Friday, 3 December 2010

Hamburg, Christmas, 1985

Around 11.00 pm, fueled by the hot wine and spirits I had drunk, I suddenly had an inspirational idea.

I left my friends in the cozy bar, telling them I would return shortly, then ran out onto the brightly lit, freezing Reeperbahn. Past all the strip-joints, bars and sex parlours, avoiding eye-contact with the suited salesmen outside, I made my way to the top end of town, where I knew there to be a year-round fairground. About a quarter of a mile away, there it was, glittering in the frosty darkness like a huge, circular Christmas tree.

Soon I was bolted into the hard seat of the Ferris Wheel and slowly ascending over the bustling city, my breath forming clouds of steam in the isolated darkness. Absolutely magical - all of sparkling Hamburg stretched 360 degrees around me, and the only thing higher than me was the telecommunications tower, itself lit up and topped with a flashing red light like a fairy on a tree.

What comes up, must go down, and soon I was back to earth and walking briskly down the street again with my German friends. We were going to an 18th century church where - almost 300 years ago - Johann Sebastian Bach played the organ, and where, this night, a recital of Bach's music was to be performed to an audience of semi-inebriated music lovers, including about 30 local prostitutes who had taken a few hours off work to attend. Sadly, I have forgotten what the piece was, for reasons you will see below, but if I ever hear it again, I will recognise it immediately.

We made our way to about 4 rows back from the nave where the musicians had gathered, sat down and waited until they began. From the start, it was obvious that these were absolutely gifted professionals, and the music was beautifully transporting. The singer was an extremely pretty woman who wore a long, blue satin dress, and as she began to sing, she stared straight into my eyes.

For the entire, lengthy performance, her eyes never left mine. It was as if - out of the few hundred people gathered to listen - she was singing for me and me alone.

I cannot describe the emotions that I experienced that night, other than to say that all of them were intensified by the inherently devotional music of J. S. Bach, and he would have been proud of her, singing so beautifully in his own church, and grateful to Bomber Command for sparing it when so many others had evaporated in the fire-storms of WW2. That's what you would call a Christmas story.


  1. Oh wow, Tom, I can imagine you up on that Ferris wheel. Must have been breath-taking - the view over floodlit Hamburg. Were you on your own up there? And then to go on to the Midnight Mass and have all that wonderful music just wash over you! I think that woman in blue was singing just for you too. What a fantastic memory! Happy Advent, Moll x

  2. Yes, just me in the chair, Moll. Happy advent to you too.

  3. Beautiful story, Tom. Loved it.

  4. Your are right that is a fine Christmas story.

  5.'ve lived a very interesting life Tom...I'd love to see you write the book! I'd be one of the first to buy it.

  6. I've had my ups and downs, Victoria. A (successful) English author published a piece in a magazine recently entitled - "Do you have a novel inside you? Then keep it there". She was moaning about how many wannabe writers there are, cluttering up the literary world with their meagre offerings. I sort of agree with her, but I have noticed that it is always the published writers who come out with this sort of attack, which is a bit mean-spirited, to say the least. It seems that nomatter how successful you are as a writer, you still become paranoid about being usurped in the ratings. Gore Vidal: "Every time I hear of the success of a friend, a little part of me dies".

  7. Well Tom, here's what I say to that writer and all the other
    pompous, mean-spirited, writers out there....
    I think you like that word Tom...I've never used it before, and am not one for swearing...
    but in this context it sure sounds good!
    Write that book Tom!

  8. Well, I must say Victoria, that you saying the word 'bollocks' has not only surprised and shocked me, but has also given me a semi lob-on as well. I may well become an essayist as a result.