Fannia was the greatest Russian Gypsy artist I ever met.


This poor photo, taken without her knowledge at the darkly lit piano bar in the Eden saloon is all I have of her.

When I first started exhibiting at the Eden Saloon, there was one room with just a piano bar and nothing in it. People like myself and Jochen Ansorge, who showed me the room, went into that room to relax, talk and get away from the hubbub. When I asked what the room was used for, Jochen told me to wait. I would find out.

One night, when I stopped at the Eden Saloon on my way out, that room was full with an amazingly sophisticated group of people for the usual Eden Saloon week night and was filled with music like I had never heard before. Jochen Ansorge, who was sitting at the piano bar near the keyboard, made room and gestured for me to come sit next to him. At the keyboard was what looked like an old Yiddish grandma one wouldn't give a second look on the street. But as she played and sang, the whole room turned into one more overwhelming emotion after the other, taking us through heaven and hell and all the nuances in between, with the largest range of folk, gypsy, Russian, and Middle Eastern music I have ever experienced. It was sheer magic.

At her break, Jochen, whose father had been a close friend of Fannia's, introduced me and we became wonderful friends. Every time she was there, I always stopped in the piano bar and sat next to her, asking her to play whatever Russian or Gypsy folk song I was in the mood to hear. And she always enchanted. You just didn't know the Volga Boat Song, for example, until you heard her sing it.

Ralph Eden, the owner of the Eden Saloon, who was as strict as they came with his business, melted whenever Fannia was around. Fannia never ever kept set schedules. She came and went as she pleased and often left Berlin for long periods of time without warning, only to reappear just as suddenly. She was a true gypsy in every way. But she was the best. So Ralph outfitted the piano bar expressly for her and for nothing else. A whole room in his establishment often with nothing going on. But whenever Fannia appeared, everyone had orders to treat her like royalty and make sure nothing was done to irritate her or make her leave.

The piano bar was lit solely by a few candles and nothing else. And Fannia came and went without letting anyone know where she went, avoiding any kind of public display. So I had no idea where to find her for photographs, and knew deep down that she wouldn't have wanted them anyway. This photo, which is among a few others that are too poorly lit to use, is all I have of her. It was the only time I did anything other than simply listen to her and wonder. And as technically poor as it is, it is one of my most precious treasures.  Because this sole photo does actually capture Fannia exactly as she was, expressively.


© 2006 Mark B. Anstendig

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