The World as a Labyrinth

The Dancing God

Appreciations of Gustav René Hocke

It was in summer 1970, Michael Ende wrote of the day he first met Gustav René Hocke.1 My wife Ingeborg and I were sitting outside the Café Nazionale in the piazza at Genzano, drinking espressi and waiting for Gustav René Hocke, who had promised to pick us up there because the way to his house was impossible to explain on the phone. I was greatly looking forward to making the acquaintance of the man whose books had made such a deep impression on me. [...] I had often tried to picture this man. Ingeborg and I had debated what he would look like. Of one thing I was quite certain: he must be one of those exceptional, sometimes eccentric personalities known in Italy as a mostro sacro, a ‘sacred monster’ of knowledge, erudition and refinement. For some reason I had envisioned a thin-faced, ascetic-looking elderly man, tall and rather stooped, probably with a mane of white or grey hair, who, attired in an eau-de-Nil silk dressing gown, inhabited a multi-storey library and leafed through precious old tomes with nicotine-yellow fingers. [...] His house would be somewhat gloomy and neglected; possibly a small, half-dilapidated palazzo with crumbling frescos on the ceilings [...]

While we were sitting at our Formica-topped table outside the Café Nazionale, waiting for a man of that kind, I was watching a German tourist on the other side of the little piazza. Carrying a shopping bag and looking around enquiringly, he was a short, stout, sturdy man with a remarkably rosy complexion, well-pressed gabardine slacks, and a bright yellow bomber jacket. I drew Ingeborg’s attention to him. It’s funny, I said, you can recognize our compatriots at once, anywhere in the world.
The man, who had spotted us, came over.
Excuse me, but are you Herr and Frau Ende?
We nodded dismissively.
It’s funny, he said rather smugly, Germans are instantly recognizable anywhere. My name is Hocke.

Luise Rinser was not the only person to be struck by the contrast between his Nordic outward appearance—fair-haired, pale-skinned, blue-eyed—and that Italian sensuality which wants to turn life into a party.2 His schoolfriend Walter Eichelberg said of him, even during the 1920s, that he was neither a hundred per cent German nor a hundred per cent Roman, but really a genuine European: what he himself described as a Burgundian.3
Amelie Friedman, editor of the Abendzeitung, called him—in allusion to his novel—the dancing god. This was because of his manner, particularly when ladies were present.

Michael Ende, the male observer, gave a less high-flown but no less apt description of him: Gustav René Hocke was undoubtedly the most multi-faceted personality I ever met. [...] There was the grand seigneur, the scholar, the hedonist, the snob, the crowing cockerel, the citizen, the timid youngster (afraid, for instance, of going home in the dark), the devout Catholic—yes, and sometimes, even, the Rhineland skittle-player who liked to belt out German folksongs in Italian hostelries. [...] I never discovered whether all the very different persons that made up Gustav René Hocke’s personality were related to each other at all [...] or whether they met only sporadically and were on formal terms.4