When I met Kottwitz for the first time, I did not have the faintest clue of who it was I had in front of me. In those days I was helplessly strapped onto the seat of a roller-coaster, zooming past the world at full speed, dashing through loops of matter and money. I was a philistine – it is the most fitting word I have found to describe my life from back then –, a turbocapitalistic yuppy, ignorant of all matters of the soul and the arts. Not even the art market interested me, though I was well aware that one could make a fortune with paintings and all other kinds of artistic handcraft. All of that was a set of hieroglyphs to me. And I had neither the time nor the will to engage in deciphering hieroglyphs.
When I say I was strapped onto a seat of a roller-coaster, I actually mean an airplane seat. I was belted to an airplane seat and this is to be understood literally, for I used to spend more time in airplanes than anywhere else. I knew all airport lounges across the world as well as most of the receptionists, all IATA codes of all possible airports, from AAA to ZZV (ZZV is the last one), cabin crews of at least a dozen of different airlines, the menus and wines served on board of each flight, the flight codes, the timetables, everything. Not surprisingly, the place I met Kottwitz was an airport lounge in Frankfurt, where I had to stop over on my way from Luanda to Helsinki. That day, most flights were being delayed due to poor weather conditions. Lead-grey cumulonimbi piled up in the sad washed-out landscape, it was rainy and windy and cold. As a consequence, the first class lounge was far busier than usual and I was lucky to find a vacant seat next to an old man who was silently bent over what seemed to be an album, similar to the collection booklets into which children paste stickers of football players. As I sat down, I was clumsy enough to knock over a crutch that had been leaning against the man’s chair. I mumbled a curse to myself, then told the man I was honestly sorry. As I was about to bend down and pick up the crutch, a hoarse “don’t worry” drew me back. The man did not look at me, but went on browsing in his album. His skin was leathery and stained, his ears hung down like flags at half mast, the mind closed onto his lap, to where my gaze slid, attracted by some strange magnetism. When I saw what he was looking at, I felt that something had gotten stuck in my throat, a sensation similar to swallowing a fish spine. Instead of a collection of football players, this man held in his hands a collection of stickers showing concentration camp detainees. As if he had sensed my awkwardness, the man looked up at me, closing the album and placing it on the glass table in front of us. “The Holocaust Panini Collection” it read on the title page, over a black and white photograph that showed a heap of corpses and what looked to be loose limbs randomly stacked together. I am usually not sensitive to this kind of material and I am not sure to this day, whether it was the photo itself that moved me, or rather the placing of that image in a frame of a long forgotten childhood. Images of football players from the 80s and in particular the image of a Polish goal keeper with a cottony moustache crossed my mind, ere the man’s voice broke the associative chain. “It was thanks to this art piece that I got famous. But it was a mistake.” I nodded and, as nothing else would occur to me, introduced myself. “I am Kottwitz”, he replied and we shook hands. His palm was cold and corneous, like the skin of a reptile. “I am the author of this work, an old work as I said. For a long time, it was in the hand of collectors and travelled from one museum to another. Until I decided to retrieve it. It cost me a few millions to get it back. But I got it.” I nodded. The only thing I could come up with in the presence of this person was nodding. “And you know why I bought it back? I bought it back, in order to get rid of it once and for all.” He looked at me, his gaze tired and resigned. “At first, I thought it would be best to burn it. But that would somehow be a reenactment of the holocaust. Which means: It would be repeating the mistake. My mistake. Then I came up with the idea of burying it. But that wouldn’t do either. So probably the best thing will be to keep it in a shelf. Next to other albums and books. To forget it, but have it there, at the same time. Like a memory you prefer not to remember, but should not forget either.” – “That’s probably a good solution”, I suggested, but Kottwitz shook his head and waved his hands. “It’s not a good solution. I just cannot come up with anything else.” He looked up at a waitress that had appeared in front of us, holding a tray of sushi and asking whether we would care for a snack. I accepted, Kottwitz did not even reply. She placed a plate on the table, and next to it a glass of red wine. The sushi looked magnificent, elegantly displayed, topped with a glittering garment. I took a small nigiri to my mouth, it was delicious. “You know”, Kottwitz had awakened from his apathy and peered at my sushi. “You may think that what is truly luxurious in this world and in this life is eating golden sushi. It’s not a coincidence that they serve you this cold fish with this glittering sauce. It’s done so as to suggest that you’re eating the gold you’ve earned. It’s your pay. You deserve it, hence it glitters. Or the other way around – it glitters, hence you deserve it –, it doesn’t matter. Anyway. I find this view of things to be extremely short-sighted. One could even say that it is actually a blinded view – if one may still call it a view – on things. Eating this sushi merely makes you forget for a while what made you come here and eat it. You think: I came here. Therefore I came here to eat sushi. You don’t even realise that, in thinking so, you skipped an important part in your reasoning. You didn’t come here to eat sushi, you came here to forget. Which is something you forget, because of all this glitter on your plate. It is this glittering luxury that makes you forget. Because you should know that luxury is forgetfulness, even when it glitters and shines.” I swallowed the chewed mass of fish and rice and washed it down with a sip of wine. I wanted to talk Kottwitz into trying it out for himself, but he had already gotten up from his seat. “Well, young man, I have made up my mind and decided I would forfeit luxury henceforth. If I do so, it is for one simple reason. It is because I want to remember.” He picked up his crutch and left without saying good-bye. I shrugged my shoulders, whispered “well”, and dipped a nigiri in the soy sauce. Only after having finished my plate and my wine, did I notice that Kottwitz had left the holocaust album on the table. I hesitated at first, but ended up giving in to curiosity. When I closed the album, after an hour or four, not only had I lost the flight to Helsinki, but slowly started to grasp the sense of Kottwitz’ cryptic words.