Theodor W. Adorno
Textauszug aus: Ohne Leitbild (Parva Aesthetica) AMORBACH, S. 20-28,
© Suhrkamp Verlag Frankfurt am Main 1967
gelesen von Frank Rädler
Übersetzung ins Englische
Wolkmann: a mountain which is the image of its name, a giant friendly left over. It is now resting full length, broadly extended overlooking the small town to which it sends greetings from the clouds.
Gotthard: the lowest peak in the neighbourhood bears the name of the mightiest massif of the Central Alps as if to acquaint the child gently with the high mountain-range. Not at any price it would be talked out of the idea that there was a secret passageway underground leading from a cave of the cloister ruins of St. Gotthard down to the Konventbau in Amorbach.
Until the Napoleonic secularization this convent building had been a Benedictine monastery; of low structure, exceptionally long, with green shutters, clinging to the abbey church. Except for the entrance portals it lacks any form of energetic articulation. Nonetheless, at it I experienced for the first time what architecture was. To this day I do not know whether this impression is simply based on the fact that at the Konventbau the essence of style dawned on me, or whether still in its measures, shunning any éclat, something expresses itself the buildings afterwards lost. The vista – which it obviously intended, — a spot in the Seegarten (an English park), artfully hidden behind a group of trees at the pond populated by carps and smelling good – gives sight of a small, immediately apprehensible segment of the convent building. At the part the beauty revives again and again, in front of the whole I ask for its reason in vain.
On the main road around the corner of my beloved hotel Post there was an open smithy with a harshly flaming fire. Quite early every morning I was awakened by sonorous blows. But for this I was never angry with them. They conveyed to me the echo of things long past. At least until the 1920s, when there were already gasoline stations, the smithy still existed. In Amorbach the primeval world of Siegfried, who according to one narration, was slain at the Zittenfeld spring deep in the forest valley, arises in the imaginary world of childhood. The Heunesäulen columns below Mainbullau — at least this is what I had been told — date back to the great migration and were named after the Huns. That would be nicer than if they originated in earlier nameless times.
The ferry across the river Main, which one has to take in order to get across and climb up to the Engelsberg cloister, retains its aura in so far as this archaic craft doesn’t bear the slightest hint of deliberate conservation typical of native costume societies and historical monuments. There is no simpler and more sober way of getting to the other shore than the vehicle from which Hagen threw the chaplain into the Danube who was the only one of the Nibelungs᾿ train to be rescued. The beauty of functionality has retroactive force. The sounds of the ferry above the water which one silently listens to are so eloquent because thousands of years ago they weren’t any different.
In fact, I came in touch with the sphere of Richard Wagner in Amorbach. There, in an annex of the convent building, the painter Max Rossmann had his studio; quite often in the afternoon, we would have coffee together on his terrace. Rossmann had made decorations for the set in Bayreuth. As the real rediscoverer of Amorbach, he brought over singers of the Festspiel ensemble. Something of their opulent life style with caviar and champagne rubbed off on the Hotel Post, whose kitchen and cellar surpassed what might have been expected of a country inn. One of the singers I remember quite well. Although I cannot have been more than ten years old, he liked getting into conversations with me when he noticed my passion for music and the theater. He told the young lad untiringly about his triumphs, especially in the role of Amfortas; the first syllable he pronounced strangely drawled – he must have been a Dutchman. From one moment to the next I felt myself accepted into the world of grown-ups and into the world I dreamed of, not knowing yet how irreconcilable they both were. It dates back to those days, that the bars from the Meistersinger „Der Vogel, der da sang, dem war der Schnabel hold gewachsen“ (“The bird that sang there had grown a lovely sounding beak.“) – Rossmann’s favourite – means Amorbach for me. The little town is only eighty kilometers away from Frankfurt, but in Franconia. – A painting by Rossmann, the Konfurter Mühle, unfinished and meaningfully deranged, transported me. My mother gave it to me as a present before I left Germany. It accompanied me to America and back. I met Rossmann’s son again in Amorbach.
When I drifted alone, a half-grown boy, through the small town in the late evening, I heard my own footsteps echoing from the cobble stones. That sound I didn’t re-cognize until, in 1949, having returned from the American emigration, I walked through the nighttime Paris to my hotel from the Quay Voltaire at two o’clock in the morning. There is less of a difference between Amorbach and Paris than there is between Paris and New York. That particular twilight in Amorbach, however, which I thought to see, a small child sitting on a bench half-way up the Wolkmann, when suddenly and simultaneously in all of the houses the only recently installed electrical light flashed up, anticipated any shock, that later on hit the refugee in America. So well had my little town protected me that it even prepared me for its total opposite.
