On Tour with... ... Christopher Kloeble through Berlin

Christopher Kloebles at Potsdamer Platz
Christopher Kloebles at Potsdamer Platz | Photo: © Valerie Schmidt

With the writer Christopher Kloeble you are never only at one place at the same time. Nevertheless, we try to be today. The author of several novels, plays and film scripts shows us one of the cities that is part of his multi-layered biography: Berlin. 

It may go against the laws of physics but not against the imaginative power of Christopher Kloeble.  An encounter with this writer at any one place makes you feel that you are also at some other place at the same time or even at several places. For example? Hotel Begaswinkel. It is located in a largely overlooked and yet not uninteresting part of the Tiergarten area in Berlin. The New National Gallery, the Public Library, the Philharmonica (more about that later) or even the notorious kerb crawling area in Kurfürstenstrasse are only a short walk away. Yet only a blind person could describe this area as beautiful. Just one look at the street that seems to have been so carefully destroyed during the war tells you that it is an advantage for the Hotel Begaswinkel to be situated in a lane that is set back, in a dead corner. And standing there you wonder whether this picturesque, run-down Wilhelminian-style villa should not be the location for the next Wes Anderson or for a remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho. But this doesn’t have to be decided here and now.

The "Fürstenhof"

The elegantly curved staircase, the little breakfast room on the top floor – and there the writer Christopher Kloeble who welcomes you for a coffee. Why? Because his ­– that is Kloeble’s mother – works here and has just laid out the buffet? Because the father, a one-time actor, will also drop in later to say a passing ‘hello’?
 
  • In front of hotel Begaswinkel Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    In front of hotel Begaswinkel
  • Hotel Begaswinkel Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Hotel Begaswinkel
  • Notes Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Notes
  • Christopher in the café Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Christopher in the café
  • Talking Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Talking
  • Stairs Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Stairs
  • Stairs Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Stairs
  • Good bye Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Good bye
As already mentioned, with this author one is never just in one place at the same time and also never completely at home in the present – family stories, the kind that he narrates in his novel Almost Everything Very Fast invariably haunt his wordy stories that stand out, above all, because of his very eloquent answers to questions that nobody has asked. Hotels like the one here engage Kloeble for autobiographical and literary reasons. Berlin, Leipzig, Bavaria, India? But let’s start at the beginning: a setting in Kloeble’s next novel will be the Fürstenhof, a hotel in Leipzig, a traditional lodging house which, long before the Berlin wall was built, was managed by the 32-year-old author’s great grandfather, who came from Germany’s Rhineland area; this great grandfather had previously been a tenant at the Löwenbräukeller in Munich where he was once in prison, apparently for being too stingy with the beer – an episode immortalised in literature by none other than Feuchtwanger, and that too as a prime example of arrogant Bavarian hard-heartedness.

From a provincial town

The story of the Hotel Fürstenhof, which was taken over by East German regime, had its name changed and was handed over to the ministry of tourism (which in turn was under the infamous Ministry of State Security), is what Christopher Kloeble is now researching along with how all this is connected to the history of his own family. However, along Bavaria, Leipzig (and Berlin today), Kloeble can also trace his own biography. He comes from a place close to Bad Tölz, a picturesque provincial Bavarian town in the German mountains, that became world famous because of its boys choir, of which (of course) Kloeble was also a member until his voice broke at the age of 11.

Coming from Bavaria, he was drawn to Leipzig immediately after completing high school. Leipzig was the home of the Institute of German Literature, the very first address in Germany for young, up-and-coming literary writers who want to further their literary skills. Kloeble started early because he knew sooner than many others that he wanted to be a writer. He studied and he wrote. And this led to stories, a novel, screenplays. He is currently working on a television adaptation of his book Almost Everything Very Fast and that is precisely why he happens to be in Germany at the moment. Actually Christopher should have been in India in the winter.
 
  • On the road Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    On the road
  • In front of the Indian Embassy Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    In front of the Indian Embassy
  • Christopher Kloeble at Potsdamer Platz Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Christopher Kloeble at Potsdamer Platz
  • Philharmonie Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Philharmonie
  • In front of the Philharmony Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    In front of the Philharmony
  • Philharmonie_1 Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Philharmonie_1
  • Philharmonie_2 Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Philharmonie_2
  • Philharmonie_3 Foto: © Valerie Schmidt
    Philharmonie_3

Half the year in India

India? That this is the most recent and perhaps most important part of the author’s life is revealed here in Hotel Begaswinkel as we very gradually peel away the many layers of his still relatively brief biography: namely, four years ago, Christopher Kloeble met his wife, the writer Saskya Jain, daughter of German-Indian parents, who grew up in India, speaks Hindi, German and English with native speaker fluency and writes her literature in English. Kloeble was in India for the first time in 2012; today he spends half the year there and the other half in Berlin, but of course more during the warmer months of the year.

