RIP, Bruno Schleinstein (Bruno S.)

Nobody expects an accordion.

R.I.P. to Bruno S., aka Bruno Schleinstein. June 2, 1932 – August 11, 2010. May you never descend to a loch der vergessenheit.

Mr. S. was most famously featured in the Werner Herzog film Stroszek (1977), which was written expressly for him after his turn as the titular character in Herzog’s The Enigma of Kasper Hauser (1974). Herzog insisted on Schleinstein for both roles despite his total lack of acting experience. The character of Bruno Stroszek was broadly based on the real-life Bruno Schleinstein, insomuchas he was able to convey himself to Mr. Herzog, though Herzog reports he was suspicious and uncomfortable beneath the focus of the director’s attention.

An unbelievably accomplished accordion player with a love of classic performance, Mr. Schleinstein was an abused child who spent much of his young life in mental institutions. When Herzog knew him, he was an weekend accordion player and forklift driver at a car manufacturers’. Mr. S. had recently quit smoking and drinking for health reasons.

via chainedandperfumed right here on the wordpress.

“Do you know who that is?” my friend Ingrid had asked me when she came by my family’s apartment one day late last spring. An old musician was seated before a rickety cardboard box below the window. He sang in a croaking voice on the empty sidewalk in the afternoon sunshine, his back toward the brick church across the street.

“That’s Bruno S.,” Ingrid said excitedly. She looked as if she had come across Marlene Dietrich, returned from the dead.

(“From Berlin’s Hole of Forgottenness, a Spell of Songs.” Kimmelmann, Michael. The New York Times. December 24, 2008.)

Recently, with Christmas coming, we dropped in to ask how he was doing. This is not a good season for people who are alone. He said he hated the Christmas markets around town, where “the gentlemen who go in come out like plucked chickens with all their feathers flying, and such beautiful colored feathers.” That’s how Bruno tends to talk. He makes up words and phrases or borrows them from old songs and gives them a twist. Liederbann: a spell of songs. Das Loch der vergessenheit: the hole of forgottenness. He says he transmits (durchgeben) his songs, he doesn’t sing them.

When the conversation turns to Mr. Herzog or to his mother or brother and sister, words tend to fail him, and he becomes distraught. Otherwise he’s mischievous, puckish, remote but always glad for the company.


Schleinstein says he transmits (German: durchgeben) his songs, he doesn’t sing them.

(the wiki)

What a lovely and expressive thought in terms of art and our relationship with the universe. When I write my nonfiction work, I like to describe the process as an archaelogist brushing and digging gently away at a vast skeleton, a fossil buried in the earth which only resembles sense as it takes shape. Once, I read in a philosophy book that a particular german philosopher’s translation of “this is the chair” was better expressed as “The chair gives itself to us.” Is this so and can anyone recall which philosopher? Because that blew my mind.

R.I.P. again to a true individual. Many happy returns to this earth, Mr. S.

Special thanks to @SashaGrey for bringing Bruno Schleinstein’s death today to my attention, ahead of news and wiki alerts. She’d heard it from Chris Campion. Please do give her a follow on the twitter: like the Transformers and all truly good things in life, there is more to the admirable, lovely and talented Ms. Grey than meets the eye.

edit: This was my original source for this entry. I came online this morning expecting to find more official notices, obits, etc, and none have turned up yet, so if it turns out to be a case of mistaken identity and Mr. S has not yet shuffled off the mortal coil, I will be the first to toast the fact that he’s still with us. Now I’m really looking forward to the chance he’s not yet passed. I’ll keep searching periodically and keep you posted.

edit, 8-12-10, around 5 pm PDT: Fuck, dudes. It looks like Bruno Schleinstein definitely is dead. The German Press Agency is reporting that he died of heart failure. Sorry for the king-sized cuss but I’d got my hopes up earlier today that it was one of those “rumors of my blah have been greatly blah” situations. R.I.P. to Mr. S. again. God bless him and everyone who is always themself no matter what.

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9 Responses to “RIP, Bruno Schleinstein (Bruno S.)”

  1. Colin Caret Says:

    I have a hunch the philosopher you have in mind is Martin Heidegger. I am no expert in German philosophy, but Heidegger famously discusses the distinction between objects which are “ready-to-hand” and “present-at-hand”. I won’t try to pretend like I understand this distinction, but I think it might be the source of the quote or paraphrase you have in mind.

  2. Cities of the Mind Says:

    Totally cool. It’s a rare person who is an individual.

    I know how that sounds, but I said what I said, and I meant what it meant.

  3. Luke Says:

    Very nice entry. Yesterday I finished the chapters on Bruno in HERZOG ON HERZOG and this is saddening news. Something timeless about Bruno I cannot quite express.

    Anyway, as to the quote: I’m not sure if the exact quote is attributed to any particular philosopher (though it could certainly be Heidegger), but it springs from the discourse started by Husserl and Sartre and was capped off by Heidegger’s Dasein. My feeling here is that some academic along the way made the claim that a “chair gives itself to us” based on the agitations innate to existential phenomenology.

    Thanks for posting

  4. Beth Arzy Says:

    My friend Hannah and I had the rare pleasure to find Bruno one Friday night at Stadtklause in Berlin two months ago.

    I’d wanted to meet him for the longest time and the evening was most magical.

    He will be in my heart forever. A truely special, beautiful individual.


  5. bruno s. is dead | chained and perfumed Says:

    […] S., star of Every Man For Himself and God Against Them All has apparently […]

  6. Marco Bergami Says:


  7. Wellington Vinnícius Says:

    Yep! Nice post yours! Do ya want to know something? Mr. S. deserved all homage we can pay him… Congratulations!!!

  8. Wellington Vinnícius Says:

    Ok… Let’s listen to Popol Vuh’s “Aguirre I” and think of Bruno S. shining while he plays his acordion way up there, in Heaven…

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