When you come to America, all places look the same. Standardization, a product of technology and monopolies, is fearsome. One might believe that the qualitative differences would really have disappeared from life to the same extent as progressive rationality extinguishes them in method. Once you are back in Europe, here too the towns and villages, each of which, during childhood, seemed incomparable, all at once resemble one another: be it by their contrast to America which bulldozers everything else beneath itself, or rather because what had been style at one time already possessed something of that normative compulsion which, naively, one imputes to industry, particularly the cultural one. Neither are Amorbach, Miltenberg and Wertheim exceptions to this, be it only because of the basic colour of red sandstone, the formation of the area, that communicates itself to the houses. Nevertheless, it is only at a particular place one can experience happiness, that of the unexchangeable, even if in hindsight it turns out not to have been unique. Wrongly and rightly Amorbach has remained for me the archetype of all small towns, the others nothing but an imitation.
Between Ottorfszell and Ernsttal ran the frontier between Bavaria and Baden. It was marked by road posts bearing grand coates of arms and painted in a spiral pattern in the states’ colours, one white and blue and the other, if I remember correctly, red-yellow. There was ample space between the two. I loved hanging around in that space, pretending, what I did not believe at all, that this space didn’t belong to neither of the two states, that it was free, and that I could in any manner I liked install my own regime there. About that regime I wasn’t serious, my pleasure, however, was not lessened. What must rather have pleased me were the variegated state colours whose restriction I felt to have escaped. I felt similarly at exhibitions like the “Ila” at the sight of the numerous small flags which in mutual agreement were fluttering side by side. I was naturally familiar with the feeling of the International and as well by my parents’ circle of guests, bearing names like Firino and Sidney Clifton Hall. That International was no state of a centralized unity. The peace it promised expressed itself by the festive togetherness of the diverse, colourful like the flags and the innocent frontier posts, which I was surprised to discover weren’t causing any sort of change in the landscape. The land, however, which they enclosed and that I occupied in my self-contained play, was no-man’s-land. Later, during the war, this word turned up signifying the devastated space between the fronts. It is, however, the literal translation of the Greek – from Aristophanes – which I understood even the better at that time the less I knew it – Utopia.
Better than going to Miltenberg by the narrow-gauge local train – even though it had its qualities – was to walk there from Amorbach on a long mountain path. It leads via Reuenthal, a gentle village in a valley off the Gotthard and is allegedly the home of the poet Neidhard von Reuenthal, to the still lonely Monbrunn, and then in a wide swinging arch through the forest which seems to become thicker. In its depth all sorts of ruins are hidden and finally a gate, bearing the name of Schnatterloch (shivering hole) because of the chill in that woody place. Once you pass through it, abruptly and without transition, as in a dream, you find yourself on the most beautiful of medieval market places.
In the spring of 1926, Hermann Grab and I were sitting in the park of Löwenstein Hall near Klein-Heubach. My friend was then under the influence of Max Scheler and spoke enthusiastically about feudalism that had been able to harmonize the stately house and the grounds in such a perfect way. Just at that very moment, there appeared a person in charge and chased us away quite rudely: “The benches are reserved for the princely family.”
As a schoolboy, I understood the words ‘moral’ and ‘chaste’ to mean some particularly indecent, presumably since they were mostly used in cases such as of moral crimes; less for praising someone but when something outrageous had been committed. At any rate, although meaning the opposite, they had something to do with the things forbidden. Amorbach contributed a strong association to that misunderstanding. The bearded and dignified chief court gardener was named Keusch (chaste). He had a daughter whom I found forbiddingly ugly; but rumours had it that he had violated her. Just like in operas, the intervention of the benevolent prince was required to put down the scandal. I was already quite grown-up, when I found out the truth of my error: ‘chaste᾿ and ‘moral᾿ are indecent concepts.
