The greatest happiness happened to him when he no longer expected it: Helmut was already in his mid-40s, his wife Hannelore almost 41, when their daughter was born. The girl should be called Hester, Helmut decided, that sounds like a happy Berlin brat. Going through life happy and carefree – Helmut wished for nothing more for his child.
When Hester was still in the mother’s womb, the parents began to write their thoughts in a red book. Hester discovered it after his father’s death. “She still has no past,” he wrote on November 12, 1992, when she was six months old. “That’s why I envy her. The age of the world speaks from her eyes: a look that has already seen everything. Yes: all that we are gradually forgetting – the merciful nature.”
Helmut couldn’t forget a lot. Especially not how much he had suffered at the hands of his father as a child. He hardly spoke about it. He found other ways to deal with it, creative, literary ways.
Helmut’s father was with the mounted police, which was incorporated into the SS during the “Third Reich”. After the war he went into hiding. But he must have met his wife Anna in between, because in cold January 1947 their son Helmut was born in a summerhouse in Rosenthal. In 1949, the father was picked up by the Russians, convicted as a war criminal and imprisoned in Bautzen for seven years.
Her mother got Helmut and her sister, who was ten years older, through the difficult times. She was a passionate tram conductor, “Klingelfee” as it was called back then. But she cared even more passionately for her young son.
The family peace ended when the father returned home in 1956. They moved west, to Neukölln. Years of agony began for Helmut. The father had become a bitter, tyrannical man. Fascist ideas poisoned the atmosphere.
After graduating from high school in 1966, Helmut’s father urged him to start an apprenticeship at the pension insurance institution. Helmut gave up after a few months, enrolled at the Free University for Theater Studies and attended art education seminars. The mother gave money whenever she could. But the closeness to his father and the confines of the walled city tormented him. In 1972 Helmut moved, or rather: fled. In Lörrach, Würzburg and Bamberg he worked as a church restorer.
Years later, before Hester was born, Helmut wrote in the red book: “I want to do my best that you don’t have to flee from us! But if you do, you have my blessing. Word of honor!”
In 1974 Helmut returned to Berlin, worked for a while as a stage designer and theater painter, and was active in the Kreuzberg off-scene. In 1977 he opened a small shop gallery on Friesenstrasse and exhibited his own paintings. Sometimes he sold one. With commissions as a restorer and painter and with the support of his mother, he made ends meet.
At the end of the 1980s he met Adolf-Henning Frucht, once a leading scientist in the GDR who had learned about chemical warfare agents that the Soviet Union could have used to paralyze the US early warning system. He informed the CIA and was sentenced to life imprisonment for espionage. He spent nine years in Bautzen, in the same prison as Helmut’s father. Frucht was released in a prisoner exchange in 1977. Helmut became the editor of the book “Letters from Bautzen II”, one of his most formative works. Courageous, undogmatic people like Frucht fascinated Helmut. For him, as Hannelore describes it, they were “what the father should have been: meaningful identification figures”.
Through Frucht he met Hannelore in November 1989. The passion for literature and art connected the two. When Hester was growing up, Helmut mainly worked as a radio writer. Hester mostly saw her father sitting at his typewriter, smoking cigarettes. Sometimes music filled the room. Sometimes the smell of colors revealed that he was painting a picture again. She was never banned from entering, she was always welcome.
“He showed his daughter the world, sensitively, lovingly, playfully,” is how Hannelore describes it. “Sometimes I felt as if he were re-experiencing, even re-creating, the world with her, a world where the ghosts of his childhood and youth were forbidden entry.” Hester says she never heard a bad word from him.
He never wrote about his father; too great was the fear of the ghosts. In return, he turned all the more openly to the fates of others, no matter how painful they were. He made radio broadcasts about the Jewess Stella Goldschlag, the Polish poet Tadeusz Rózewicz, and the resistance fighter Mildred Harnack-Fish.
Helmut and Hannelore separated in 2003. Hester lived with her mother, but the close bond between the three remained. Helmut moved into the basement apartment of a villa with a beautiful garden in Lichterfelde-West that belonged to an artist. He painted more again, invited to exhibitions. But after the death of the owner, his lease was terminated. A shock. Where should he go? His income was low and rents rose.
He found an affordable apartment in Fürstenberg an der Havel, but his health was declining. He suffered minor strokes. Hester visited him regularly and took care of him. When he had to go to the hospital three times in quick succession at the end of 2021, he said to Hannelore on the phone: “I’ll probably die a bourgeois hero’s death.” She asked what he meant by that. “Just die at home.”
It happened on a December morning. The neighbor found him sitting lifeless at his desk, a cigarette in the ashtray. At the funeral service, Franz Schreker’s song, which he had occupied for a long time, was heard: “They are so beautiful, the mild, sunny, dreamy days of early autumn.”