Posted by: Nazausgraben | August 31, 2009

Ruhe in Frieden, Theo


I’m attending a funeral for someone whom I never even met. We have never spoken, nor shared a joke, had a meal together or socialized in any way. Yet I believe that I know Theo very well….through his music.

There was great expectation here about a week ago, as many of us in the village were going to attend a special celebration in the mountains. Each year, the local ski club hosts an all day summer celebration; if one cannot ski, then one should at least have a party….and this they have done for a number of years with great gusto.  So it was that shortly after Mass this past Sunday, we rushed home, changed into our hiking clothes, and headed off to the heights of The Sauling, one of our local peaks.

The one and a half hour climb up to the Skiverein hut, located a couple of thousand feet above Pinswang and environs, was abit slow in the noontime Summer sun, yet we took our time, pacing ourselves so as not to go into over-speed…a nasty mountain hiking habit into which I often fall…only to find myself exhausted and minus about five gallons of various physiological fluids by the time I have reached the destination. Still, on this day, the ‘getting there’ was part of the overall enjoyment of this peaceful afternoon.

We knew that we were getting close to the hut, as in the faint distance we could just detect the sounds of laughter and brass. My pace unconsciously quickened; there was a sausage calling to me, and I was never one to disappoint my digestive system.

Almost suddenly, around the last twist in the ascent, Susi and I had reached our destination. The smells of grilling ensconced the thick dark forest mountainside in a most welcoming vapor. I glanced up at the peak of Sauling, yet a couple of thousand feet above, framed by trees and an array of too-beautiful- to-be real wildflowers, and took a deep breath of the clean, fresh altitude.

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 A short narrow off-road path led us to the hut itself, a small wooden log structure perched on the side of the mountain.  The panoramic view down into the valley was breath-takingly beautiful;  one could see some of the local villages and towns along the sinuous Lech River…Pinswang, Reutte, Pflach, Vils. Yet the view also encompassed points due west into Germany and south into the higher Lechtal Alpine range.

Long wooden tables and benches covered the grounds surrounding the hut. Friends from Pinswang and the surround were everywhere; we nodded and waved. The greeting “Servus” flew from table to table…even from those whom we did not immediately recognize. The nice thing about this is that by the end of the day, we had at least made acquaintence with most of those there.

A delightful gentleman from the nearby Bavarian Allgäu was the master of ceremonies for the afternoon, telling jokes and composing witty poems, mixing the regional dialects such that I could only sit and wonder what the howling laughter from all around was about.

The edibles and drinkables were everywhere; grills churned out sausages and pork sandwiches. Beer, wine and juice flowed freely. The hut had been taken over by the ladies of the Skiverein, who had baked what I would estimate to have been at least 20 cakes of all types; every one in desparate need of being devoured. As I pondered the calorie intake, balancing between the sausage and how many pieces of cake I could eat without giving myself hyperglycemic shock, my attention turned to the band.

Perched on some hastily hammered together wooden log risers, sat  ‘The Tuttenmusig’…a small ensemble of some of Pinswang’s finest folk musicians.

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 There were Alfred and Gebhardt playing Flügelhorn, Ernst the clarinet and saxophone, Andreas the Posaune (trombone), Sigi the Bass (Sousaphone), Christof on the Schlagzeug (drums) and Theo playing the Zierharmonika (accordion). The music was a mixture of styles and periods, but the sound was very much of the Tirol; lively folk melodies and marches, polkas and yodels, boarischer and waltzes.

I recall mentioning to Susi that the accordion added a wonderful flowing foundation to the ensemble; Theo’s nimble fingers flew over the keyboard and it was clear that he very much enjoyed the twisting flowing improvisations coming and going during each piece.

A couple of hours later, with stomachs full and the last yells of ‘Zugabe’ (encore) being tossed from the crowd to the Tuttenmusig, it was time to descend from our perch on the Sauling. The walk down should have had more of a jaunt to it, but frankly, my sausage, beer and cake-based center of gravity change resulted in less jaunt and more waddle. It was a splendid afternoon.

