Working with Gert Hof – The Beginning (1999-2000)
I first met Gert in 1998 at a Mikis Theodorakis project in Berlin. At the time he seemed both aloof and down to earth, arrogant, an earthy labourer, unfriendly, persuasive, very strict in his ideas, a bit of a prima donna, a genius.
Gert impressed me with his inimitable talent for analysis and his consistent thought structures. He turned out to be a control freak, a seismograph for human behavioural patterns. No matter if it was negotiations with our various partners or the planning of an upcoming event – he taught me to clearly recognise the panoply of human inadequacies, and especially my own. His persistent and merciless questions on each and every detail, his analytical brain soon revealed the true abilities – and particularly inabilities – of many of our partners. I hated him for this bluntness and soon got used to being thrown back on myself in my work. The air in the world we were about to conquer, I soon realised, was very thin indeed.
Spurred on by Gert I made many decisions that would change my later life. During the first few months of our collaboration I often thought of him as a megalomaniac – until I made his megalomania into my own. I literally surrendered to the creative potential of his anguished brain and its architectural visions of light.
„Millennium Bells“ in Berlin with Mike Oldfield (Dec 1999)
The invitation to stage the Berlin millennium celebration came out of the blue and at very short notice. For us the period between September and December 1999 became a baptism of fire, especially on an interpersonal level. I physically found out that success is married to war, separation and complete exhaustion – and all of this right up to the limits of endurance. Gert behaved as if he cherished this grey area, as if he meant to take on the whole wide world. He directed his pent-up anger – most of the time unfairly – at anyone around him and often himself. But at the same time he managed to inspire complete dedication in everyone working on the event.
In Mike Oldfield I found the ideal musician for the project who, after intensive work together with Gert, composed the „Millennium Bell“ – a suitable musical backbone for our mega event. This was the birth of a new form of art from the spirit of Light.
The international press named both the Berlin event and our simultaneous New Year’s extravaganza on the Acropolis in Athens as two of the global Top 5 millennial events.
Millennium Event, Berlin, December 31st 1999
Music composed & performed by Mike Oldfield
Artistic Direction, Light & Pyro Design by Gert Hof | Event General Management & Production by Asteris Kutulas | Produced by Achim Perleberg & Egon Banghardt
Acropolis Millennium Event (New Years Eve 2000)
At the same time as the Berlin millennium celebration, our second mega-event was taking place on the Acropolis, Europe’s most important historical edifice. I had received this commission after many months of negotiations with the Greek Government. Greece wanted to make a statement both nationally and internationally – in this respect hiring a German director and me as a Greek producer from Berlin was both a courageous and, for those politically responsible, „risky“ decision. But this wasn’t the only reason why the Acropolis posed a very special challenge for Gert and for me. We had the greatest respect for what the Parthenon symbolised for European civilisation, we wanted to create something truly special and unique.
Gert had „moved“ the Acropolis, showing it in a new light while at the same time paying homage to it. I remember how, two months before the event, he said to me on the holy hill: „here one has to practice humility.“ For months we were working day and night. The exertions were about to pay off: during the event the Acropolis was like a giant ship, gliding through a huge, dark Athens and time itself. Gert’s and my vision – our vision – had become reality.
Acropolis, December 31st 1999
Music composed and conducted by Mikis Theodorakis
Light & Pyro Design Gert Hof | Artistic Direction by Gert Hof & Asteris Kutulas | Produced by Asteris Kutulas for the Greek Ministry of Culture & the Municipality of Athens
Ferropolis – City of Steel (Opening Event, July 2000)
Ferropolis, Gert and Mikis: The best possible combination. This city of iron, this tiny island within a huge landscape torn apart by gigantic diggers, perfectly reflected the aesthetic and philosophical background of Mikis Theodorakis and Gert Hof. On our first visit Gert was absorbed by Ferropolis, it was like an addiction that kept drawing him back to prepare the event. Here he had found something he had not experienced during the other events: He felt at home. Rusty monsters of steel, ubiquitous traces of hard human labour, the location’s East German history, an all-pervasive melancholy, the fleeting loneliness – in July 2000 landscape, music and light formed an unrivalled unity.
