Christian von Grumbkow

Christian von Grumbkow was born in 1946, in the city of Oberhausen, Germany.
"I was born in the Ruhr Valley city of Oberhausen, Germany in 1946. My early childhood was spent in the town of Hochdahl close to the city of Düsseldorf amidst a beautiful landscape of forests, farms, gardens, a park with small lakes, an area with brooks and even a small spring. We lived happily in a large, old, castle-like house that belonged to the Bayer family. There I felt very comfortable with my brothers, friends, parents, aunts and my almost always quiet, loving grandfather who could explain the wonders of nature to his grandson through gestures alone.”
"In 1951 my family moved to the town of Wuppertal where my father found new professional challenges in the textile industry with a large company called Glanzstoff. I still recall vividly being shocked when we visited Wuppertal for the first time. Overcome by panic I ran away seeing so many people without eyes, arms or legs. I witnessed them crawling on the filthy ground begging for money. These impressions tortured me and for a period followed me into my sleep taking the form of terrible nightmares. For me as a child the war and its consequences had not existed in their brutal reality until that day.”
"The brutal murder of my grandfather in 1959 severely shocked our family. I still remember plunging deeper into music consumption and being virtually possessed practicing contemporary hits on my guitar
somehow trying to compensate for the shock and particularly for my loss. During this phase of sorrow and reaching out for support, music proved to be my primary help. By way of music I discovered that sketching almost unnoticeably provided a means of compensation. During seemingly endless lessons at school I could not concentrate on, I started to produce comic-like sketches directly inspired by music and musicians. Thus, little by little the artistic habitus revealed itself to me as an adequate form of expression.”

Christian recalls his early interest in music and how it manifested in school groups.
"My parents were interested into classical music and thought that we should be trained by teachers. First my brothers and I learned to play a simple wooden recorder, and then when we went to Waldorfschool, I played trumpet, Andreas violin, Joachim Cello and my youngest brother piano. I taught myself banjo, guitar and later I was taught cello. Composition-wise we never had any training. Along with my brother Joachim and I, Christoph Noppeney also was a pupil at Waldorfschool.”
“My school days could have been harmonious. However, in 1961 at the age of 15, I discovered the Beatles on a holiday trip to England. I became totally enthralled with this completely unfamiliar music. Contrary to my parents and teachers’ advice I dared to launch a blues band with the name “Beatkids” back in Wuppertal together with my brother Andreas and some of my schoolmates. After our first concert in the city auditorium of Wuppertal and enthusiastic reaction by the local press, trouble in school became inevitable. Seemingly endless discussions about this “negro music” ensued. It was finally decided at a teachers’ staff meeting that we had to make a choice between graduating from high school or pursuing our music! Officially we were forced to give up the band, but we continued practicing underground. We changed our name and our outfits and wore false beards and dark sunglasses. On one hand this seemed amusing, on the other hand my trust in the pedagogical abilities of some teachers suffered serious damages.”

Hoelderin recorded an album in 1972, for the Pilz label before transitioning to a more progressive rock style. All-the-while, Christian continued his career in art and teaching.
“After studying at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam for one year and meeting my wife Nanny de Ruig there, I was still in awe of pop music as a means of expression. Together with my wife, my brother Joachim and some of my friends from the Waldorf times I founded a folk-rock group with the name Hölderlin. We recorded our first LP titled Hölderlin’s Traum in 1970 and immediately received positive feedback. The combination of German texts accompanied by violin as the main instrument and presented by classically-trained musicians created keen interest. This, however, caused a scheduling problem. We were all students and did not wish to become professional musicians.”
“Nanny became pregnant with our first son Daniel who was born in July 1971. She expressed her wish to tour with us for one year despite the challenge of being a new mother. Finally, she realized that it would be impossible to be a responsible mother and the singer for a (more or less) professional band at the same time. Eventually other members of the band filled in as vocalists. We went on tour whenever possible. Even though we recorded seven LPs in the years following, we all succeeded in finishing our studies.”
“In 1972, after successfully graduating from the arts and crafts school, I was employed by the Folkwang School in the city of Essen and taught artistic basics in the field of design. Throughout the following years I was extremely busy and had to find a way to handle rock concerts, recording sessions, exhibitions of my paintings as well as teaching at the university, all at the same time. In addition, I had responsibilities as a father, since our family had grown larger with the birth of my daughter Anna in 1974. During this time my art reflected the influence of music in a rather surreal-romantic fashion characterized by jazzy bright colours and a tendency towards pop art and hippie culture.”
“Shouldering multiple burdens during these times, I experienced nervousness, caused by a string of new challenges. In the spring of 1977, having fallen ill after a strenuous tour through Scandinavia, I ended my career as an active musician. From that moment forward, I focused mainly on painting and teaching. In 1980 I also terminated my teaching position at the Folkwang School Essen to be able to concentrate on my artistic endeavors.”

Christian offers insight into the zeitgeist of Germany in the 70s, and the development of rock music there.
“We all were infected. Even in the smaller villages, there was a kind of opposition against the established parties, politicians and all authorities. And it did affect the musical climate. We all thought, we would be very political, and for myself I refused the military service and so this was a
political act. In the music, we also tried to bring “old” (traditional classic) blues, rock and folk into a melting pot, along with lyrics, which had a subtle political message, such as “Requiem für einen Wicht”.”
“I think we all sensed that we were on the edge of a NEW AGE, a NEW CONSCIOUSNESS… And people like my father or the older teachers at schools just lost their power when they had to face that their kids who didn’t follow the old rules any longer. Self-consciously I could stand up against my father and a few of his business friends and tell them that I won’t go to the army, because they all have been NAZIS! Double-moral stuff was easy to clear, and this kind of cleansing of the old Nazi mentality with the new ideas of freedom and self-conscious behavior, happened in our own music, fashion, culture (films, books, theater, musicals, festivals) where we were on our own, without the control of the conservatives.”
“Friedrich Hölderlin’s fate was drawing us and others toward his biography and work. The German Romantic is something important, because it is combined with political after-thoughts, revolution against the upper class. Hölderlin escaped into his backwards-directed visions of the antique ideals, but behind his [poetic] word-creations was a clairvoyant view and a will not to give in, not to give up. Do not forget, we are talking about the very early 1970!”
“The Traffic number “John Barleycorn Must Die” for example, was something we were using. In the middle part, we started improvising, adding “Feelin’ All Right” with long and winding solos on flute and viola. Folk rock was the direction, with classical and/or Jazz ingredients. We also wanted to tell stories with a serious background and do a kind of musical illustration of the words.”
“German bands like Birth Control, Can, Kraftwerk were in our consciousness somewhere in the air, but we were very much involved into our own development. Some of the musicians tried (mostly not very
well) to copy the English progressive bands while others developed into the more electronic orientated sounds, like Tangerine Dream, Ash Ra Tempel, Popul Vuh - they became famous because of their unique style. The more Jazz-orientated bands like Kraan, Guru Guru, Embryo, and partly Hoelderlin (because of the long collective improvisational parts) were also interesting for the world; not so much looking at commercial success, but rather because of the pureness and authenticity, not fitting into the Hit-Parade scheme.”
“Listening to the BBC, we young guys got our British music infusion into our unconsciousness. We loved the art rock groups and followed their development very closely. I felt that Genesis and Yes were more a kind of European rock groups, rather than purely English ones. But on the other hand, we have a rich musical tradition in Germany and the German willpower… I guess that formed the creative background for the unique styles.”