Diary note 31: Judith Herzberg

Berlin, 31 December 2018

Judith Herzberg is an old contact. We see each other sparingly, perhaps once a year. This December she invited me to participate in a ceremony. The Award for Dutch literature would be conferred on her by King Willem Alexander at the Royal Palace. I decided to shorten my stay in Berlin so that I would be able to attend. After the ceremony Judith asked me to stay on for an informal (she stressed the in-formal) come-together with a few acquaintances outside the palace. She had thoughtfully drawn a small map by hand, with a dotted line connecting the palace to an underground theatre. Indeed this workplace of a group of actors did not rise up proudly like the palace, but seemed in comparison a warren dug by miners. There a warm welcome was extended to the friends of Judith. It felt naturally caring and homespun.

I was happy to reencounter some former members of the Onafhankelijk Toneel (Independent Theatre) and especially Jan Joris Lamers. Its originator. He clasped me with his bodily grip and was evidently contented to see me. I first met him in Rotterdam at a student theatre festival and felt there existed something special in him. He moved his whole group to Rotterdam (he had just settled in Amsterdam) at our request. A decade later he was back in Amsterdam. He told me he was now fascinated by Voltaire.

I was shown a comfortable place at a table. My companions were mainly from the German theatre and had flown in from a conference in China and then taken the train to see Judith. Judith came in and divided her attention to now this, then that group of guests. So she sat down in different corners of the labyrinthine cellar. I noticed the attention with which she was listened to by young people. It was not that she spoke much, but she seemed a careful listener. This image stayed with me after that evening, of Judith sitting upright, with a somewhat ironical expression of slight disbelief in her eyes.