A black-and-white portrait depicting Bruno Schleinstein while he plays the accordion in the streets of Berlin. Ekkehard Wölk, 2004.

Fandor: “In Search of Bruno S.” a photo-essay by Ekkehard Wölk, with the assistance of Ehsan Khoshbakht, published online on June 10, 2014. All photo by Ekkehard Wölk.

Bruno Schleinstein is known, among other things, for his memorable performance as the lead actor in two of Werner Herzog’s films: The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974, IMDb; I wrote about it before) and Stroszek (1977, IMDb). In both films, he is credited as “Bruno S.”. Werner Herzog explained this choice in Herzog on Herzog:

We kept Bruno anonymous because he asked us to and I think he was right to do so. […] Bruno was very aware that the film was just as much about how society had destroyed him as it was about how society had killed Kaspar Hauser. Maybe for this reason he wanted to remain anonymous, and to this day I call him the ‘Unknown Soldier of Cinema’. The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser is his monument. For a while I even thought about calling the film The Story of Bruno Hauser. The role really touched him, really got under his skin. (London: Faber&Faber, 2002, p. 119).

Over at Fandor, Ekkehard Wölk shares the memories of his meetings with Bruno around 2004, along with the photographic portraits he took of him: “In Search of Bruno S.” His testimony is especially interesting since it offers a glimpse at Bruno’s life outside the usual context of Werner Herzog’s cinema (although, as Herzog’s quote suggests, the filming experience clearly left a deep and durable impression on him).

Somehow I seemed to appear sympathetic to him, and then he unexpectedly agreed to a project which I had proposed before: that I might be allowed to follow him on one of his legendary street tours through the Western part of Berlin with my old camera to catch some glimpses of the authentic “Bruno moods” in black and white.[…]

A few months later, on a bright, sunny Sunday morning in the beginning of October, I took my way, together with my camera, to Charlottenburg, a well-known bourgeois district in Berlin, near Kantsraße. This obviously was one of Bruno’s favourite old areas as a “Bänkelsänger,” or minstrel musicians of the 19th or even 18th centuries in Prussia and elsewhere in Germany. These people used to play either with barrel-organ (“Drehorgel”) or with accordion and, in Bruno’s case, with lots of small and larger bells. He also used a hand xylophone, a concertina and, for special occasions at the end of the year, a bandoneon. All these instruments were carried by himself on a cart through the S-Bahn in Berlin when he decided that on a special day he had to play music in certain Berlin areas. (read more)

The essay comes with a total of 11 black-and-white photos depicting Bruno as he performs in the streets of Berlin. Ekkehard Wölk, who took the photos and shared his memories, is himself a musician and composer. Born in 1967, he has composed scores for German silent films (Murnau, Pabst). Both his classical and jazz performance on the piano are celebrated throughout Europe. Ehsan Khoshbakht –an architect and jazz essayist from Iran who helped with the essay on Bruno– wrote on several occasions about The Ekkehard Wölk Trio on his blog which is dedicated to jazz music. YouTube also has a couple of recordings of Wölk performing: for example, a live performance of the piece “A Walk in the Tiergarten” (included on The Berlin Album).

Other opportunities to discover the life of Bruno Schleinstein are offered in two documentaries. In 2002, Miron Zownir directed Estrangement is Death, a 60-mins documentary film. The film also marks the first time Bruno participated to a cinematographic project since the filming of Stroszek in 1977.

In 2009, Thomas Littlewood directed a 24-mins documentary simply titled “Bruno S” (the film was produced for what was then VBS.tv, which was later absorbed into VICE.com). Littlewood, the editor in chief of VICE in Germany, also shared the story of the time he spent with Bruno in an obituary published the next year (Bruno died on August 11, 2010).


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