efficient loudspeakers provided first-class sound, and as the company that had provided the electrical equipment seemed to be offering their full range of services, there was also a color-matched lighting of the quarry wall: from dark red to violet to blue to turquoise; that's what it was like at open-air concerts, and apparently no-one had given instructions to keep it different in this case.
Most intriguing, though, were the birds. I'd never heard a classical symphony performed in the open air, so I was not prepared in any way for the songbirds in the silence between the sentences to repeat motifs that we had just heard – an answer to spring, nature, of the swelling life on Beethoven's art.
It was adorable. But, of course, they did not really know if they had the right to do that – whether, on the whole, they were charmed at all. And there was something else. Of course, where so many people are together, you need a security service. I do not remember if the guards used belonged to a private company or if they were policemen, but I remember that they served the infrastructure that was suitably available for this purpose.
Do you understand what I mean? I mean, they were standing on the watchtowers. So while it was getting dark, while Beethoven's choirs cheered and climbed into the night and the wall of the quarry shone in changing colors, you could see the silhouettes of motionless men in the towers above in shadowy … well, just in Guardian Pose signed off.
When the symphony came to an end, it was night. The guards up there were no longer visible. I felt uplifted and happy. Beethoven
played by one of the best orchestras, has this effect. At the same time, of course, I knew that was not intended; I should not feel uplifted, not happy, but … yes, how so? I could see that it was similar to the bystanders. One was confused. Even more confused, however, one was then uplifted and happy. There was nothing to be done about that, because it was Beethoven's
there is no other way. And so the last chords sounded, and then there was silence – maybe, I do not remember, at the beginning they had been explicitly asked not to applaud. And just in this euphoric as well as unsettling and now already for a bit too long expanding moment of silence, one of the most famous actresses of the country stepped on the stage and said in a sharp voice in a microphone: "Never forget!" Then, for some reason, she repeated in English:
And went off again.
It took us all a while to realize that it was over. Nothing would come anymore. The memorial service was over. If you stood on tiptoe, you could see that the Philharmonic had already left the place. And so we went too.
Anyway, we tried. But it was not that easy. Anyone who has ever visited an open-air concert as one of thousands will know this situation: you will not get out right away. It takes so much to dissipate. In this case, however, it took longer than usual. Significantly longer. Fifteen minutes passed, twenty, thirty. And it was already forty-five, and we were still in the same place, and the crowd around us had barely become less dense.
Gradually I got angry. Memory or not, we all got angry. This too is difficult to suppress, it is a reaction that comes as reliably as the majesty of "joy, beautiful divine spark" – when it's late and you want to go home and everything goes too slow, then you get annoyed. "Why is that so stupidly organized?" I thought – or maybe, stupidly, I even said it aloud: "Why do not you come here?"
Yes, and then I realized why you did not get away.