Next to the pianino with the Mozart medallion in the Hotel Post’s restaurant, there was a guitar hanging from the wall. It was missing one or two strings and the rest was out of tune. I couldn’t play the guitar, but I plucked with one grip all the strings at once and made them vibrate, enraptured with the dark dissonance, presumably the first fully polytonal I met with, years before I knew even a single note of Schönberg. I felt the desire: this is how one should compose music, just as this guitar sounds. When later I read the poem by Trakl „Traurige Gitarren rinnen” (“sad guitars trickle“) I heard no other than the impaired one of Amorbach.
Quite often around 11 o’clock in the morning, a man came into the Hotel Post, a man half farmer half merchant, from Hambrunn, one of those neighbouring Odenwald villages that are built on top of the flattened heights. Herkert, who in the manner he drank from his pint, with short beard and wild outfit, seemed to me like a left-over from the Peasants’ War. I knew about it from the biography of Gottfried von Berlichingen which I had procured as a Reclam paperback from a book automat at the Miltenberg railway station. “Miltenberg on Fire”. All of the things from the sixteenths century, people and objects, that were still present in the region, wouldn’t let on the thought of how far back it all lay; spatial closeness became a temporal one. In his shoulder bag Herkert had brought fresh walnuts with their green outer shell. They were bought and shelled for me. Their taste lasted for the rest of my life, as if the rebelling peasants’ leaders of 1525 had intended them for me out of sympathy, or to hush up my fear of the dangerous course of time.
Sitting on Rossmann’s terrace one afternoon, I heard from the open place in front of the Schlossmühle the sound of vile squalling singing. I saw three, or four quite young fellows improperly dressed up. This was supposed to be picturesque. I was explained that they were “Wandervögel” which meant very little to me. Even more than their awful folksy singing, that was moreover accompanied by out of tune guitar playing, I was startled by their looks. I definitely didn’t miss the fact that they were not poor people like those who used to spend their nights on the benches of the Main parks in Frankfurt, but rather, as children used to say, better people. No need or distress was causing their get-up but a purpose I couldn’t understand. This made me fear that one day I was to behave likewise and had to stamp through the woods, a helpless rowdy: it was the threat of becoming declassed in the youth movement, long before the declassed bourgeois united there and started on the great roving tour.
If you read this in a novel, it would be unbearable, as if written by authors who warm up queer and odd stories for representing indestructible humour. However, I experienced it first hand; a piece of the anachronistic dowry I received from Amorbach. When the pensions’ clerk went to his reserved table for his drinking round, his wife would accompany him, though surely against his will. Whenever he drank more than was good for him and not to her liking, bragging and swaggering all too animatedly, she would reprimand him with the words: “Siebenlist, pull yourself together!” — Just as well-attested, though more in the style of those humoresque magazines around 1910, is an event in Ernsttal, an estate belonging to the Leiningen family. A respectable person, the wife of railway president Stapf, appeared there one day wearing a smashingly red summer dress. The tamed boar sow of Ernsttal forgot its tameness and took the screaming lady on to its back and ran off. If I had a leading model in life it would be that animal.
Wild boar feeding near Breitenbuch — quite isolated on the highest part of the Odenwald and not far from Hainhaus with its stone seats of the fehmic court, which doubtlessly was the one that sentenced Adelheid von Weislingen, one of my earliest beloved from books. Until a few years ago, I thought that the wild boars, many hundreds of them, were being fed for their own sake. Thus, as a child, I had imagined the shooting stands, that I was shown in the woods round Amorbach, to be an installation for the profit the wild animals, which, when hunted too hard or when they were freezing, could climb up the ladders and would thus be safe and in custody. That would have been “decency” towards the animals. (A play-on-words. The German word ‘Anstand᾿ signifies both ‘shooting stand᾿ and ‘decency᾿, ‘propriety᾿.) As I had to learn, however, that those airy tree houses served the hunters who lie there in ambush to shoot the game, so an informed person explained to me that the feeding in Breitenbuch was not for the good of the peaceful sows, not even just to keep them from devastating the fields, but first of all to keep the prey alive for the hunters until they came into shooting range. Such threatening rationality could, however, not irritate the mighty wild boar which rose
out of the fern and came toward us, unpleasant as the scent of boars once had been in the forests of Preunschen and Mörschenhardt, until we noticed that he had obviously come from farther away, arriving after the general feeding and expecting from us a special one. He made signs of thanking us in advance but trotted along disappointedly when we had nothing for him. —Signpost text at the reservation: “We ask for cleanliness and order.” Who asks whom?
Translation Annette Allwardt 2020