Till is a very private person. He shares very few details (just frustratingly general statements) about his life in interviews, so whether one is looking for information about his life now, or trying to find out about his past, one must become a bit of a detective.
There is only a span of about eight years between Till’s return home after being expelled from boarding school and his swimming career in 1978, and his first foray into the music scene in about 1986. While this isn’t a very long time, the teen years and early twenties are often very important in the continued development of one’s character, and the choices made then impact the rest of one’s life.
There are lovely insights about the sort of person Till was as a teenager, scattered throughout interviews given by his mother, Gitta, and in things written by or about his father, Werner. In some ways, he was no different than he was as a child; his affinity for the outdoors, for peace and quiet, to spend time alone with only his pets for company, his love for his family – these are mentioned in everything I can find about him, and seem to be enduring traits right to the present. His father, Werner, describes Till once running up to his Mom, and throwing her up in the air with a big, joyful grin plastered on his face (that grin we all love to see in pictures!). He then placed her down gently on the ground with extreme care to make sure she wouldn’t fall. This is the REAL Till Lindemann, in his mother’s words, from an article she wrote in 2008 (as translated by Iroto122):
Home - that is Mecklenburg. His motherland, his roots, his source of energy. Already as a teenager – he would stroll through the landscape, wake up in early hours and set off to the field, to cows, with the milker. Sleep under the open sky; listen to apples falling to the ground, ducks messing around in the pond. In the autumn, strolling in the woods, searching for mushrooms. In the winter, long walks through the snowy landscape, with a cat cradled in his jacket, tired of jumping from hill to hill.
And people. "Let's talk about the past" he would ask his father and guests in Dorfkrug (where his father lived). How did they use to live back then? He sits - just like today - together with village people and listens to their dry-humoured ranting and stories.
He is gregarious, they seek his company. And it hasn't got anything to do with his job. His father has written a book about him, there he speaks about his astonishment, that his friends confide everything in him. One of them wanted him to repair his Moped. Father asks, puzzled, "You mean...he can do it?" The boy answers, "Till can do everything." Father thinks in disbelief, "Incredible." He is surprised to see the Moped driving away into the distance after several minutes. “He can do everything. So much confidence. So much trust," writes his father.
He evokes trust. It comes to my memory, when both of us (he was 15 or 16 back then) went for a walk and we had to pass by a bull. I was full of fear, he was probably scared as well, but he approached the animal, and cried to me, that I should always stay behind his back. Then we have to make our way through the stream. He places a desk (?) across, and helps me to the other side.
His mother’s love and pride shine through every memory she shares with her audience. Perhaps if his father had lived longer, he would have come to have a closer, more understanding relationship with his only son. How his parents must have despaired when they were at odds with him over the behavior that happened when they were not able to be where he was comfortable and at peace, when he was away from Mecklenburg and Dorfkrug, where his father’s cottage was located.
It seems that Till always preferred to work with his hands, as opposed to pursuing a white-collar career (can you imagine Till as an accountant or businessman?). His father’s astonishment at his ability to fix his friend’s Moped, as related above, seems to show that his skills were not school-taught, but rather self-taught. According to Werner’s memoirs, Till worked as a carpenter in his youth. Werner once paid him a visit in his teacher’s workshop and saw a “cherry tree beauty” – a flower pot that Till had carved to give to his mother as a Christmas present.
Werner and Gitta obviously taught their children about respect for their elders, and to be compassionate towards others. Till’s carpentry teacher, or tutor, was not a young man. In fact, Till came home one day outraged that none of his co-workers had congratulated the man on his 73rd birthday; he considered such behavior very rude. At the same time, the tutor’s wife was lying sick in a clinic, and none of them thought to pay her a visit. Till stated that “these people are no authority for me!” Evidence of fine character indeed!
There are many apocryphal stories about how terrible the relationship was between Till and his father that make it sound like they hated each other. Yes, they occasionally fought. And once the fight became physical – in the midst of an argument, Till pushed, and Werner fell down the stairs. Several days passed, and Werner was determined to go talk to Till, no matter what would happen next. He entered Till’s room, and they both said “Sorry” to each other at the same time. This is not a troubled relationship! This is a young man trying to find his way, and a father who only wants to help.
