In the spring of 1959, at the first Bitterfelder Konferenz, a young poet named Werner Lindemann (1926-1993) met the woman who would soon become his wife. Her name was Brigitte Hildegarde (last name has eluded all efforts to track it down), better known to all as Gitta, already an accomplished writer and journalist. Gitta recalled in a 2011 interview with Radio Audition that Werner constantly gazed at her during the presentation, and that he invited her to coffee afterwards. Other details of their courtship are unknown, as is the date and location of their marriage.
Whenever and wherever they married, by the beginning of 1963, the happy couple lived in Leipzig, East Germany. They welcomed their first child, a boy named Till, on January 4, 1963. Sometime later, the family moved to the village of Wendisch-Rambow near Schwerin were Till and his younger sister Saskia, who was born six years later, grew up.
There is almost no specific information available about Till’s childhood – he just doesn’t seem to talk about it, as one would expect of a man who doesn’t see himself as anything exceptional, though interviews and written works by both of his parents give us the impression that he was a normal child, doing the sorts of things all children do. They tell us that he loved (and loves) his family, was the sort of boy who rescued injured animals and brought them home to take care of them, surrounded himself with pets, and did all the kinds of things a child is supposed to do growing up.
There are indications that even as a child, he was aware of the world around him, and the inspiration that could be found there for artistic expression in one form or another. In one article Till’s father Werner states that Till wrote his first poem at the age of nine, called “Nutcracker”; it didn’t sound as though Werner meant a school assignment either, but rather a poem written because Till needed to write it and had something to say. His father recalled a rainy day with a rainbow forming when a very young Till looked out and said, “The meadow is crying”, and a night when little Till looked up at a gibbous moon and remarked that the moon was “broken”. Not earth-shaking, just the sort of things an observant little boy would say to a father who took the time to share these things with him.
While no mention of Till’s early schooling is made in any interviews or articles reviewed for this biography, it is perhaps safe to assume that, like all the other children in the area, he attended primary school in his home village of Wendisch-Rambow until he was 11 years old (in 1974). He attended a sports school at the Empor Rostock Sport Club from the age of 11 until he was 14 (1974-1977) where he became an elite competitive swimmer. Till has gone on record stating, "I never liked the sport school actually, it was very intense. But as a child you don't object."
Parents’ Separate Lives
In 1975, while Till was attending the Empor Rostock Sport Club, his parents began living separately for career and family reasons. His father Werner moved to a small cottage in the country that the family owned (some articles call it a farmhouse) because he liked the quiet there, and wanted to be able to write his poetry and books in peace. Living in the town all the time caused him a lot of stress. He took long walks in the woods to seek inspiration, leaving his notebooks all over the house. At the time, Till had no real interest in writing, “But it stayed by me. I told my Dad that I could change my mind one day and become a writer, which I actually did at some point.”
There was also the question of Saskia’s schooling – Werner stated that his dear daughter would have had a long way to go to school if she were always in the village. As with Till’s early school days, nothing is to be found about where she went to school, but considering Till was sent to school away from his home village, perhaps Saskia was as well. In fact, so little is published about her that even her name was found in only one article which quotes Werner speaking about her. Either way, Werner and Saskia went to live in the cottage in the woods, and Gitta, as a journalist continued to live in town. Werner would come to town frequently, but did not stay there. The family was often together on weekends when they were indeed a happy, united family. In the 2011 Radio Audition interview, Gitta explains that ‘they would always live very happily as a family, but they were individuals and wanted to make the most of themselves and fulfill their aims.’ At no time did Werner and Gitta divorce, so there was never an American step-father in Till’s and Saskia’s lives, as some have claimed.
This also seems to be the place to state that, though Werner did indeed have an alcohol problem for a short time, he dealt with it and was a non-drinker for the rest of his life, not even indulging in the traditional holiday toasts. There were no drunken beatings, and there is no indication that Till or Saskia were ever abused in any way by either parent.
To Boarding School
I have found conflicting (or duplicated) accounts of the events that seem to have got Till expelled from the sport school and sent on to boarding school. Without clarification from Till or others involved, we may never sort it out. Perhaps he did indeed slip away from two different hotels in two different cities on two different swim trips to go explore the night life of the West, and got two different reprimands, the first time a trip to boarding school and the second time, expulsion from both the swim team and boarding school.
One account describes the incident as occurring when Till was 14 years old. He was on a swimming trip to France with his school team and decided to sneak out of the hotel at night to go exploring the city, and of course, he was caught and promptly shipped off to a boarding school, the name and location of which I cannot find anywhere.
Another account, which seems to take details both from the previous account and from the one which follows this one, was related in an interview with Schneider. He recalled, “Till was part of Germany’s swimming team in the European Championships when he was 13 or 14. They went to Italy but it was still Communist times and he left the hotel without permission to buy some porn magazines and got caught. I think they excluded him from the team for that.”
Neither of these seems quite right. Till did indeed continue swimming after he was sent to boarding school, and in 1978 (at the age of 15, not 13 or 14) he was a participant in the European Junior Swimming Championships in Florence, Italy. He finished 11th in the 1500 metre freestyle, and seventh in the 400 metre freestyle swimming with a time of 4'17"58. As a result he was soon shortlisted for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, though he never made it there.
In the interview published in the January 2006 German edition of Playboy Magazine, Till explains about the incident in Italy, “I did not want to flee, I only wanted to have a look at town. The cars, the bikes, the girls. They caught me and I was thrown out of the team, but I also did not fulfill the required results.” A look at the record winning times of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow bears out this assessment.
Till goes on to say that being thrown of the team “was horrible. When I still was in the swimming team I had swum 30 kilometres a day, getting up at five in the morning and in the evening I went to bed totally knackered. Now I had so much time to spend in the quarter with the cheap built houses and had to start fights to be accepted. And to drink lots of Schnapps, that counted.”
There is no indication whether he was allowed to finish out the school year after being kicked off the swimming team, nor are any details about the torn stomach muscle Till says gave him the opportunity to quit swimming competitively. But one way or another, at about 15 years of age, he found himself back home with his mother, without a clear direction to go in his life.