Rob Riemen explains the formative influence of Thomas Mann.
Question: Who are you?
Rob Riemen: Rob Riemen. Well I was born in the Netherlands. My father comes from a poor labor family. He had to go to work when he was 14; a self-made man; became a union leader. My mother grew up in Indonesia – which was then a Dutch colony – and spent the years of the war in prison . . . a Japanese camp. She survived, and I was her first born. And so I grew up basically in a poor, liberal, Catholic family in the Netherlands.
Question: Who influenced you as a child?
Rob Riemen: When I was young I think it was definitely my mother. Yes. Look. I mean she knew about life, right? So I grew up in a family in which, you know, there were some rules or some ideas. The first one was life in general is _________. Be aware of that. Secondly, accept the fact that you have to take responsibilities. Three, life __________. But when you accept your responsibilities, don’t give up. Don’t compromise. Do what you think you have to do. And so we have those things. And then for my parents, who were uneducated, that the children could get an education, could go to university was their dream. It was their dream. So when I finally, after a very difficult high school period which took me eight years – normally it’s six years, but it took me eight because I really hated it – I finally managed to go to university. I spent 10 years studying, and I still regret ________ 10 years. It could have been endless. And it was, for me . . . You know it was just 10 years of reading books – books, books, books, books, books. And my old friend once told me that a reader – in some ways I consider myself a reader – you always start with one book and then you read back. For me that book was “The Magic Mountain” of Thomas Mann. And so I started to read everything of Thomas Mann. And through Thomas Mann I was channeled to Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Goethe; you know trying to become familiar with this whole world and this whole mindset, which is now known as the world of European unionism. And the work I am doing is basically trying to . . . to continue that tradition of trying to transmit the ideas of that world. . But in the so called formative years I think, you know, I was questioning myself would I become a secret agent – probably influenced by James Bond? A journalist, you know, investigating the truth? And then finally I did something which might look completely different, but it’s not exactly the case I think. I started to study theology. By training I’m a theologian, which I studied for 10 years. But even I’m not a real theologian, because my whole work was basically focused on again, you know, Thomas Mann and that whole world. But I . . . Two things. (A) I grew up in this family of six children without money. So my mother to deal with everything, she learned me to read when I was three. So essentially I have to feel that the only thing I can do, and I could do my whole life was reading books. So I realized okay, secret agent I’m missing some skills; probably a journalist; then my father told to me, he said “Look, you can always become a journalist. But start with the huge background.” And then I became so fascinated with that world that I continued that study. You know I’m now publishing a journal, so that whole sense of communication is still with me.
Recorded on: 10/3/07