Yes, Werner tried to tell Till how to live his life, and yes, like any teenager, Till objected to what he saw as interference; he answered back, he wanted to make his own way. He rebuffed his Dad’s advice and told him to get lost. He was 19 at the time! What teenager does like to be told what to do by their parents?
Werner himself gave a lot of thought to why their relationship seemed so full of problems. He frequently analysed his own mistakes and shortcomings as a father. He would ask himself, “How do I become friends with my son? Why is there such a gap between us? Why can’t he be more easy-going? Should I be the moral drum? Perhaps I shouldn’t start to scratch before it itches. Maybe I shouldn’t be so pushy about some things.” This is a father who only wants what is best for his son.
Till evidently knew his father only wanted what was best for him, and he speaks of him with love. He tells us that, “I witnessed the death of a person I loved very much. My Dad died of stomach cancer. When he was dying, my Mom and I would stay by his bedside.” You don’t do that for an abusive parent, you do that for a parent who loves you.
Till doesn’t really talk about any part of his life before Rammstein unless really pressed for information. In the interview he did for Playboy in 2006, he mentioned that after he was sent home “It 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.” It is little wonder that he clashed with both of his parents over his behavior at this time.
I have to wonder about his need to fight to be accepted. Was this not his home? Didn’t he belong? What was the issue that had to be settled by fighting? This seems so at odds with the descriptions we have just read. How could that gentle, loving young man also be a drinking, smoking, fighter? Is this one of those times when a lack of Western understanding of how things worked in the GDR has an impact on our ability to see the whole issue? As usual, he volunteers nothing.
He did sustain a knee injury while he was at the sports school. In the “Making of Du Riechst So Gut (1995) video” he mentions this very quickly, looking away from the camera, as if it is not something he really wants to talk about. I do not want to start any rumors about Till, but I do wonder if there are details about that injury and/or it’s treatment that might have had a detrimental effect on him, other than the obvious pain and suffering and numerous future surgeries he endured to deal with it. Or did something else happen during his years away from his loving and protective family that caused him harm?
I can find information that indicates that his inability to form lasting relationships goes way back to his teens – there is evidence that his endless string of girlfriends was a regular point of disagreement between Till and his parents. Their displeasure obviously had no impact on this behavior, and soon he ended up a father, then a husband (albeit the latter only briefly!).
He states in more than one interview that, of course, he wants love, but it never seems to work because he will not be tied to a single woman. I believe he is confusing lust and love, even sex and love. Basically, he tears the relationship apart by infidelity before it has enough substance to last. He can’t relax into a relationship and work to keep it together, and is always surprised and hurt when the woman leaves him. This seems at such odds with his overall personality otherwise that it is worthy of attention in a later article, as does his seeming need for physical pain.
When you look at all these factors together – drinking and smoking from an early age, fighting, serial infidelity, the penchant for self-harm, and the bleakness in so much of his writing – you do not have a picture that matches with the young man described by his mother and father in their memories of him as a child and youth.
These are all things that raise red flags in my mind. In any other young man, they would immediately make me think there was abuse happening in his life. We know Till was not abused in any way by his parents. That leaves the possibility of abuse during his years in sport school and boarding school. I make no accusations, but these things do not add up to a happy, well-adjusted young man ready to take on the world. They add up to a very troubled man, who by nature is quiet, introverted and shy, but acts out in very self-destructive ways. Till said in the Playboy interview that he had never expected to live to be 50 years old, and that it had never really mattered much to him. He even spoke of having a longing for death. Let’s hope that he has finally found that life is much too precious to long for it to end.
So it seems that perhaps “The Hidden Years” is a more apt title than I had anticipated when I chose it.
The years are hidden from us – we have no photos to share and talk about, no words from Till about what he did, or how he felt (unless his poems date from that period), we have only speculation and a few lovely memories shared by his parents. But it seems that part of the man has become hidden over the years as well.
Perhaps those nearest and dearest to him still see the Till his parents wrote about, I hope so. I hope he is still the real Till around his mother and his sister, with his children and his grandson, with his close friends, and yes, even with Sophia.
Perhaps it is just too difficult to let us see the real Till; after all, we are nameless faces snapping his picture without asking, invading his space, asking for autographs, asking questions...how overwhelming that must be for someone who just likes to lie on his back in the woods, gazing up at the sky and listening to the birds.