November 2022: Once again, I was in the car on my way to the Eifel. To come straight to the point: I was not in a good mood. Yet I had every reason to be happy. In March I turned 60. Grateful and happy, I had spent a long weekend with my family in Dresden - three happy days with exhibitions, boat trips, a festive menu and lots of laughter. I thought turning 60 was great! I had just finished my Master's degree in philosophy and still had a lot of plans for my professional and private life. I plunged into this new year of my life full of joy. Successful and fulfilling months followed, combined with wonderful journeys to places of longing. In late autumn, the time had come: I had achieved all the goals I had set myself for the year 2022. Yes, looking back I could have felt proud and happy. But I didn't. Instead, I felt old. I stared at the fingers clacking on the PC keyboard - the veins standing out starkly, the wrinkles - these were the hands of an old woman. I looked in the mirror and the face of an old woman with sagging skin, a thick nose and big ears gazed back at me. That's not me. How could this Kafkaesque transformation have happened? And it was not only the physical changes that distressed me.
COVID had hit me in late summer, and more violently and for longer than expected. The war in Ukraine with all its horror images of people being killed and fleeing. The revolution in Iran, triggered by the death of young Mahsa Amini. I am feeling helpless, powerless, my own professional work irrelevant.
Somehow - without being able to put my finger on it - my life had lost its lustre.
That is more or less my state of mind when I arrive in Mannheim. Quite the opposite of Hendrik. In high spirits, he tells me about his new art project and about the interesting Christmas markets where he will be exhibiting his works.
We go to his exhibition room. Chatting, we walk between his works. I have seen most of them several times before. This would be a short visit. But then I stop abruptly in front of one of the objects. Hackl explains:
"I have named this wall sculpture Golden Chamber. I was inspired by the ammonites with their snail-like shape. I created the sculpture in reference to a pharaoh's burial chamber hidden in the labyrinth of a pyramid. The spiral symbolises the labyrinth ... and between all the chambers there are many wrong turns. Only one leads to the Golden Chamber."
I step closer. The golden sandstone appears in multi-layered beige to yellow-gold and is criss-crossed with fine lines composed of brownish oxidised iron. A beautiful object. At the same time, I feel a deep sadness rising up inside me. Sedimented life. So much of my lifetime has already passed, what remains is only dead rock.
"Hendrik, may I stay here alone for a while?" I ask.
"Sure thing, Gerda-Marie. I will be working next door in the workshop." A few minutes later I hear the hum of his grinder.
I look at the chambers. They seem like archives of memories. My memories. I leave the sandy path and enter the brown chambers. I encounter my disappointments, my failures, my sorrows. I walk through relationships that had enchanted me so much last year, and that now feel stale. The feeling of finally being past and gone hits me with all its force.
And when I look ahead? I am now 60 years old - my years are numbered. What can I still achieve in my life? Where lies my inner gold that lends brilliance to my work and my life?
I reach the last chamber on my walk, the Golden Chamber. For a long time I look at the object. And slowly, but powerfully, the Golden Chamber begins to shine. It seems to invite me in. Hesitantly, I enter it. Immerse myself in the warm gold. Precious memories light up. Of me as a young woman, laughing, open-minded, inquisitive. Of me as a mother, of Sunday afternoons with the kids at the indoor swimming pool and at the cinema, of relaxed holidays on Lake Garda. Of me crossing the Alps on horseback. Jogging through meadows and forests. Of my coaching project and the enthusiastic response of everyone involved. All this I have experienced, this is what makes up my life. It has shaped me into the woman I am today. In a corner of the chamber stands a heavy dark treasure chest. I open it curiously. And what do I find there: my creativity. My empathy. My humour. My generosity. My love. I smile. More memories surface. Gently I put the treasures back into the chest. Only the golden ring with the rock crystal, I take with me.
Slowly I leave the chamber. I stroll over to Hendrik and let him explain one of his special working techniques to me.
"Cake?" he asks. I shake my head. 'Not today. He understands. We say goodbye with a loving hug. And I set off for the Eifel - to my mother, my sisters, my sick friend. From inside I feel a gentle glow, not much, but enough for the moment.