Life is earnest, art is gay!

New Years Speech

What is a turn of the year without rockets, champagne and Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? The latter was performed in Lübeck’s Music and Congress Hall on 1st January 2008. Afterwards two speeches were held, one of them by myself. It became the new barometer:

Life is earnest, art is gay! There will be more of Friedrich Schiller’s words. Lucky Lübeck to possess a highly prestigious theatre and a music hall offering such excellent sound, two forums of living cultural performance allowing us to escape the seriousness of life for a while. Art leads us to „the good, the true and the beautiful“.

Possibly the “Ode to Joy” by Friedrich Schiller, which we have just heard, has, unnoticed by us, contributed somewhat to our liberation. Perhaps the celestial fashioned flame has sparked a fire amongst the people in Europe. The ode describes the ideal of a society made up of equal and good human beings closely connected to each other by joy and friendship. “Joy, of flame celestial fashioned, daughter of Elysium”. In 1985 the European Community chose this poem set to music by Beethoven as its official anthem. However, a down-to-earth scientist like myself considers its lyrics as too pathetic. Schiller himself did not approve of this piece of his work very much either. He only intended it to be used by a free masonry group in Dresden.

However, the celestial fashioned flame acted upon the whole of Europe when, in December of last year, the Schengen area was enlarged by nine more European states following a resolution by European Ministers of the Interior and Ministers of Justice. Frontier controls at land and maritime borders between Poland, the Czech Republic and Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, Slovenia and Hungary were abolished on 21st December 2007. “Joy of flame celestial fashioned!” Today we say: “Hurray!” Air borders are due to be removed on 30th March 2008.

The German chancellor Mrs. Merkel celebrated this event at a disused border crossing in Zittau, which is one of the six cities belonging to my home region Upper Lusatia, sheltering the most beautiful low mountain range of Germany. There, pass controls have finally been lifted. The fact that Zittau is usually chosen for such events is due to the city’s location within the „border triangle“, where Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany share borders. The chancellor was therefore saved one more media appearance.

Three years ago, my Chinese wife and I, coming from Prague, stood in Zittau wanting to cross the border to pay a visit to our subsidiary in Upper Lusatia. Two frontier crossing points were located one behind the other, separated from each other by five hundred meters of broad border area, declared to be Polish. My wife possessed a visa for the Czech Republic but not for Poland. The malicious border guard could hardly hide his glee at sending us onto a 70 km detour at night on a narrow street around the Zittau mountain range. Today, I feel a deep satisfaction in knowing that he has lost his job, as several years ago many other guards at the former German-German frontier similarly deprived of good qualities in character also lost their jobs.

Some of you might also have had to endure similar harassment. One of our staff, an apprentice from Upper Lusatia, visited Breslau during a business trip by car. On her return journey the border guard declared that her international insurance card had expired during her stay in Poland. He did not see any possibility of letting her cross the border, although it was more than unlikely that an insured event in Poland was still to occur. She had to leave her car behind, paying a horrendous parking fee and making a detour journey home. Not until two weeks later was she allowed to pick up her car.

Gone are the border guards and customs officers, who were trying to harass us, to get rich at our expenses, snooping around in our personal items, ready to plunder us! Gone are the lorry traffic jams stretching several kilometres, for days on end (It was not the finances and time of frontier officials being spent unnecessarily. Governmental employees do not work flexitime, you know). Let’s celebrate the victory over an insane and useless public authority.

„Life is earnest, art is gay“. This quotation from Schiller’s Wallenstein is regularly twisted by state officials on other occasions as well. Two years ago, my wife and I had to go to the registration office in Lübeck to register our new family member – my sixth child. At the same office as at four earlier occasions I was again asked to present my birth certificate. Having developed a certain degree of stubbornness over the years, this time I refused. We were therefore sent home without having achieved anything. However, we wrote a letter to the director of the public order office. He explained that we had to observe the rules (I hope you do not all think along the same lines), but advised us to register our daughter in Ratzeburg instead. „I’m regent in the land i’th’ Emp’ror’s stead, Who’s smart, learn to be silent and obey.“ This was quoted from Schiller’s William Tell. I had to give up my resistance for this time, for my wife‘s sake and also because we needed the child benefit and required the document. I will continue to bow before Geissler’s hat* as long as the arrogance of state officials does not affect the core of my freedom.

„Life is earnest, art is gay“. This is why I love going to the opera and why I enjoy every good performance and well-staged directing concept. May the Theatre of Lübeck be preserved and continue to prosper. It acts as an important counterbalance to the subculture whose products block 95% of the shelves in music shops.

