Wednesday, October 17, 2012

His Name is Helmut

Oct. 11, 2012

This morning I was rushing down streets and between trains to the Frankfurt Book Fair, having completely underestimated the amount of time I'd need to get there by 9am to meet my friend Kirsten for lattes. The fair is overwhelmingly enormous, both in its physical expanse and the sheer number or events (discussions, exhibitions, interviews, readings, signings, this year's Maori dances, game demos, screenings, and I'm sure 50 more categories) going on all day long. As I rose up the escalator from the U-Bahn (underground city train) station I could hear the music. Assuming it was a recording being piped in, possibly as part of the fair, I thought about how nice it was to hear such lovely violin music floating over the heads of the hundreds of fair-goers as we moved like a wave through the halls toward the surface of the city.

When I saw him my hurried pace slowed just a little bit, because for a moment, I was enjoying his music so earnestly I forgot that I was late (and I really hate being late). It was the perfect playing of songs I didn't recognize but wanted to know that invited me to pull over out of the flow of traffic to dig out some change to drop in his case, but it didn't hurt that he was a gentleman of mature years who so obviously loved what he was doing. He wore scarves knotted at and trailing from his waist as he moved with the music as if he were in his own living room playing only for himself. He intermittently closed his eyes as he swayed and danced, always smiling. I was fascinated because looking at this man jumping around outside a U-Bahn station with scarves and long, white hair, you might assume he's another street performer who may or may not be saving up for a bottle of something or another, but you would be wrong, you judgmental snob! But I wouldn't know his story until later.

Busker: A street performer 
So here I was watching and listening to this grandfatherly looking man play away on his violin with a smile on his face, and he was good, really good. I took out my camera, caught his eye for the okay, and snapped a shot of him, then dropped in a coin and continued on my way. After all, I was late and in desperate need of coffee.

But thanks to the violinist in the hall, I rushed on smiling.

After a fantastically long day, I headed back down that same hall to the underground to hop the train back to my hotel, and there he was again! He wasn't playing, but was packed up and changing his shoes for the walk he'd be doing post-performance. I got all the way to the top of the escalator, before I stopped. I needed to tell him how much I enjoyed his playing that morning.

So I did. When I approached, he cordially flipped his hat forward and off his head with a little bow, and I loved him immediately (even more). Once we established that his English was better than my German, we chatted for a while about his music and my writing, the Frankfurt Book Fair and how 20 years ago he used to play at this very fair, until the "big guys" made things too complicated. I remembered seeing a few CDs in his violin case that morning, so I asked about his recording career. He'd made a handful of albums, the last couple featuring an accordion player by the name of Katherine Toy. As I was out of cash at that point, I asked how much and told him I'd be back the next day for one of his CDs. His response was, Don't let money be an issue. I'll trade you. My music for one of your stories. More than his suggestion, it was his enthusiasm about it that reached right into me and jostled awake that bit of myself I forget I still have, the artist who cares not for whether or not I ever get published, but who lives for her craft and the freedom to share it.

Ever tethered to blasted reality, I explained to him that I didn't have a printer at the hotel, and asked if he had an email address, instead. Whether he completely understood me or just figured it was getting too complicated, he gave me the CD anyway. Only then did I realize I hadn't asked his name, and when I did he pointed to the CD in my hands. His name is Helmut Scholz.

Since I've been back in my room I've Googled Herr Scholz and read up a little about him and his partner in music, Frau Toy.

On their website, I found this account from someone who saw them perform: They are indeed an unconventional duo. Mr Scholz, an elderly and much-bearded gentleman, seems the physical manifestation of some sort of mad, passion frenzied, whimsical and fiery violin solo. When he takes to the stage he does not perform as a man playing a violin but as the body of the music, dancing with all of his being, white hair flying.

Then I found an article written about him when he was first discovered in London in 2001, and now I can't wait to run into him again tomorrow and ask him more about his life. Also, I just learned a new word: busking. Give this short article a read.

I've curious about why he's back in Germany and what his future in music looks like. And I'm totally going to ask him again if he has an e-mail address.

Today I boarded the U4 train with a recording of Helmut Scholz performing at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden, London where he said he lived for around 15 years. This CD, which I've been listening to since I sat down to write, features Helmut mixing the art of spoken word with playing the violin, both the poetry and music composed by him. It is a short CD of just 5 poem/music pieces, but it's moving. Called A Dream You Forgot, I think this might be one of the coolest gifts I've received in a long time, and certainly from a stranger.

It's always nice when goodbye isn't necessary, even if the connection you make will only be short-lived. The idea of no good-byes has become a way of life for me given the ever-changing landscape of my social surroundings living abroad among a semi-nomadic community. Both because sometimes you just want to hope you'll run into someone again, and sometimes the chances are truly great that you will, saying something like "See you later" is a better way to walk away from someone with whom your connection really meant something.

As I walked away this evening with his CD in my bag, we both said, "See you tomorrow."


Sadly, I did not see Helmut again. Although I know he planned to be there for the duration of the fair for the high volume of traffic, hence our plans to talk again, the hall was empty of his boisterous music the next day. Perhaps it was the police officers hanging around his stretch of hall leaving the U-Bahn station who kept him away. I wanted Chris to meet him when he joined me on the weekend, but still, Helmut wasn't there. 

Image borrowed from
Fear not, Helmut - I'll track you down some day and tell you what I thought of the music you shared with me, per your request. I hope you'll keep busking to your heart's content, and I hope I'll see you tomorrow. 


  1. Try this, Linz:

  2. i love this artist to artist connection!

  3. Ooo, some music to look forward to when I get home from work!

  4. If I knew how to post a smiley face I would!!!!

  5. One more reason to finish your are already accumulating a world-wide fan club!