Wolfgang Graf: A Freiburger Feingeist (Satis Shroff)
Wolfgang Graf was born in Freiburg-Zähringen and did his schooling at the Kepler Gymnasium. Later he studied Biology and Chemistry at the Freiburger University because he thought then that it would be good to be a teacher in a school. But he didn’t teach and worked instead in the quality control department of a factory lab, which produced cigarettes in Freiburg.
He said that science and technology always interested him, a child he looked at what his big sister, who had her own photo-lab and experimented with photo development and used her microscope. Later at school he wrote a paper about the human nervous system as his Abitur dessertation. But that wasn’t all.
“There was something boiling within me that had to come out. It had to be the arts. During his school days he painted a lot, wrote poems, and even a theatre manuscript, which was printed in the school-mag, but which was never staged,” said Wolfgang.
Wolfgang describes himself as a late post-World War II child and he lived with his parents and two sisters in one room at Grandma’s flat in Zähringen, in which there were three rooms for eight persons. Grandpa was semi-paralysed since thirty years.
“My father was 16 when he had to join the Wehrmacht as a soldier but he wasn’t involved in the real fighting. He shot his thumb through an accident. As children we took it as something serious and Dad enjoyed it as a heroic deed to be wounded during the war. He put on a laconical smile and said, “It was more a case of collerateral damage. Dad died last December. Mom lives in Freiburg and is 87 years old.”
“How’s she doing?” I asked him.
He replied, ‘She’s still going strong. She loves watching TV and reading women’s and TV mags and is fond of the Bild Zeitung because of the big headlines.’
I recall an old Freiburger medical professor who was also an avid Bild reader, Germany’s leading Yellow Press Zeitung. During one of our conversations in the crowded S-Ban on our way to Freiburg’s main railway station we’d started talking about the ‘Entartete Kunst’ during the Nazi regime. So I asked him a question about it.
Wolfgang replied, “Germans have a big history but just before the World War II, the Nazis introduced their own version of what art and culture should be. Faschism brought not only war and misery to Europe but also destroyed modern art and culture. In Italy and France the people sing a lot but in Germany there’s no singing culture anymore.”
‘What’s the reason?’ I asked him.
He said, “The Nazis sang too much, al the time and we Germans have now have a disturbed relationship to old German songs.”
In this context I’d like to mention that Alois F. who’s a prominent member of the Zähringia, a local old men’s singing choir, asked me to join them. But Thomas my neighbour from Cologne told me that the old boys’ choir didn’t want new English songs. They didn’t want any innovative ideas. Just their old songs, and this didn’t appeal to the younger generation of Germans who prefer:hip-hop, Eminem, 50 Cents, Tokyo Hotel and gospel songs. When you go to the local church you see only old people and mothers with toddlers. The youth are conspicuous through their absence.
“What about the olde German Liedergut, the treasury of songs?” I asked Wolfgang.
“German culture is rich in songs and they used to sing it a lot before the World war II.” He went on to say, “Even Hitler wanted to be an artist but he was refused admission in Austria. The Art Academy in Vienna refused Hitler the unknown artist twice. If they’d taken him, there would have been no World War II.”
The work in the lab didn’t interest him either and he switched to a dancing career in 1978.
Wolfgang said with a laugh, “I had a girl-friend at that time who was a dancer. Actually he wanted to be an actor and play in the German theatre. She told me: ’Come along, it’ll do you good.’ I complied and then began my life-long love affair with dancing. In those days there was an Alternative Movement, wherein you cold do anything if you wanted to.”
Contemporary dancing (Zeitgenössischer Tanz) was an unknown form in those days, but there was a growing scene for those who were interested. In 1980 he founded a school for New Dance, Theatre and Bodywork with some friends, which exists even till today, and had made Freiburg, besides Berlin, one of the important centres for new dance forms. There was a breakaway from the traditional dance movements and the gender roles were questioned and changed, everyday-movements were brought on the stage and the barriers to the theatre were eliminated. The motto of the school became: “Every movement can be danced” and it produced new professional dancers till today.
‘We were freelance dancers and we opened our own school and performed in festivals in Freiburg (1979-80). The Hippie-Flower Power Culture was long over and a lot of people wanted to try out something new things, new ideas and there was a Häuserkampfbewegung, in which empty houses were boarded by young people, the police came, there was a struggle ensued, the young people were carried away, only to reappear the next day.’
During his students days he lived with six friends in a provincial nest, an old farm with a gardening complex. It was a time when they thought everything was possible. If someone had an idea they got together and made it work. There were alternative schools, bakeries, car-garages and a lot of other things. They forced their projects without state-subventions, that is with all the advantages and disadvantages. But today, according to him, the people try to find an existing niche, instead of doing something themselves.
To give impulses, produce and work with others together, that’s what made Wolfgang decide to work in the end as a Kulturbeauftragter (culture-manager) in Basle (Switzerland). Wolfgang was a dancer before he became an organisator of cultural events, and travelled as a dancer, choreograph through Europe and worked as a dance-teacher. He remembers working in “The Detective from China” Dance Butter Tokyo, where he spent two months, an Internatonal Ensemble mit 17 dancers from Japan Switzerland, Finnland und Germany and the director was Anzu Furukawa. In Tokyo, Nagano he danced the “Last Toast in Japan”a solo-performance, then came Dornbirn, in Dresden, Cologne “The Diamond as big as the Ritz” Dance Butter Tokyo, a two month stay in Japana, he starred in the International Ensemble comprising 12 dancers and Anzu Furukawa was again the director. Then he danced in “Tonight in The Moon” a duo-dance with Anzu Furukawa, Idar-Oberstein/ Freiburg “Duo” Neuer Tanz und Neue Musik – Improvisations with the Saxophonist Christina Fuchs, Cologne “Alternating Currents” International Improvisations Ensemble, Potsdam, Freiburg, Stuttgart (Sprache des Körpers, the language of the body.
Even though he was a lot of times in foreign countries, he always came to roost in Freiburg. Today he lives with his wife and son in Freiburg Zähringen, where he spent his childhood. Only once did he think of going to Paris and work there but he’d have been another dancer, and not someone who organises and runs events, and on the other hand he really didn’t feel at home in the world of performing arts.
“Perhaps I’m less of a Feingeist and a bit rustical to be a part of it,” he said with a grin.
That’s why he had to balance his life between strenuous dance-performances and organising events, especially when he turned forty. He decided to say farewell to the stage and devoted his time to culture-management. At first he organised different theatre projects in Freiburg, then as the chief of the Theater/Tanz workshop Kaserne in Basel and ultimately as a culture-manager of Riehen. In the meantime Wolfgang rides his bicycle, swims and does a bit of jogging. As one of the founders of Tanzfestival, he made a small come-back during the 25th Birthday of the dance festival. “I had to summon up a bit of courage, but then I was astonished,” he said with a smile. I hadn’t forgotten anything. I could really dance.”
As a parting question I asked him, “You’ve worked in Germany and in Switzerland. How do you find the Swiss?”
Wolfgang’s answer came like a bullet from a Bretta, “In Switzerland everything’s organised perfectly and one has to avoid making mistakes. We have more time and things go a bit slowly than in Germany. I think it’s the Calvinism behind it. This strict, evangelical form of Christianity in Switzerland makes everything function like a clockwork. The administration is strict but you don’t see this strictness outwards. Things are done in cooperation with others. The Swiss want superlatives and are not satisfied with moderate results.”