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the Rudolf-Arnheim-Forum of Dr. Helmut Diederichs, Fachhochschule Dortmund, Germany

Remembering Rudolf Arnheim

There are not many people I can show my drawn and written testimonies without reserve. Rudolf Arnheim was one of them.

In 1986 he came to see me at the 'Institute for Theater Research' in Amsterdam. This delicate figure in a light-grey suit climbing the very long and narrow staircase of the Institute, a staircase without escape, behind him his son-in-law, who two hours later picked him up again, belongs to the great impressions of my life.
Welcomed by me and by my thirteen stage companions - white transparent gigantic dummies hanging from the ceiling - we talked as if we had known each other for ever, and by advising me about the choice of a drawing he encouraged me to rely on the first impression I catch. He talked about his life in Berlin, where I was born in 1940, about leaving it in 1933 and coming to the States, about the difference between Marlene Dietrich and Elisabeth Bergner... We laughed a lot. Then I saw this disarming old man climbing down that staircase again, his son-in-law leading him.

Several weeks later he wrote: "I can still see your laughter occasionally crossing your face like a cloud."
A letter later about sitting on the 80th floor in a restaurant in Chicago: "We were sitting there as at a feast for the gods on Olympus", and about a reception at a little college on the east coast: "The whole splendor of the autumn trees was sparkling in red and yellow and green and in the midst of all that gold outdoors, indoors was a reception in my honour and the young people were sitting around me on carpets listening to me. That you earn all this at my age!"

Off course, like so many, he wished I had a happier view of the world.
In 1987, writing to him about ten days in Warsaw and two in Berlin, he answered: "The world you describe strikes me like that of fifty years ago; those nights in the train, those inhuman controls. But the truth is as well that in a certain way you cling to that past. It is, as well, the world of your visions... I take confidence in your talent, being able to come out of this nightmare. I just wish you a happy outlook on life..."
I wrote him back that such train journeys belonged to the present.
A letter and some material I sent him in 1992 stayed without an answer and I realized that it could simply be too much for him.

We got in touch with each other thanks to Alex Hes (who at that time lived with his wife and their son Donald in Jackson, Mich., dear friends) and to an artist's note I had been asked to write for 'Leonardo'. Alex and his wife came back to the Netherlands. Donald settled not far from Ann Arbor. I asked him to be with you today in my place. I, myself, am in Lima, Peru, to carry on working on the opera of their lives with street children. I would have loved to show Rudolf Arnheim the clouds of laughter crossing their faces, rehearsing; the pride of these outcasts of often already outcasts getting applause; their crawling on my lap, calming down.

Dear Margaret and Cor, I am grateful that once this 'mountain', your beloved father and father-in-law, entered my landscape.

Sabine Vess
Zaltbommel, autumn 2007


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