In the January 2019 edition of PonderingTime, our author Arthur Pahl tells how the German violinist Johny Schwarz, who was murdered in Bogota, left Germany after World War II with a violin from Mittenwald in his luggage but arrived in Curacao with a valuable Stradivarius.
Read here why the former Wehrmacht soldier did not stay in the Caribbean and of all places moved to Colombia, where he lived until his death.
Love and its consequences
Yes, love, it had caught him. This glowing fire that Fernanda had kindled in him made him forget where and under what circumstances he had met her. He didn’t care. The man behind the whore… he secretly caught himself thinking and immediately polished the sentence clean again in his mind, arguing with himself: She is the right person. She’s been through a lot of things in life. She has charisma and is honest, and after all, she has never accepted money. Our feelings like to put a mask on top of reality. Thus, the truth does not become a lie, but only the way we present it changes. That’s nothing new amongst new lovers. Anyway, the magical attraction that the Colombian woman exerted on him was the reason why Johny literally quit his secure job at the Casino Orchestra of Curacao and left the Caribbean island overnight.
A new path lay ahead of him. Young and still addicted to alcohol, which couldn’t take away his pain, because the more profound he looked into the glass, the stronger his longing for Fernanda became – and thus also his melancholy because he didn’t have her at his side. The only way out he saw to escape this torture of love was to find Fernanda. And he had to travel to Colombia to accomplish that.
Around 1970, when I ran the Anglo-American Club in Bogota and met Johny at a wedding party there, we made friends from day one. We met regularly at Doña Hertha. Hertha Köhler had a small restaurant on Carrera 19, between Calle 8a and Calle 9a, in the center of Bogota. It was famous for its goulash. German immigrants from the post-war era met there regularly, over a hearty German goulash, with bread dumplings if desired. Colombian beer from the Bavaria brewery was also available. At Doña Hertha we often sat for hours at the regulars’ table and talked about why we had emigrated, and through which channels we came to Colombia. Why we didn’t live in Germany. What happened to us in Colombia, and other little things in our lives. Doña Hertha was then the contact point of the German community in Bogota.
When the restaurant was packed at noon, and the guests were talking out loud, their voices created special room acoustics in this soberly furnished dining room. This reverberation still sounds in my ears today. There was the smell of goulash, which flowed out into the street. Many a passing by stopped at the beguiling scent. Not resisting the temptation, they entered to eat something in there.
In the restaurant always the echoing crockery rattle. The waitress and her calls to the kitchen: “Mesa 4 se puede adelantar”. All these noises and smells were the trademark of Hertha Köhler’s restaurant. One could also have said: “Simple and good” and above all “cheap.” You got it.
Colombia – The new path – The new home
I will never forget the day when Johny told me his story and what made him come to the country. We sat in the corner, far away from the entrance, at the regulars’ table. Just Johny and me. Everyone had a bottle of beer in front of them. I listened to him and learned how he set out to search for Fernanda after leaving Curacao and taking a freighter to Barranquilla.
“Have you been mad,” I replied in amazement and disbelief. “You’re going to a country to look for a woman you know nothing about and whose country you don’t know. What is it, guy?”
“Love,” he replied, smiled and raised his glass for a toast. He got up and went to the bar and said to Hertha, “Hertha, I cannot tell this story. Come to our table and tell us how we met in Barranquilla”.
And Hertha came, sat down with us at the regulars’ table and began to tell:
“We, my husband and I were the catering operators of the German club in Barranquilla at the time,” Hertha reported. “That was twenty years ago. One day he stood there with his violin case in his hand,” she continued, looking at Johny. As she continued, Johny sat smiling next to her.
“Go on,” spurred Johny Hertha on and stuck a cigarette in his mouth. He took his gas lighter out of his pocket and lit the cigarette with it. The tobacco in the tip of the cigarette glowed, and Johny sucked the smoke into himself.
“Arthur,” Hertha looked at me and continued, “as innocent as he sits there and looks as if butter couldn’t melt in his mouth, he didn’t have a penny in his pocket. We took him in at our house. Gave him food, drinks, and a bed, and he played at the club that night. During the day he walked all over Barranquilla and asked in every red-light club about the Fernanda. For six months, it’s been like this”.
“Aha,” I said, “and did he find her?”
Hertha looked at me, “Well, ask him yourself.”
“Johny,” I turned to him, we toasted anew to each other, and he said, “No, I haven’t found her yet. And that was twenty years ago. I gave it up.”
“A crazy story,” I noticed and still couldn’t believe it.
The years went by. We still met regularly at Hertha. Drinking our beer and enjoying the German goulash, when one afternoon, sometime in autumn, I think it was 1976, Johny showed me there a photo he pulled out of his breast pocket. It was a picture of a woman. She may have been in her late forties, not very pretty, but not ugly either. Not someone who looked exactly like a model, rather a bit stuffy, at least not unappealing. “I got married,” he said. I was shocked. “Fernanda, did you find her?” I replied. “You ass,” he laughed out loud.
Johny had decided not to finish his life without having had the experience of marriage. Today I am convinced that the man who was Bohemian for decades could not live anymore without the longing to experience unity and to belong in a home with a family. He had found his path. And such had brought him after all to Colombia. There was his home. Never again did he go back to Germany for even one day. He played in the best orchestras of the country, was successful and now he had decided to enter the haven of marriage. Like everything else in life, it took time.
Six months later, we sat again at Hertha’s in the afternoon, drinking beer and telling tales, when he reached back into his breast pocket and showed me another photo. This time there were twins in the photo. Two girls. About five or six years old. Johny’s face shone with joy when he showed me the picture. “We adopted them. It is the most beautiful feeling I know,” he said to me, and I now understood the glow in his eyes. My friend had changed, and every day he came closer to the feeling of domestic warmth. He wanted to be not only a husband at an advanced age but also a father. I could understand that. In a short time, he had changed his life. Became a Husband and father. I often think about it and imagine how great this urge might have been in him.
Just how men often are when they show off while drinking beer, I asked him once jokingly, whether he was faithful to his new wife? The answer was long and detailed. It became clear that the change in him took time and that he could not separate himself from his old habits from one day to the next. This meant that he made every effort to be a faithful husband and a loving father, but he did not always succeed. At night, when he went home from the orchestra, he repeatedly gave in to his old urge and lost himself in some establishments of the red-light district in the center of the city to take a “night-shut” there, before he went home to his wife and children. That seemed to bother him, and he once told me that he was working on becoming a better person and throwing old habits overboard.
He had set himself the goal of changing his way of life, but too late. As it turned out, the evening he was murdered, Johny wanted to celebrate his eternal departure from the bohemian world – as ironic as it sounds – it should be the last time in his life to appear there. One of the prostitutes, who was there at that time, told it later at the regulars’ table of Doña Hertha. She had just drunk some German Asbach-Brandy and started chatting. Johny was getting less and less interested in these clubs. The influence of the family, the right intentions, it seemed as if that evening, he had in mind to celebrate his farewell from the world of the red light and the buyable love.
With his violin under his arm, he walked home in the firm belief that from now on, he was only a faithful husband and father of a family. That was Johny. Every stage of his life he completed, he celebrated. So, it was tonight. But his murderers prevented him from being able to implement his resolution and his family from experiencing it. The precious Stradivarius, in whose possession he had come in such a strange way, remained in the family after all. At his funeral, a representative of the public prosecutor’s office, handed the precious violin over to his widow and their children.