The Boy with the Hammer
Posted June 22, 2023
The Boy with the Hammer
By Franz Kranke
Franz Kranke, Leonard Bernstein, and Craig Urquhart at the Berlin Wall, December 1989; Photo by Andreas Meyer-Schwickerath.
One Saturday morning this past February, I was chatting with a neighbor who told me about a great experience he’d had in Leipzig. He and his wife saw West Side Story at the Leipzig opera, and they were still impressed and euphoric about this event. We chatted further about Leonard Bernstein, and as we talked, I remembered a long-ago experience from my youth…I told him my story.
I grew up in the eastern part of Berlin, in a neighborhood called Pankow. The division of Germany was part of my life -- and in a very personal way, as some of my close relatives left the GDR in the 80’s. For me as a young boy, this was tough; I wasn’t able to see my aunts and uncles anymore, except for twice (illegally) in Czechoslovakia during summer school vacations. My parents were allowed from time to time to see their sisters and brothers in the western part - but without me and my sister. This was how the political system made sure they would come back.
Classical music was always a part of my life. Since I was 7 years old I played cello in the music school in Pankow. My parents had lots of LP’s of operas, symphonies, and more. On Sundays during breakfast, my father put on records that we’d listen to while we were eating.
On November 9th, 1989 - the day the Wall came down - my parents were attending a concert at the Schauspielhaus Berlin, as they did regularly. It was a Thursday, so my sister and I stayed at home; we had school next day. Normally our parents would return around 11pm – but on this day they came back way earlier. They’d heard during intermission that the Wall had come down, and border crossings were opening. They drove straight home, picked up my sister and me, and told us that this might be our only chance in life to see West Berlin. We drove to Bornholmer Straße and crossed the “Boehse Bruecke” in Berlin. The bridge was full of people: some were crying, some had just tears in their eyes, some walked silently. A foreign person asked us if we’d like him to show us the center of West Berlin. We agreed, and we took a bus to Kurfuerstendamm. What an unforgettable moment for me! I even dared imagine that I might see my aunts and uncles again. (And I did: only a month later, I was able to see them – in the western part of Germany!) We didn’t get home until very early the next morning. I was late to school -- but it was worth it!
A month later, on the morning of December 25th, 1989, my parents switched on the TV, and there, live from our beloved Schauspielhaus, was Leonard Bernstein and the Symphonieorchester des Bayrischen Rundfunks with guest performers from other great orchestras around the world, performing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the occasion, instead of singing “Ode an die Freude” ("Joy"), Bernstein had the chorus and soloists sing “Ode an die Freiheit” ("Freedom"). This concert was a very special one for my parents.
After the concert, my parents, my sister, and I drove to the Berlin Wall, behind the Reichstag, to chop further pieces out of the wall. We had been there a few days before already, when I gained the wisdom that you need eye protection when you chop at a splintering wall. This time, I took my ski goggles, which I’d bought a year before in Czechoslovakia.
After a while a woman next to us, who was also chopping, said “Look - that guy looks just like Leonard Bernstein.” He answered: “I am Leonard Bernstein!”
Leonard Bernstein with Craig Urquhart and Franz Kranke at the Berlin Wall, 1989; Photo by Andreas Meyer-Schwickerath.
Lenny and his companions started chatting with us. He asked my father to chop a piece out of the wall for him. My father said to Lenny‚ “Selbst ist der Mann,” which means there is nothing like doing things yourself! My father handed over the hammer and the chisel, and Lenny started to chop. After a while he gave the tools back to me, the little boy with the hammer and the red jacket - memorialized by a snapshot taken by one of Lenny’s companions. What a surreal moment! I was just watching Bernstein on TV a few hours before, and now he stood next to me!
My mom told Lenny that I played cello and that my sister played the oboe. He hugged my sister and me, and invited us to New York. I even got his address on a small piece of paper as he offered to support us in our musical education! I realized that this concert in the morning, followed by this moment of chopping pieces out of the wall, must have been something profoundly meaningful for him.
I don’t tell this story very often. But I realized, as I told it to my neighbor on that Saturday in February, that deep emotions were resurfacing about that special day in my life. I went back home and looked on the Internet for pictures, articles and film clips from that day. I found one picture with the name of Lenny's assistant: Craig Urquhart. I located him on social media, and sent him a message. I didn’t really expect any answer; I just told him that I was the boy with the hammer and the red jacket in the snapshot from December 25th, 1989. Incredibly, Craig replied within the hour. He was very surprised to hear from me after more than 33 years – and he lived in Berlin! Soon after, we met in a cafe and talked about that day: the memories, the emotions, and the historic moments we shared in 1989.
Franz Kranke with the same hammer and chisel, 2023.
Franz Kranke, born 1978 in East-Berlin, is Vice President for Commercial Excellence for Bayer Pharmaceuticals in Berlin.