Eine Schwarzwaldenfahrt

A little lowly Hermitage it was,
Downe in a dale, hard by a forests side,
Far from resort of people, that did pas
In travell to and froe…

—Edmund Spenser

Well, it wasn’t really a hermitage, and it wasn’t located in the Black Forest. But it was our own little world, and we did walk a lot.

The North Campus Quadrangle, a/k/a The Jungle, at the University of Connecticut was where I lived when I was a college freshman more than 40 years ago. I was going to be a musician in those days, but as it turned out, I was at the wrong school studying the wrong instrument (bassoon). I fell in with a group of bright but undisciplined guys, and we mostly devoted the year to beer and late nights.

The “hermitage” where we gathered was a smoky burger joint called The Campus Restaurant. The music we listened to in The Jungle was earnest and edgy: Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs. The Campus, however, had an unforgettably eclectic jukebox, and it was there that we learned of Horst Jankowski and his one American hit, the lilting instrumental A Walk in the Black Forest (Eine Schwarzwaldenfahrt). No matter how broke we were, one of us could always scrape up a dime for Horst. I hadn’t heard—or thought of—the song in decades, but recently something reminded me of it. I did a quick search on one of the peer-to-peer networks, and before I knew it, the mp3 was sitting on my hard drive.

I played the song expecting to experience the sense of ironic superiority it gave me in 1964. What happened instead was that all of the faces and names from that long ago year came flooding back. On my birthday in the summer of 1965—after the year in The Jungle was over—four of my Connecticut friends rode the bus to Maine for a weekend. The birthday gift they brought me was a 45 rpm record of A Walk in the Black Forest. I never saw any of them again, although one of them telephoned me out of the blue about 15 years ago.

Google informs me that Horst Jankowski died in 1998, but he lives in memory.

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