Ferropolis, July 16th 2000
Music composed and conducted by Mikis Theodorakis
Artistic Direction, Light & Pyro Design by Gert Hof | Produced by Asteris Kutulas for the Expo 2000 Sachsen-Anhalt GmbH & the Government of Sachsen-Anhalt
1000 Years of Hungary Millennium Event (August 2000)
Gert was immediately fascinated by Budapest, the Danube and the Parliament. In early 2000 we flew to Hungary for initial discussions and I noticed how, from day one, Gert began to „see“ images. I was woken by his call at 2am and soon I was sitting in his hotel room, looking down onto the Chain Bridge and listening to his description of the future event. In moments like these Gert is lost in another world, until his „longing for prison“ manifests itself again, this dark strife for a soothing yet painful loneliness. It is in moments like these that I think of something Mikis once said: „Somehow, we were freer in prison than we are now in our bourgeois everyday lives“. But such moods – hidden, invisible – never alter Gert’s approach, characterized by strict discipline and a resolute rejection of compromise. Even if it seems to be a contradiction in terms: Gert Hof is a hermit who teaches the „art of warfare“.
It turned out to be a long and winding road until the contract was finally signed with the Hungarian government. Diplomatic snares wherever we turned. The conflicts of interest overwhelming. We, the „foreigners“, were constantly confronted with distrust, envy and scepticism. For on the 20th of August 2000 Hungary not only celebrated the turn of the millennium but also 1000 years since the inauguration of their first ever king – a millennium show twice over, in a way. Gert saw the event as a sign for Hungary’s cultural entry into the European Union, symbolized by a Chain Bridge shrouded in blue neon light – a striking image that went all around the world.
Budapest, August 20th 2000
Music by Robert Erdesz
Artistic Direction, Light & Pyro Design by Gert Hof | Event General Management & Production by Asteris Kutulas | Produced by Asteris Kutulas, Happy End Kft. & Art in Heaven GmbH for the Government of Hungary
China Millennium Event (Beijing, Dec 2000)
To us, China was a foreign world, and we were a foreign world to China. The Chinese experience was that of a „positive nightmare“. Our Chinese partners had to learn to overcome their yes-to-everything attitude, we our stubborn negativity. In the Chinese language „no“ does not exist, and most high-level functionaries could not even fathom the idea of refusal. But China was on the verge of opening up, it wanted to get into the WTO and to stage the Summer Olympics 2008. Well, it has accomplished both. Our event was one of those „declarations of openness“. Our collaboration was therefore similar to an arranged marriage, but I had the impression that the Chinese had to try a lot harder than us – which, in the end, they did, and I think they even did it gladly.
In China Gert suffered because he constantly had to adjust to changing circumstances. We often had to react quickly to new realities. It then paid off that Gert had managed to convey this pitiless yearning deep inside himself to his closest employees. I noticed that they possessed that little bit more than their usual professional motivation which enabled them to master such extreme situations as in China.
Klaus Schulze (the former member of Tangerine Dream) wrote the music for our production. The Chinese delegates accepted the Schulze-Soundtrack without further ado. This was important to Gert because he kept an eye on his cooperation with the „official China“, but I think he also acknowledged the complete artistic freedom he had been given and considered himself a living proof of the world’s largest country’s will to finally open up. After the Chinese event I realised that we had accomplished something that no-one had expected to work out and that had only existed in the back of our mind. The birth of an entirely new event format from the spirit of Light.
Beijing, January 1st 2001
Music by Klaus Schulze
Artistic Direction, Light & Pyro Design by Gert Hof
Event General Management & Production by Asteris Kutulas | Produced by Beijing Gehua Cultural Development Co., Beijing Television, Shanghai Eastern Television, Art in Heaven GmbH & Asteris Kutulas for the Chinese Government