|CELLIST, the autobiography
of Gregor Piatigorsky (1903-1976)
ARRIVING in Leipzig late at night from DreiKirchen, I made my way to my old room at Hartung's and went to bed.
I awakened with a start. The lights were on and two men in derby hats showed their badges. "We are the police. You are under arrest." They shook me and ordered me to get up. I dressed hurriedly and called for Mrs. Hartung on the way to the street, but no one answered.
At the police station my papers were examined and I was told to remove all objects from my pockets. No one told me why I was arrested. I was shoved into a cell. I sat down on an iron cot and stared at the bulb on the ceiling. During the night some prisoners were let out and new ones brought in. Many were drunk and belligerent.
In the morning I was called out and taken to the chief of police. I recognized the official who had helped Halina with her passport.
"Da sehen wir uns schon wieder," he greeted me amiably. "I am sorry about this unfortunate incident-very regrettable. Incidentally, what's happened to the ...hm...how did Professor Klengel call her? Ah yes, Dulcinea. Has she left Germany?"
I said, "Yes, she has."
"Good, good. Julius-I mean, Klengel-is the finest friend one can have, nicht wahr? It was he who woke me this morning and told me of your arrest. May I see your papers?" He shook his head. "What a document! No nationality. It's no passport-not even a certificate. It's almost as bad as the yellow ticket of your Dulcinea. Here it is, just as I thought." He indicated a visa. "Technicality, just a technicality. Your student permit in Berlin has expired. Without a new one, for Leipzig, your stay here is illegal. Don't worry, we will fix you up."
I rushed to see Klengel. "I have no words to thank you," I said. "It was a nightmare. Who told you where I was?"
"Mrs. Hartung. You look tired. Go home and rest." He gently patted my shoulder.
I thanked Mrs Hartung, too, but when she wanted to know more about the arrest I said, "Oh, just a technicality."
Mr. Held was in Berlin and had asked to see me. He embraced me, barely reaching my shoulders. "You have grown still taller," he said. He wanted to know every detail of my life and told me of his and Mrs. Held's welfare activities. "Your German is fluent. It's wonderful to be able, at last, to speak to each other. I wish you could sail with me to New York tomorrow. Someday you will, as an artist."
We had dinner together. "Isn't this inflation in Germany a disaster? As an American, I feel ashamed to live here in luxury for almost nothing. Why, there are people who take advantage of their dollars and have bought buildings and works of art for a song. There is another curious aspect in the situation. On one side, a German mark is worthless, but then again, the student life must be costly....You don't drink alcohol, do you?" he asked.
"Sometimes a glass of beer."
"Well, I guess music books and lessons are disproportionately expensive."
"Not at all," I said. "I hardly spend anything. My boardinghouse is more than reasonable and Professor Klengel refuses to charge me for lessons. Of course, Hugo Becker was different. This inflation is so absurd. One day a bank note reads in millions, next day in billions. At first when I came, a dollar was worth-oh, I forget." I looked in my pockets. "Here it is." I handed a little notebook to Mr. Held. "I entered every mark, every pfennig I spent, every date on which I received German money from your agent, and its relation to the dollar on that day. I would not have been as meticulous with my own money," I said, watching him glance through the notebook.
"It's rather strange," he said. "The reports I received from my representative were quite different. I have sent him considerable sums of money for you. But I suppose discrepancies can always occur."
It angered me beyond reason, and, unable to control myself, I spoke of his agent's desception, of my distaste for charity, and of my honor as an artist and a man. I said that someone else was the thief, that I didn't need anyone's help, and that I would pay back the money I regretted ever having accepted. Harsh and with an inexcusable intemperance, I abruptly left the confused and embarrassed Mr. Held.
In my remorse I wrote a long letter of gratitude to him and begged his pardon. I said that my studies were completed and forthcoming concert engagements were assured, and that I would no longer need his help. I hoped to see him and Mrs. Held soon, and I knew that I would be able to tell of my feelings better than I could write. (I did, but many years later, in New York. They said that their affection for me had never changed.)
I confessed my tantrum to Klengel and told him of my new situation and lack of funds.
"I might try to get you into the Gewandhaus Orchestra," he said, "but there is no vacancy. Maybe it's just as well. You ought to go to Berlin. Leipzig can't offer much." He went to the desk and returned with a paper. "Take this; it might be of help." I read his minute handwriting, recommending me in a succession of superlatives.
I followed Klengel's advice. In the Charlottenburg section of Berlin I rented a room. My landlords, Herr and Frau Kulasch, said they loved music and I could practice all I wanted. I signed the lease without reading its many stipulation, paid two weeks in advance, and went to investigate my new surroundings. I crossed the street and walked to the beautiful lake nearby. Charlottenburg had the air of steady peacefulness. Even the dogs taken for walks by their masters were quiet and seemed not to mind their leashes. The buildings and people alike were of order, solidity, and dullness. It did me good. It made me walk unhurriedly, as though I also belonged, also had a dog and family, and was like the others.
All my money was spent. I had to find a job, but the mere thought of again playing in restaurants provoked a strong resistance. I met the next payment of rent by selling a watch my father had given me. I sold it well. Not only would it pay for the room but there would be enough left for food for a week. It did not last that long. I had to sell a suit and part with my books. Yet I postponed looking for work.
The autumn humidity made the strings break on my cello. I had to tie them with knots, some in the middle of the fingerboard. I did not consider putting on new ones, keeping an entire set for a special occasion that might arise. As long as I had my cello I could not feel poor-perhaps hungry, but not poor. It was like having a check in my pocket on a bank holiday, which in a day or so I could cash.
With the coming of cold weather and no money for rent, Herr and Frau Kulasch remained polite. "We know that you will pay, but in waiting we have cut off the lights and the fuel. We are sure you will not mind." The room was dark and cold and I slept with my clothes on.
There was a cat in the house.On an empty stomach it was sickening to hear Herr and Frau Kulasch's caressing voices as they fed their pussycat. They fed it well. In the kitchen I saw meat neatly cut into slices. One day I snatched a few pieces and locked my door. I tried to roast it, holding it over the flame of a match. I used up almost a whole box of matches, burning my fingers in the process. The meat remained raw, but warm it was easier to swallow.
Herr Kulasch came to show me the lease. He enumerated the rent and damages for which I had to pay. "As you see, it makes a tidy sum-more than your belongings and the cello are worth. You will permit us, just the same, to keep them until the debt is paid in full. Your room is already rented, and it would be kind of you to leave the premises today." I gathered one set of underwear, two shirts, a tie, a pair of socks, and a piece of soap and made a bundle while Herr Kulasch looked on. Before leaving I said, "Best regards to Frau Kulasch."