This weekend I had the pleasure of attending events that honored two legends, certainly legendary for their energy, passion and, dare I say, stubbornness. Oh, and frugality.
Possibly it is no accident that both are Germans.
The first was Peter Schumann. Peter who you might ask? Peter was the founder of Bread and Puppet Theatre, known for its giant puppets and participating in street protests against war, social injustice, pollution, big business and the business of the arts the growing divide between the haves and have nots.
Peter is 78. He moved to the United States in 1961 from Silesia, a region that covers parts of Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Peter is a bit of a pied piper, he has this ability to recruit a wide variety of people, often young, and engage them in his projects which includes making the puppets, performing in all manner of weather, and baking lots of bread, which he gives our free wherever he goes.
Aside from his wild bush of hair that looks like it has been combed with a firecracker, perhaps his most distinguishing characteristic are is hands, workman hands as is constantly making things with them. I first became aware of Peter when he and his troupe were protesting the Vietnam War and for Civil Rights, and I first worked with him at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, when we worked on various protests together. I reconnected with him this past Friday in Cambridge, MA at Lesley University for a conference titled Artist & Activist: Public Spaces Forbidden Places. I was the keynote speaker, Peter was the honoree. He arrived complete with a brass band and a number of his actors, who did a skit in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The other person honored was Winnie Holderied, the occasion being his 80th birthday.
Like Schumann, one of Winnie's characteristics are his hands. He is just nonstop. Winnie is constantly building, adding, remodeling, tearing out, replacing. He also arrived with his own band, or more accurately his own dance troupe up from New York to perform traditional Bavarian dances. I asked him who they were. "My relatives," he said.
Winnie didn't say a whole lot that night, mostly he nodded and said, "That's right, that's how it happened," this after one or more members of his family or friends told some whopper of a story which had all of us aching with laughter, and Winnie, would just nod and act as if actually the story was a bit more crazy than described.
We were also aching with laughter because it seemed that everyone, except for maybe Horst Webber, tried to imitate his accent. Stefy didn't try, instead she just told us about their Apple Pie wedding, that being what he and she ate at a diner after it was all over.
What did I learn? That Winnie has not purchased a golf ball in his life, in part because if he shoots a ball into a water or mud hazard he figures others have done the same, goes in after his ball, even if wearing brand new clothes, retrieving it and a good dozen others while he is at it.("clothes can be washed," he said.) I learned that he has given a wide number of people a chance to learn a new skill, or at least earn some money, whether they have the aptitude or not and then will mutter about being surrounded by, not exactly idiots, but wondering how they managed to survive up to that point.
I learned that you shouldn't offer him a bite of your ice cream cone of half of it will be gone in one chomp. Don't even stand next to him if you have an ice cream cone, he may take a chomp out of it with you intended him to or not. I learned that he loves kids, and now his grandkids. They can crawl all over him, use him for a pillow, poke and prod him, drag him about and he doesn't mind, rather he is thrilled. Few things make him happier. He adores his family and as much as he at times drives them crazy, they adore him. And, he has great friends. Oh yes, he can be really cheap, but he knows how to make a good investment, none better than when he married Stefy.
Aside from both being German, at times tough to understand, hard workers and at times single minded to a fault, both Peter Schumann and Winnie Holderied have touched the lives of many people, and both have a perpetual twinkle in their eye.