The following Thursday, I attended the final Pinswang Musikkapelle concert of the summer. It was there that I received astonishing news. Theo, the Tuttenmusig accordionist, was dead. It was very sudden. The Monday after the fest on Sauling, he was in his kitchen and in a moment, fell over. There was little at all to suggest that he was in ill health; indeed, Theo’s outward appearance and demeanor suggested otherwise. But he was dead. Sekundentodt it is called in German…sudden death.

Like all in Pinswang and in Theo’s home of nearby Pflach, I was stunned. When I spoke with Theo’s friends at the Musikkapelle concert, their sadness was punctuated by the notion that it was indeed Theo’s time, and that such things can indeed happen to us all. Carpe diem came to many a mind that evening.

Theo’s funeral is being held at the beautiful Baroque Church in Breitenwang, a village near Reutte. I seem to have arrived at the Church about 15-minutes early…a great deal of time to be waiting for Mass to begin. However, it is fortuitous that I did so. There are cars everywhere; the quiet village is packed with mourners. The Church is already filled to overflowing into the street, with family, friends, colleagues from so many of the organizations of which Theo was a member here to say goodbye to a dear man.

I know where the music will be, and head up the flights of wooden stairs, bent by centuries of choir and organist footsteps. Reaching the choir stalls at the top and rear of the Church, I see my friends of the Tuttenmusig in their traditional uniforms. A harpist is there as well as is the Church organist seated before the magnificent historic King of instruments.

It has been about an hour now. The minor keyed strains of mourning, hymns of remembrance and words celebrating Theo’s life have moved all; he touched so many lives during his all-too-brief journey with us. The pallbearers are in place and are now slowly processing out of the Church. We follow, slowly, langsam, in measured small steps. There is little sound, save for shoe leather softly striking asphalt beneath. The village comes to a halt. Cars stop; pedestrians pause, remove their hats,  make signs of the cross, and wait, patiently, as our procession winds its unending way from the Church and through the portal into the adjacent cemetery.

About us now are graves, long dug and cared for; fresh flowers adorning each site and stones cleaned. Some of the graves are topped by chiseled stone with figures of the crucified Lord, simple crosses, the names of the departed beloved.  Some crosses are hand crafted by true classical artisans working in metal; intricate, delicate and very beautiful branches, leaves and petals sweeping heavenward with the form of the cross.

On some, photos reveal to the observer the faces of the interred individuals or in some cases, families. They stare out at you in black and white from behind the small glass oval covers held in place by tarnished gold painted frames….pictures fading in time, but there still, giving one a moment to ponder who they were, how their lives might have been.  So many of these fading faces were very young indeed, fallen in battle. One grave reads, born 1922, lost on the eastern front, 1943, and above the inscription appears the youthful smartly uniformed visage. There are so many of these about us in this solemn sacred place.

The Tuttenmusig are already there as we approach the site of Theo’s final rest; they have found a place beneath the neo-Romanesque archway of a nearby building facade. They begin to play chorales of great haunting resonant beauty, and although out of doors, the sound echoes as if within a cathedral. Mourners gather spontaneously in a  semi-circle about the gravesite. The beloved Priest recites the solemn texts and all slowly file to the grave to bid Theo a most final corporeal farewell. There are neither stones nor iron to mark the place of Theo’s rest; for now, there is a but simple wooden cross and name plate.

I ponder my own mortality, and am very thankful that I have, even for but a few moments, been blessed to have had the opportunity to get to know Theo. I heard his music, and in doing so even as a stranger, was touched by his humanity.

If it is by ones works that the values of the heart can be seen and our lives judged, then Theo’s life has been very full and rewarding indeed.

Ruhe in Frieden, Theo…rest in peace.

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Responses

  1. Beautifully written, Andy!

    • Many thanks, Fran…you are very kind!


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