Last November, when the weather was frosty and cold, Bodo parked in a parking space that had become vacant in Kreuzberg. He was expecting his friend from Bavaria, the two had talked past each other a little as far as his arrival time was concerned. So Bodo stood in the street, freezing, until his friend came, for a whole hour.
For tens of years he lived on the fourth floor of an old building in Gräfekiez. A great Kreuzberger. Equally important, however, was his life in the cellar in Schöneberg. In 1970, Bodo took over the management of the metal workshop of the art education department at the Kleistpark University of the Arts. It was the job of his life. He had no wife, he had no children, the students and colleagues here were his family. And he was her surrogate father, friend, listener, helper with welding work and, last but not least, keeper of the unofficial materials store.
Anyone who wanted to create sculptures had to procure the material themselves. Let it go, Bodo said often enough, because he knew the hardware store prices for the metals and screws and what else was needed. His drawers were well stocked. Whenever he found something he thought someone might need even a tiny bit of, he would unscrew it and save the pieces. “He was our salvation,” says a former student.
In addition, Bodo’s workshop became a meeting place after work. He bought oysters for everyone at Rogacki or in the delicatessen department at KaDeWe. From the pipes of his metal storage he drew first one, then the second and third bottles of red wine. They turned a hubcap from the junkyard into a gigantic paella pan. Of course, Bodo took care of the content. “It was the place to go when despair about the art world, the professors, the ambition among the students and the dissatisfaction with their own pictures got too big,” recalls a former student.
Of course, Bodo taught welding to those who wanted to learn. But above all, he taught something far more crucial: the less time you have, the more time you have to make for what really matters. For enjoyment, for example, and for togetherness.
It’s quite possible that it had something to do with how Bodo had grown up. A war child, born in Dessau in 1942, grew up with the hardships of his generation. The father remained missing. When he talked about his childhood, he liked to talk about wild boy adventures, about catching crabs in the river. He left out the gloomy. As a result, myths have grown up around his departure from the GDR. He was 18, a truck was allegedly involved. He fled service in the people’s army and various authorities, he had often had problems because he listened to rock’n’roll or because he had worn velvet trousers from the West.
He stayed in close contact with his mother and sister in the east, and he brought comics with him when his niece visited. Whatever she saw advertised in it and wished for, he had with him the next time, Coca-Cola for example.
The extended lunch breaks, to which Bodo invited various craftsmen, lecturers, the librarian, ladies from the administration and a professor, were legendary. They took the paternoster up to the BVG canteen at Kleistpark. Or the tax office on Mehringdamm, which Bodo had heard was supposed to be good. Or to KaDeWe. The breaks could easily last two hours. Bodo kept smuggling a few plates out of the BVG canteen under his leather jacket.
He needed them for his parties at home. The word “party” doesn’t quite fit. “Salon” is more appropriate, says a friend. Bodo cooked, served wine, young people, old people, artists, craftsmen, intellectuals, students talked to each other. At some point they gave him a sign made of blue fluorescent tubes: “Chez Bodo”. They secretly mounted it on a wall in the hall where the key to the apartment was hidden, as they knew. When Bodo saw the blue light shining out of the windows from the street in the evening, he didn’t even dare to go in and, worried, called a friend.
He didn’t make himself the center of attention, but everyone still circled around him. Among them his niece, who attended his parties as a teenager. The uncle was her counterbalance to middle-class family life, he knew advice for lovesickness and boiled hot milk. He got her her first typewriter and motivated her when her medical studies became too strenuous. She dedicated her doctoral thesis to him: “For a different view of the world”.
Bodo built his world the way it fit. He had designed almost everything in his apartment himself, installing the washbasin and toilet in such a way that they were comfortable and easy on the back for his height. “He was always looking for the ideal solution,” says a friend. He drove all over town for spare parts. He installed auxiliary constructions on the studio ceiling of a friend to make it easier for her to work on the sculptures.
He knew how everyone was doing and who he could make happy with what. If he found objects, books at the flea market that he thought XY could use, he brought them with him to the next meeting. For the sculptor friend, it was metal stands, thrillers or Simone de Beauvoir’s “All in all”. It could be assumed that he himself had read the books he had given away. There is no question that he continued to help her with welding work long after she had finished her studies. His pliers and work gloves are still in her studio.
The students returned the favor with a surprise party for his 60th birthday. They built a golden throne with a canopy for King Bodo I. They forced him to give a speech. And Bodo introduced a mini skirt tax as one of the first official acts. The fact that none of the people interviewed can remember exactly what it was all about speaks for the party.
Retiring didn’t do King Bodo any good. Just like old age. He could accept appreciation, but not help. He wanted to stay in his apartment. He didn’t want support. And finally he didn’t want anything anymore.