Because he’s a bit homesick and wants to relieve his acute heartache (Kloeble’s wife is currently in India), a short detour to the Indian embassy, perhaps? Fine, but just for a short while. The building is also located in the Tiergarten area, the embassy district in Berlin, and is as big as the Baden Württemberg state house, situated right next to it. But that’s just the way it is with the dimensions of meaning between Germany and India: even from the Indian perspective, Germany seems very far away, and not just further from India than England, the former colonial power, which does not seem so far for historical reasons alone. The whole of Europe, when looked at from this multifaceted and complex country with its many languages and ethnic groups, actually appears to be a relatively uninteresting continent – and, to recognise this, says Kloeble while we are standing in front of this red quarry stone building in a biting winter wind, can also be a very sobering experience.

The best known and most famous orchestra in the world

A couple of hundred meters further: the Berlin Philharmonic. This building, designed by the architect Hans Scharoun, is the home of probably the best known and most famous orchestra in the world. The Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra? ‘As children we didn’t have a clue!’ says the writer with a laugh. ‘As a child, you only want to know when you are getting the next Fanta. Or something to eat.’ That this is where the Berlin Philharmonic plays and that Claudio Abbado is wielding the conductor’s baton does nothing to excite a ten-year-old. It was on this occasion that Christopher Kloeble actually came to Berlin for the first time, as a singer, that was more than 20 years ago, just before his voice broke and he left the Tölz Boys Choir. Kloeble also recalls appearances in Cologne, Munich, Florence or Montreux but no longer remembers the pieces he sang in Berlin. Wagner’s Tannhäuser? The Christmas Oratorio? Doesn’t matter.

A fundamental experience he made at the time is more important. When you have to engage with music as a child, and in a choir as disciplined as this one, in a way you learn about the process of learning itself. You begin to understand that to achieve success, even in art, requires hard work and effort. Do choir boys grow up more quickly? The writer admits that even today he shares a recurring dream with his father, the former actor: ‘After many, many years – as an actor who has long retired or as a former choir boy – you will be pushed once more onto the stage and with the one and only question on your lips: “Which piece? What is being played here in the first place?”’ Apparently it’s not easy to ever forget the drill and the performance situation.

Curries, Chutneys, Thosais and Idlis in Kreuzberg

However, in the Tamil canteen where we go to warm ourselves later, there is no doubt about what is being played. India! There are several Asian restaurants here, in the Kreuzberg area, but none like this: the display of fruit on the street, the cash counter right behind the entrance, this is not a restaurant but rather a small supermarket and yet there are two tables in a corner of the room where one can sit and eat. These are the secret tips offered by someone married to an Indian. There is a reason for the food here, the curries, chutneys, dosas and idlis, being so good: normally, explains Kloeble, the Indian restaurants in Germany are run largely by Bangladeshis  and offer north Indian cuisine adapted to European tastes. According to him, the best food is South Indian. Usually vegetarian, usually spicy but never overly greasy.
 
  • The Cantine Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    The Cantine
  • Indian food in Kreuzberg Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Indian food in Kreuzberg
  • Yummy Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Yummy
  • Samosas Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Samosas
  • Fresh and healthy Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Fresh and healthy
He is amazed by how little many Germans know about India. Once, in all seriousness, his wife was whether she rode to her wedding on an elephant. Or the common cliché of a society with deeply entrenched misogyny. While Kloeble does not dispute the rape cases that have made news in Germany too, he points out that there are many more women in top positions in India than in Germany, for example. You can’t really say that the woman is oppressed per se, he says.

Mountains in the capital

And yet: Aren’t there clichés everywhere about people who come from somewhere else? Again and again Christopher Kloeble returns to his Bavarian origins. Königsdorf, this tiny hamlet close to Bad Tölz, was where even Goethe once alighted while on his way to Italy, but what about the intellectual horizons today? Although the place is only 45 minutes from Munich, Kloeble still knows people of his age who have been to the city perhaps just twice or thrice in their lives. And doesn’t an old encyclopaedia somewhere say that the Bavarians are a devious and dwarf-like mountain people? Dwarf-like and devious obviously do not apply to Christopher Kloeble. But the mountains? Sometimes he does miss them in Berlin. And going for a walk is his consolation. So at the end, the two of us also climb the hill in Kreuzberg which has given this part of the city its name. And how he stands there, right on top, in front of the neo-Gothic national monument for the wars of liberation and how the tarnished inscription, glistening in golden letters behind him, proclaims: Leipzig, 18 October 1813, it becomes absolutely clear: with this writer one is never only at one place at the same time.
 
  • On Kreuzberg Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    On Kreuzberg
  • Still on the hill Kreuzberg Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Still on the hill Kreuzberg
  • View over Kreuzberg Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    View over Kreuzberg
  • Christopher Kloeble Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Christopher Kloeble
  • Infront of the neo-Gothic national monument for the wars of liberation Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Infront of the neo-Gothic national monument for the wars of liberation
  • National monument for the wars of liberation Foto: © Valerie Schmidt
    National monument for the wars of liberation
  • Tarnished inscription, glistening in golden letters behind him... Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    Tarnished inscription, glistening in golden letters behind him...
  • ... proclaims: Leipzig, 18 October 1813 Photo: © Valerie Schmidt
    ... proclaims: Leipzig, 18 October 1813