Obituary for Helmut Link: “A dream! a frenzy”

Obituary for Helmut Link: “A dream! a frenzy”
Obituary for Helmut Link: “A dream! a frenzy”

His friend Uli called, every year on October 18th. He then competed with Helmut for who could still speak Russian the most. On October 18, 1949, the two were released from Russian captivity. Really this time. A year earlier it was said that they could go home. Then came the Berlin blockade and the airlift, the prisoners of war were pawns in world politics and had to stay.

POW camp 7251/11 in Novocherkask, near the Sea of ​​Azov. The winters were so cold that they walled up the windows of their barracks from October. In April, they let fresh air in again. They built roads and houses, cut down trees, toiled in an industrial plant, often side by side with Russian workers. Helmut drew technical blueprints. But he was allowed to sit inside at the desk. He could do that, he had told the Russian officer, had even been trained in it. Which wasn’t true. It wasn’t noticed.

Some of the comrades took their own lives, others died of exhaustion and still others because they had given up. But Helmut had his music. He let them sound in his head and put them on paper. He led the men’s choir of the camp, every few months they performed, singing “Listen, what’s coming in from outside”, “A nightingale is singing”, “How well am I in the evening”. Or they recited Goethe. Helmut wrote notes and verses from memory. Each piece had to be approved by the propaganda officer.

His first musical memory: him at the feet of his sister, who was playing Schubert’s cheerful countryman on the piano. A teacher founded a school choir, Helmut sang first soprano, then alto and finally tenor. At 13 he composed his first song, “Three fishers”. The whole class sang it. The teacher got Helmut free tickets to the opera and concerts.

At the first traffic light in Germany

My own bike, a gift from my parents, “It was a dream for me! A rush.” He went on tours through the city, from home, Martin-Luther-Strasse, Schöneberg, he drove to Potsdamer Platz with the traffic tower, the first traffic light in Germany, further on to Unter den Linden, where horse-drawn carriages still trundled and people gathered could sit down on garden chairs on the central promenade for 5 pfennigs. In the Lustgarten he watched the marches of the KPD, SPD, NSDAP and Stahlhelm.

Something solid first, said his parents. The terror of unemployment and hunger ran deep. They tilled two allotments to feed the family. So Helmut learned from a wine carrier. We drove through the city in the delivery truck, from the luxury hotel to the wine cellar, to the pub, from seven in the morning to five in the afternoon. It was also Helmut’s job to collect the transport money. He had to be persistent and develop a nose for excuses and lies. Many a defaulter allowed himself to be denied, others became rude. That’s where Helmut learned for life.

With his first own money he bought his first sheet music: the Carmen score for 20 Reichsmarks. His parents, in turn, bought a piece of land, and Helmut helped build the house every day.

Helmut, 19 years old, was accepted at the conservatory: “Piano lessons, playing scores, ear training, form theory, instrument theory, music history. It was wonderful.” His goal was the conducting class. When had he learned enough to be allowed to enter there? But instead he got a letter for his 21st birthday: Helmut had to go to labor service, that was in April 1939. Four months later they put him in a soldier’s uniform. “On 2.9. we crossed the Polish border as a construction company, World War II had begun.” Building bridges, repairing roads, recovering and burying the bodies of the killed soldiers. “Such was the face of the war: fathers of families with photos of their loved ones, young people, no more than 22 years old, cruelly mutilated. They were all given an ugly pit as the final destination of their lives.” This is how Helmut describes it in his memoir.

All his friends fell, he was left. Hans also died, his longest childhood friend. Leni, Hans’ girlfriend, also remained. The two comforted each other. “It was a matter of course that we would find each other after much of our childhood hopes had been destroyed by the war.” In 1943 they married. In 1944 he was on leave from the front. At the beginning of 1945 the son Hans-Helmut was born. In October 1949 Helmut saw him for the first time.

A fresh start after a ten year break. But no sooner had he organized two rooms in a larger apartment, no sooner had he found his first piano students than the unimaginable happened. Helmut and his son were sitting in the kitchen eating the semolina with honey that Leni had made for them, when she opened the window and jumped. She had endured terrible things, had starved and brought her son through on her own. When Helmut finally got back, her strength was gone. “It was incomprehensible, within a few minutes all hopes were dashed. Of all the hits in recent years, this was the hardest.”

Suddenly she was there

Helmut placed his son in a children’s home. He trusted the director, the sisters took good care of him. He picked him up for the weekend, and they rode through town on their bikes, the boy on the front pole. He also organized piano lessons. And now he could finally study. He could no longer become a conductor, he was now too old for that. Music pedagogy and composition still worked. At 32, he was the oldest among the students.

Suddenly she was there. She was beautiful and cheerful, and she could sing too. Sommi was her nickname. During a seminar trip to the Grunewald, he asked her if she would like to ride his bike down the mountain at the Grunewald Tower. They rushed down and into their life together. They got married, they took his son to live with them, and the child finally had a real home. Helmut continued to expand the house on the property of his parents, who had died in the meantime. For the adult education center in Tempelhof, he lectured on the music of the Romantic period, on the world of opera, on the Ring of the Nibelung, on Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn. He gave 98 course evenings in 1956 alone.

His big plan: his own chamber orchestra, he as conductor. Young musicians should play, but within the framework of the adult education center and with admission prices that everyone should be able to afford. The musicians got ten marks for two rehearsals and one performance, the tickets were available on subscription, twelve concerts per season. Helmut wrote and designed the programs himself. He kept it up until 1990. Many hundreds of up-and-coming musicians have played with him, and they kept coming back, even when they were already professionals and had permanent positions with major philharmonic orchestras. Helmut first became head of the folk music school in Tempelhof, and a few years later head of the arts department in Wedding, where he organized the performance of operas and plays on the Rehberge open-air stage. Sophisticated art for ordinary people, that’s what he wanted.

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They had another son, then a daughter. When Sommi fell ill with cancer at the age of 40, he mobilized all his money, gave twice as many music courses and piano lessons to pay for the best treatment that was available at the time. The doctors didn’t promise her a long life, just a few more years, at most. But she stayed with him and the children. Until the kids got some themselves. Until the birch trees in the garden got bigger and bigger. Until they had to be felled because the daughter was building her house on the same property. Then she died in 2015.

The daughter took care of her father, organized the nursing staff, and also endured his whims. I was amazed at how old Helmut was getting, how he kept composing his complicated pieces and ordering his packages of books. He died in spring 2022, 104 years after his birth.

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The article is in German

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