For instance the Lübeck production of the “Rhinegold” is characterised by impressive music and an entertaining and witty plot, a masterpiece of an opera: The gods are impatiently waiting next to their packing cases at the portakabin of the giants to be allowed into the fortress. But the purchase price has not yet been agreed upon. The Rhine daughters themselves are a feast for the eye and the most attractive swimmers compared to seven or eight other productions I have seen elsewhere.

“An artistic key event in my life”, a thrilled Thomas Mann once said about his visit to the Theatre of Lübeck. Still today this is absolutely true for many theatrical performances in Lübeck, for example the brilliant performance of “Orpheus in the Underworld” by Offenbach, which could be seen yesterday. It is a sumptuous production of world standard, full of delicate eroticism. You see, Mr. Brogli-Sacher, I am trying to beat the big drum for you. We were really thrilled, my wife and I.

During “The Marksman” in Hamburg the hermit offered his services to one of the guests at the wedding, handing over his card, although his “professional group” generally is not keen to have an audience. Later on a second guest asked for the business card of the holy man. And suddenly the hermit was tightly surrounded by the wedding party wanting his cards, so he threw several handfuls of golden cards into the masses until, finally, the precious souvenirs rained from the ceiling.

During the last but one production of “La Bohème” in Hamburg the chief character Rudolf bestowed his beloved Mimi with a yellow bonnet. She was pleased about the precious and fine headgear, which matched her hair so well. But then, all ladies in the café house on the stage wore the same yellow bonnet.

I knew five different versions of Beethoven’s Fidelio and had come to the biased conclusion that text and plot could not teach me anything new and that it was pretty clear from the beginning which characters were fair and which were not. But the production in Hamburg proved us wrong. The prisoners were not presented as innocent victims, but also as active culprits. All prison inmates were accompanied by their own slaves or hostages, who were chained and represented in person or symbolically with puppets or paintings on signboards. An Indian prisoner showed a child working for him, a gentleman with a turban two completely veiled females, a pimp a very attractive women whom he exploited, a judge his poor example and a divorced woman her ex-husband whom she had taken to the cleaner’s. The audience was made to understand that in real life one is not necessarily fully on the side of the friendly protagonists but that both the Good and the Bad exist in every one of us. Gay is the art. We just have to draw the right conclusions. Then we will be able to better accept and tackle the serious side of life. The fiery freedom fighter Schiller would have liked the Hamburg production of Beethoven’s work. Once every two years all employees of EUROIMMUN AG go to the opera or a concert together. I just had to see this Fidelio production with my colleagues. Next time we’ll be in Lübeck, I promise you, Mr. Brogli-Sacher. We’ll require around 600 seats.

“Joy of flame celestial fashioned”: There is a new institution in Lübeck’s cultural life! The idea of international understanding led to the creation of a new non-profit association last October – the European Concert Choir of Lübeck. Together with musicians from various countries the choir rehearses several compositions with renowned vocalists each year, showing the highest possible perfection during its performances in Germany and in the home countries of its partner choirs. Mr. Beck, please do not consider these new activities as rivalling with respect to the musical scene in Lübeck. The European Concert Choir is mainly inspired by the objective of creating friendship among nations. Two or three more brilliant concerts during the time between the summer festivals can surely only please all music-hungry aesthetes.

The choir’s first performance was Brahms’ requiem, which took place four weeks ago in this expensive hall. Choirs from Sweden, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania sang together with singers from Lübeck. I myself participated. The orchestra consisted of Polish and German musicians, 250 all together. The musical direction was in the hands of Prof. Neithard Bethke, who has left his place as conductor at the Ratzeburg Cathedral and continues his tradition of uniting musicians from many nations and bringing about friendship. In this manner, Bethke has brought life to the European idea for 30 years. The next project is the St. Matthew Passion by Bach. The concert is planned for 16th of March, Palm Sunday. Please promote and support the choir’s activities by visiting the concerts or by becoming a sponsoring member of the association!

“Life is earnest, art is gay!” The way a drama on a theatre stage can become deadly earnest can be seen in “The Bajazzo” by Leoncavallo. About how crazy things may affect real life, how self-important people from public authorities play pranks on a committed, innovative company, how they spy on it, narrow-mindedly bombard it with regulations and prevent it from functioning, I could tell you a story or two from 20 years of EUROIMMUN existence. With the extensive abolition of border controls and custom barriers in Europe, one part of the sprawling bureaucracy, which annoyed us, has gone. Millions in our arms we gather! Who that height of bliss has proved, join us in our jubilee! These, for instance, are all the great artists performing on the stages in Lübeck.

„Who has failed, let him with weeping from our fellowship begone!“ This quote applies to the border guards and customs officers. In future it remains essential to further confine the paternalism and bullying by officials and the government. This is worth aiming for in 2008. But a period of a whole year will not suffice. I know that lot inside out! I wish you all a Happy New Year!

Lübeck, 2008