Heinz discusses growing up in post-war Germany, racism, and self-reflection as education curriculum.
When did you move here to the United States?
I moved here from Portugal in 2008. I was born in Germany and had been living in Portugal since 1999. I met Brooke in 2002, and then we married in Spain. A couple of years later we came to NYC. The economy was so trashed, and I had trouble keeping up with my business. I had enough to survive, but I wanted a quality life. In Germany, I had my ceiling company. I did general contracting.
As an artist, you should be in New York. This is the place. Brooke is an artist, so we decided to move here.
I’ve never been to Germany, but I would love to go one day.
I don’t like it as much. I don’t like German people so much. I was living in Berlin, and it was like an island when I lived there. It was indescribable. There was a nice community. All people were living together. You know, there was no racism against Muslims and everything was nice. But all of Germany was different. I feel like it’s becoming more like the United States. They’re cutting all good social things, but German people live to work. I work to live. It makes a difference. It's more stressful in Germany to keep up the work and pursue “the prize.”
Why did you choose to move to Portugal?
The beaches, the weather. Even if it was 45 degrees Celsius or about 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit, there’s always a light breeze that comes from the ocean. It’s always beautiful. No snow [laughs]. Portugal is the last point of Europe. It’s close to Morocco and the rest of Africa. Spain is there. You can have a comfortable and nice life.
Honestly, my favorite thing to do though is to travel and to see different countries and mentalities. It’s really so interesting to meet other people and to stay with them for months. I think that’s great. I went so many times to Morocco and Tunisia and other places in Africa. It’s so different. People of Morocco are so from the heart. They invite you to their home, and you can eat with their family. Really nice people and they are pretty poor. They have their life, and that’s all. They share everything.
Do you ever miss it?
I do miss Portugal, but after a few years, it gets boring. It’s like a paradise. If you want all of the cultural things, you have to go to a major city or somewhere in Spain. It’s nice to be there, but if you want many cultural experiences, you have to go somewhere. For Brooke, sure she could have made exhibitions, but it was like a little town. All of the museums in Portugal want to have either only Portuguese artists or very famous ones. If you’re famous, you can get an exhibition anywhere. I think that New York is the right place, but we’re actually thinking about moving to California towards the end of this year.
Wow, that’s exciting!
Oh, yea! I’ve never been, but you know, I like the excitement; otherwise, life gets boring. I work too much, and I want to stop. The next project I want is to build our house out there. That’s what I want to do. I have a dream. I have ideas that I want to make realities, and I think that I can do it in California.
What was it like to live through an event as momentous as the wall falling?
It was so unbelievable. There were towers with guards and rifles. They were willing to shoot whoever. But when the walls fell, the guards didn’t know what to do. Afterwards, everything was nice. People were crying when they crossed the border! I mean, it was 40 years of living like that. It was crazy. But now it is very racist mostly against Asian and Muslim people.
Why do you think that they are like that?
You have many Asian people and people from Cuba. They hate these people because they were protected by the government for years. Cuba was an ally of Russia. If you were a German living in the DDR, you would have to register your child for a car when they were first born for them to have one when they became an adult. It was an absolutely different system.
This is so eye-opening to me because I’ve heard a different outlook from other Germans. It would appear that people don’t really learn from history.
Oh, Germans definitely learn from history! It’s really only a few that have not learned. I feel like it’s mostly the East side that is racist. It’s really sad because Germany is open for everyone.
We recently wrapped up an interview with someone for our documentary film. We spoke with him about personal growth and self-reflection and how it takes a certain amount of vulnerability and self-reflection. I think that’s difficult to do and that it’s much easier to have a scapegoat than to look at one’s situation for what it is.
You have to go and talk to other people. That’s the only way you can find out about people and their feelings. You have to talk to people.
I think that people don’t want to understand each other. To have the desire to really get to know another person takes work. For me, after moving to NYC, one of the hardest things was having all of these preconceptions about people shaken. I came back from NYC with a completely different outlook on life. To have your core beliefs or assumptions about life shaken is truly scary. You have to be open.
Can you tell me about your life in Germany?
I was born after the war. When I was growing up, I was taught about the war, and I saw with my own eyes what was happening in Germany. Many people with one leg or one arm. Just people suffering. I mean Jewish people. We killed so many people for being Jewish! That’s all! That’s insane. Many of the German people they knew this, but they didn’t want to see. They said, “Oh! These people. They just gather them and have them work in the camp.” After the first or second year, they noticed. They knew.
What are your parents’ outlook on the war?
My dad worked in the Army for the Red Cross. He helped people who were injured. He was a syndicator and told me horrible stories of cutting legs off after explosions and holding the hands of the dying. He really doesn’t like to speak about it, but sometimes when he’s had a few drinks, he’ll talk a little bit. When he would realize that he was talking about it, he would change and get in a bad mood and not want to talk anymore.
My mom grew up in a little town. In a town that small, you don’t realize the world. I mean, there were soldiers, but you still wouldn't really know. On the end phase of the war, they got all of the children starting at 16 to go fight. It was too late, but they got them to fight.
Do you think that Germany went through a process of self-reflection?
I do think so. I think that they are still doing self-reflection. As a German, you have to do it. In Europe, you go to school, and you learn to self-reflect. It’s very important. If people don’t teach you anything, they teach you how to learn. They teach you how to use a book. They teach you how to get information. You learn the basics, but the main things they teach you is how to learn, get information, and make the right decisions. In the U.S., you have multiple choice. You learn this and this and this and then you pass. That is all. That is not having knowledge, and it’s not the right way.
I think the future of every country is the kids. If you don’t educate the kids, you have a stupid country.
Sometimes I feel like our education system’s state is intentional.
I think there’s no question that people in the South and Black people are less educated. It’s a system. They want to pressure black people. That’s America. That’s a basic in America. I feel so sad about this. How can you do this? How can you treat people like this? We have the same blood. We have the same feelings.
When I came here, I thought, “Oh! This is great. There is no racism. It’s a melting pot. Then I got this job in a window company. I started to meet other people. I have 50% Black coworkers, and I love all of them. One day I talked about how great New York City was and how there was no racism or whatever. They really opened my eyes to some things that I had never thought of before.
I believe that if you are educated and if you are constantly self-reflecting, then you can’t be a racist.
Well, I guess that would depend on your definition of “educated.” There are plenty of people who are educated and just as racist.
That’s about money and power and maybe even family. I think that the family you grow up with is a factor. Especially within these small towns. You have to learn about yourself and reflect on life and other cultures.