Thursday, September 30, 2010

Yonder lies duh castle of my fuddah

For a couple of days I have been mulling over a blog post referencing the twentieth anniversary of the German reunification. And then today we all learned of the death of Tony Curtis.

The Times, May 2007
His most famous line came in The Black Shield of Falworth: “Yonder lies the castle of my father!” but Curtis said it... in the accent of the only recently reconstructed Bernie Schwartz... and nobody ever forgot the high-flown speech bubble from a chivalric comic book recited in the cadences of the Bronx. “Yonder lies duh castle of my fuddah.”

What does Tony Curtis have to do with the fall of the wall over twenty years ago?

He was in Berlin when the wall was shockingly new, in 1962, and so was I.

His presence in the beleaguered city was easily explained... he was courting the young German actress, Christine Kaufmann. The photo I found is of their marriage. I was in Berlin working as a publicist for MGM, producers of the film, Tunnel 28 , in which Christine played a leading role.

In the village which was (and still is, I believe) the studio campus of the Berliner-UFA on the edge of Tempelhof Airport our paths inevitably crossed. It turned out that we both very much enjoyed the Nußhörnchen served with coffee in the UFA studio canteen.

One conversation I recall very well. At the time I was 23 and very short of cash. In order to be presentable I had put together a mix-and match wardrobe based on garments in a very constrained colour spectrum... black, white, grey and beige.

When I realized that a Hollywood star appeared to subscribe to a similarly limited range of hues in his sartorial choices my curiosity spurred me to ask him why.

His answer was that... shortly after he had told us where lies "duh castle of my fuddah"... he had been advised by none less than Cary Grant that the best way to pass as a gentleman was to limit oneself to apparel in these shades. 

That summer... when the Berlin wall was young and so was I... I shall never forget. Tomorrow I shall  allow myself a Nußhörnchen.

Berlin figured again in my life at the end of 1989, when the wall I had encountered when it was very new was crumbling and the regime that built it had made an effort to celebrate 40 years of existence.

With wife and baby... just fifteen months old... we decided to visit Potsdam, accessible for foreigners only via Checkpoint Charlie, to celebrate with friends an optimistic New Year... 1990.

That is an adventure I have already related in this blog and I shall not repeat myself.

But when on New Years Day we went to where the wall was being chipped by hammers.. an dissonant percussive requiem... there was no doubt that a chapter of history had drawn to a close.

And now this event is twenty years in the past. And the German media are bombarding us with anniversary stories, some sensationalist, some playing on the fact that equality between East and West remains an elusive goal.

I have nothing profound to offer as a conclusive comment about this little chunk of history.

But I am very pleased to have been there...

...when the wall was young and Tony Curtis was devastatingly charming and the movie I was working  was about brave escape attempts from East Berlin.

...when the wall fell and our daughter smiled at a young, bewildered soldier who stared at us from the other side through a hole in the concrete.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was post a couple of years ago, but since no one ever responded ... and it still pops up in searches ... it needs to be said that Tony Curtis never said his "famous line." It was made up by someone who did not like him.

"Yonder lies the castle of my father" makes a good story, but it is just that -- a story.