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Berlin was a city of survivors. Most had been through anything God could have thrown at them and, miraculously, retained their humanity through it all.
I am Jewish. And even today, people still ask me how I could have gone to post-war Germany and lived there? Well, the answer, besides the catalyst that I was awarded a special "Thank You" Grant (Dankstipendium) offered to The Juilliard School of Music and I was, therefore, paid to go, really boils down to the reply that I didn't! Berlin of the late 50's and 60's was something quite different from Germany or any other place of that time period. It was an international city, cut off from the rest of the world and surviving on a shoestring......at least the people were: the governments fed fortunes into the City to keep it artificially alive and viable economically, since it was the only place in the world where all cultures, East and West, capitalist and communist, were accessible to all, side by side for all to compare. The East and the West vied with each other to make the greatest impression culturally, architecturally and otherwise.
From all this city has been and was going through, it was a populace of wonderful, colorful icons, warmth and collegiality. And Frau Hoffmann was the quintessential Berliner icon.
The most famous gay bar in the world at that time, was the Kleist Kasino in Berlin. It simply was the best dancing bar in Germany and a hangout for everyone, not just gays.
Norbert Binder, the rather young owner of the Kleist Kasino, wanted to open another, more personal, quiet gay bar, further up the Kurfurstendamm. After a lot of searching and planning, he opened the bar, calling it simply "Norbert's". While the bar was being decorated, Norbert approached me to do a permanent photo exhibit in it, any way I wanted, giving me full artistic choice of the photos and where they hung, like I had at the Eden Saloon. He also offered a sweet enough deal to make me do it, so I started planning the exhibit.
When I came to the bar at the private pre-openings to decide where to hang my photos, I met Frau Hoffmann, who was the main waitress. Hostess, icon, and anything else anyone needed at Norbert's. Norbert introduced us and asked me to do a portrait sitting of her and hang one of her photos in the bar.
Well, I took one look at that face, and she was at my studio the next day.
Frau Hoffmann was a wonder. Everyone adored her. She was simple, but elegant and grand. She was uncomplicated, but warm and human and sympathetic for everyone and everyone's troubles. And yet she was
detached and slightly aloof, without the slightest loss of humanity. She was the true description of a "Berlinerin". Norbert's was not my sort of nightly spot. I preferred the dancing and the excitement of the Eden Saloon and the Kleist Kasino. But I usually stopped in on my way out or back to see my photos and, later on, just to say hello to Frau Hoffmann. Seeing her always raised my spirits, and all she needed to do was sit or stand there and let one pay attention to her. She did little in return except seem slightly enigmatic. But one always left feeling life had brightened considerably.
©2006 Mark B. Anstendig. All rights reserved.
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