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Talking Germany

Blog with Peter Craven

The bearable lightness of being Nike Wagner

She arrives just a little bit later than expected. But then she has been meeting with none other than Zubin Mehta! Our initial encounter is very warm. She offers me a hand and, while I’m thinking that I like this lady, I’m also registering just how small her hand is, how thin her bones, and how frail and delicate she seems. It’s certainly a light frame, I reflect, to shoulder the heavyweight history of her family and the role it has for the better part of two centuries played here in Germany. She is Nike Wagner, the great granddaughter of Richard Wagner, who was of course one of the greatest and most controversial composers of all time. And: she is my latest guest on Talking Germany.
She sits down to have her make-up done. I’m on the sofa behind her. She appears to be well-disposed towards me – so I throw down a little challenge. “I know a lot about your family,” I tell her, “and a lot about your work, and a lot about the music in your life (she is also the great-great-granddaughter of the pianist and composer Franz Liszt!). Tell me, therefore, three things about yourself that have nothing to do with these areas.” Long pause. Very long pause. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Indeed I am!” Long pause. “Well, if I had to choose a landscape – somewhere to live – it would be Germany’s North Sea Coast.” Interesting, but not a revelation. Pause. “And then I’m a fanatic for dogs and cats. And when they wanted to send me away to boarding school as a girl I said I’d only go if I could take my dog. The school said no. Nevertheless, I did end up getting my own room, with my dog. After all,” she adds cheekily, “the family did have some influence.” Pause. “I’d like to have a second life to read more of the great nineteenth century novels by Proust, Balzac, Dickens, Thomas Mann. I’m more on my own when I read.” Three things. Small but precious insights.
Pause. Long pause. And then it happened: “You know, everybody has a specific weight. I’m light. I love to jump, to run, to swim. And … what do you call it in English? … to hover. Not in a moral way. They always think I’m strict. I can be strict. I’m not a moralist: but any kind of injustice drives me mad. I change planes, trains, apartments. But I’m faithful. When I love a person, I love a person. And I love to go dancing. Waltzing. Discotheques. Well, not any more. Private parties these days. I love to move!” Four things. Very precious insights.


August 15, 2014



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